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The suburban house mid-20th Century


The hall and staircase of a typical '1940s house', built 1930s

hall icon of 1930s/1940s house

In the 1940s, the British public lived in older buildings with older furnishings because all the country's resources went into the war effort and the recovery afterwards. The newest mass housing was built on housing estates in the late 1930s. This page describes the hall and stairs area in a typical such house as it was in the 1940s.


By the webmaster, based childhood observations, discussions with people who lived in these houses and additional research

Floor plan of the hall and stairs layout

Plan of the hall of a fairly typical 1940s suburban house

Floor plan of the hall of a fairly typical suburban house as it was in the 1940s, based on recollections of a house in Brook Avenue, Edgware. Although many similar suburban houses had smaller halls, with different embellishments, the basic plan would have been the same.

For how this hall plan fits into the other rooms on the ground floor, see the 1940s house. What seemed to strike our relatives who still lived on the Victorian housing estates was the relatively large sizes of the hall and kitchen.

Naturally, once inside the house, the personal preferences of the occupants showed, although these were dictated by what was still in the shops at the time of purchase and what were hand-me-downs.

The doors

Front door of a 1930s/40s English suburban house
Replacement windows in front door of a 1930s/40s English suburban house keeping the old stained glass

First photo: Original front door, photographed in the 1960s. In the 1930s and 1940s the wood would have been varnished, not painted. Note that the glazing is upside-down compared with that in the second one which was always standard along the road. The main text explains!

Second photo: Modern replacement windows and doors along the road. They have used the original glass in the double glazing. I wonder if today's residents know that the glass panels survived the WW2 bombing.

At the time, our stained-glass hall window seemed to me, as a very young child, like a monster with huge eyes and large shoulders, and I had nightmares about him coming out of the front door towards me. So my father had the windows re-inserted upside down. Then the nightmares stopped.

There was a non-descript coloured curtain that could be drawn across the door and side windows at night - and of course, during the blitz there was the blackout.

The doors from the hall to the rooms were panelled, opened towards the rooms and were varnished like the front door. I think there were eight panels.

Typical hall furniture

What was bought in the late 1930s in the way of hall furnishings would have been typical in style in other houses furnished at that time because it was dictated by what was in the shops. Differences would have been relatively minor.

Our hall floor, like other hall floors, was covered in lino with a dark to medium brown marble pattern. My mother polished it regularly on her hands and knees till it shone.

There were four items of bought furniture, all in dark wood.

Old hall stand for hanging coats and hats, a tall dark wooden piece of furniture with hooks, a mirror, seat with hinged lid over a container for gloves etc, and slots at the sides for umbrellas.

Hall stand, photographed at an auction. Ours was identical apart from the mirror being smaller and oval.

Carved wooden wall clock

Carved wooden wall clock

Typical hall and stair carpets

Stair carpet,1940s England: long narrow length held down at the edges of each stair with decorative rods and showing the wood of the staircase at each side

Stair carpet - a long narrow length held down at the edges of each stair with decorative clips and showing the wood of the staircase at each side. Ours was a golden colour.

(Underneath the stairs was a glory-hole cupboard, hidden from view by a partition and door which matched the yellowish varnish of the stairs and banisters.)

Slip mat, commonly placed outside internal doors, in 1930s and 1940s Britain, probably to keep out draughts

Slip mat, commonly placed outside internal doors, probably to keep out draughts. Photographed in Tilford Rural Life Centre.

Additionally there was a door mat inside the front door for wiping our feet when we came in. Incidentally it was never deemed necessary to remove outdoor shoes when indoors. Probably that was due to there being no fitted carpets. Lino could be washed and polished as frequently as the housewife felt necessary.

Hand-me-downs and 'heirlooms'

Other items in our hall were not typical in that they were either hand-me-downs from older relatives or bought while 1930s goods were still in the shops.

Hall seat made from a broken, once elegant grand piano - typical of the 'make do and mend' philosophy of the early and mid 20th century

Low, oak polished hall-seat once elegant, made froma a broken grand piano.

The walls

The hall walls were papered in a slightly textured, non-descript beige colour. It was the same throughout the house.

The 'drop ceiling'

Throughout the house, the walls were only papered to within about half a metre of the ceiling. The upper part was known as a 'drop ceiling'. Around the demarcation was a picture rail with a papered frieze below it. Pictures hung from the picture rails. (The drop ceiling and picture rail fashion persisted from the early 1900s, and probably before, until around the 1950s.

Ceilings were whitewashed.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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sources: early 20th century material      sources: ww2 home front and other material     contact
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