Since the very first Ideal Home Exhibition in 1908, the event has been a showcase for new accessories for the modern, ‘ideal’ home. Sponsored by the Daily Mail newspaper, the bi-annual exhibition has encouraged Londoners to keep up with new developments in interior design and technology.
Wareham Smith, Advertising Manager of the Daily Mail, founded the Ideal Home Exhibition with the intention of using it to publicise the newspaper and to raise advertising revenue. The paper and the Exhibition were designed to attract the middle classes, particularly clerks and women with a certain amount of disposable income. The Exhibition reflected their requirements and aspirations, offering labour-saving devices and fashionable furnishings. To add to the exhibition’s prestige, the event was regularly patronised by visiting royalty and celebrities of the day.
The first show was held at Olympia and comprised 12 sections dedicated to different ‘phases of home life’ such as construction, food and cookery, furniture and decoration. There were various demonstrations and associated contests, including the Arts and Crafts competition and the architects’ competition to design the ‘Ideal Home’.
The event engaged the public by reflecting forms of entertainment with which it was already familiar. Following in the tradition of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Daily Mail declared that 1908 was to be known as ‘Exhibition Year’ in celebration of 25 shows that were being staged throughout the year, including the Franco-British exhibition at White City and the Hungarian Exhibition at Earls Court.
The exhibition also thrived because 20th-century households relied less and less on servants. As the house-owner had to organise his or her own household, so rooms such as the kitchen and tasks such as cooking became more central to home life.
Over its century-long history, the Ideal Home Exhibition introduced the public to the microwave oven, the refrigerator and even the solar-powered robot lawnmower, as well as new construction techniques and lighting innovations. Towards the end of the century, however, the event was criticised for losing sight of its educational aims and becoming too commercial. As the recession hit during the early 1980s, audience figures dropped to an all-time low.
In 1995 when the economy had made a full recovery, the exhibition experienced a renaissance in popularity, welcoming back the crowds with a special exhibition entitled ‘Yesterday’s Houses, Tomorrow’s homes’, which compared houses from across the century with a contemporary show home. The Ideal Home Show continues to reflect the aspirations of a growing urban population keen to keep abreast of current trends.