The makings of a modern home

While the King’s Coronation may have been and gone, the historic event provided a timely reason for Heal’s to look back on the way the modern home has evolved over the years, and examine the specific influences that have caused it to change so significantly.

To help, we commissioned an exclusive piece of consumer research and enlisted the expertise of British historian, broadcaster and filmmaker Professor David Adetayo Olusoga OBE, whose partner’s mother, Diane, was rather fittingly part of the Heal’s design fabric team back in the ‘60s. He explains: “When we talk about history, we are taught to understand the role of past wars and the previous kings and queens on contemporary society. Often overlooked is the way that these have influenced the fabric of the way we live, and the impact this has had within our home. As the first major televised event in Britain, the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 was a historic moment, and one that changed the dynamic of the home overnight. It led to millions buying their first television, which replaced the fireplace as the focal point of the room, and the concept of positioning our sofas around the TV screen for the best vantage point remains to this day.”

Fast-forward to 2023, and the rise of remote working – triggered by a series of lockdowns during the pandemic – has had a similarly influential effect on our interior design, with the desk now crowned as the most practical piece for today’s home by three in four households. Seemingly, working at the dining table or on the sofa aren’t good enough for regular hybrid-workers, and our backs will likely thank us for it. Elsewhere in the home, 97% of the population now considers the fridge as essential – perhaps as we get more discerning about the quality of our food and continue to prioritise our physical health? – while a king-sized bed is a must-have for one in four (sleep has never been more conducive to health and success while there’s even an annual Sleep Awareness Week) and 42% of those surveyed can’t live without a smart TV (an increasingly vital, and varied, source of inspiration and information). Interestingly, ice machines are out in the cold along with home cinemas, with 92% of us considering them unnecessary luxuries.

Global pandemics and royal coronations haven’t been the only influences on our interiors in the past 100 years, either. David says: “Globalisation has allowed for international schools of thought to cross our borders. Founded in 1919, the Bauhaus spearheaded a wave of experiential design through the introduction of modernist tubular furniture, which focused on an elegant balance of form and function. More than a century later, it’s not hard to see how the Bauhaus continues to shape contemporary interiors, with the UK’s most recognisable designs including pieces like the Barcelona chair.” He adds: “As one of the first in the UK to bring this new international style to a wider audience, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the part that Ambrose Heal played in introducing revolutionary design to a whole new generation. His pioneering spirit and unwavering commitment to innovation continues to drive the brand’s successors today, as Heal’s carries on supporting innovative work and collaborating with established designers and up-and-coming talent.”

Pre-Bauhaus, the British famously decorated their homes conservatively, characterised by Victorian and Edwardian influences in dark colour schemes and highly ornate furnishings. That’s all changed. “The need for design aesthetic and functionality have clearly become embedded within today’s homes,” David says, “as these notions are the biggest influences for three in five of us when purchasing furniture, closely followed by the need for comfort.”

One thing that hasn’t changed at all during the passing years? Longevity. David concludes: “As coveted furniture icons stand the test of time, transcending not only evolving trends and wider societal influences, but also changes in the demands placed on our interiors, the nation’s respect for quality craftsmanship and unique design is clear.” Good news for customers of Heal’s, then, as we were one of the first to bring design classics and future heirlooms to British customers. For David, the Anglepoise lamp by George Carwardwine represents the “epitome of elegant yet functional design” and remains “the UK’s most recognisable product for the home”, while the 1958 Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen is still “the nation’s most sought-after piece” with “a shape so iconic and likeable it would sit proud in most homes across the country.”

It’s not the first time Heal’s has invested in customer behaviour. Back in 1960, we were among the only retailers to commission consumer research, and it informed the design of the Fitzroy Robinson extension at our flagship store on Tottenham Court Road – from the clever use of lighting to highlight collections to greater space for leisurely browsing and a permanent display of no less than 11 kitchens. More than 40 years after vacating the Mid-Century space, we’ve just reclaimed it as part of our all-new extension, increasing our footprint to 49,000-square-foot across two floors. So, why not visit to discover an extended edit of curated designs and Heal’s curations for the way you live in your house today?

Browse and buy from the best of classic – and contemporary – design at Heal’s.