The twentieth century was a time to dream. New technologies made previously unimaginable ideas possible â€“ and inspired extraordinary visions of how we might live.
The future, according to many artists and thinkers, was to begin in the home. But while Le Corbusier’s “machine for living in” became a byword for modern architecture, ideas that were more extravagant and less rational got swept away in the tide of society’s ‘future shock.’ What happened to all the bizarre, Jacques Tati-style interior designs that promised not just to make us comfortable but to make us smile?
Previously, we showed you what the houses of the future were supposed to look like when our ancestors imagined them. Today, we’re taking you indoors, bringing to life six rooms of the future, as dreamed by designers and illustrators of the past.
1. Living room – 1950s
What is the most awesome technological development you can imagine being applied to our living rooms in the future? For the author of a February 1950 article in Popular Mechanics, the answer was: waterproofing. “When Jane Dobson cleans house she simply turns the hose on everything,” wrote Waldemar Kaempffert on how life would be in the year 2000. Everything hefty would be made of plastic or other waterproof synthetics. Lighter things like tablecloths were to be mock-linen, woven from incinerator-ready paper yarn.
Drying your freshly-hosed living room would be no problem. “After the water has run down a drain in the middle of the floor (later concealed by a rug of synthetic fiber) Jane turns on a blast of hot air and dries everything,” reports Kaempffert. Housewives of the 1950s must have really hated feather dusters. (To his credit, Kaempffert predicted “shopping by picture phone” in the same article.)
2. Kitchens – 1950s
Those same hose-wielding housewives could save on the dishwashing by using disposable plastic plates that simply melt away in hot water, according to Kaempffert’s article. But one home appliance company dared to think a bit more space-age: dishwashing with ultrasonic waves!
Frigidaire, like Kaempffert, dared to imagine a networked, IoT age. They suggested a “hands-free, distant-talking TV telephone” with a 50-number memory bank that could be used to start your glass-dome countertop oven from anywhere in the world (as well as to open and close windows).
The fridge is relatively lo-fi but no less revolutionary for it. Cylindrical in shape, the fridge’s shelves rotate, and it can be loaded from indoors or outdoors. No more schlepping through the house with heavy bags of groceries!
3. Master Bedroom – 1960s
Joe Colombo was a visionary designer who believed in fluid, adaptable systems for a living. His 1969 “Futuristic Habitat” project imagined an open-plan home comprised of a “Central-Living” leisure space, air-conditioned “Kitchen-Box,” and this “Night Cell.”
The Night Cell sleeping area featured a Barbarella-style, climate-controlled sleeping pod, as well as a bathroom and wardrobes. The retro-futuristic furniture wouldn’t be out of place in science-fiction series, World On A Wire.
You can see a video of the Futuristic Habitat in action on YouTube. Celebrated designer Colombo, who was to die on his 41 birthday, walks in towards the end, puffing his pipe. Colombo’s sleeping arrangement of choice was a drop-top Cabriolet bed that he designed, complete with control panel, cigarette lighter, radio, and phone.
4. Game Room - 1970s
Paul Alexander’s illustration of a futuristic game room seems designed to encourage gamers to look up from their screens and engage with both the nature and the technology around them. Lounge in the pool while playing waters-edge pinball, or curl up on your dish-shaped sofa with a close friend to dabble on the multimedia station.
Alexander worked in architecture and advertising, and later became a science-fiction illustrator for books and magazines. Despite once being described as “one of the top ‘gadget’ artists currently working in the American paperback market,” Alexander retired when computer-assisted illustration became the norm. Imagine if he had lent his hand to video game design!
5. Bathroom – 1980s
In the 1980s, Tim Flattery and Edward Eyth were put to work imagining the year 2015 for the makers of Back to the Future II. "We were highly motivated to make it so we didn't look like fools in 25 years,” according to Eyth. Their unused bathroom design foresaw the smart home with a wall-bound “computerized family diagnosis & medical treatment center” – even if we’re not quite there yet.
The pair also reinvented bathing with their “horizontal bio-cleanse environ.” These individual sanitation chambers use steam-spray and “sani-ray” laser lights to scrub you clean. If you have the space for it, this centrally-oriented hygiene control center makes for a pretty cool sci-fi bathroom in which to unwind after a day out on your hoverboard.
6. Dressing Room – 1900s
The oldest vision in our collection is a 1900 imagining of the year 2000. “Madame at Her Toilette” is a glorious steampunk dressing room, packed with mysterious levers and proto-robotic tools that are both practical and aesthetic.
The original shows Madame in the grip of articulated comb-arms and blush cushions, not so much being pampered as tortured into her look. Among the brass and teak is the control device itself, a fabulous mixing desk of buttons, lights, dials. To bring it up to date (conceptually if not technologically), we’ve added a reel-to-reel tape player that reads magnetically-stored ‘pre-set’ looks if you prefer to just sit back and let the dressing room control itself.
In the 21 century, we get so caught up in the flow of technology and design progress that charming ideas from the past tend to get cast aside. So, if you plan to renovate your room with a futuristic theme, why not draw inspiration from these visions of yesteryear? Except for the waterproof living room, of course. That one’s just silly.
Benford, G. (2011). The Future That Never Was: Pictures from the Past. Popularmechanics.com
Daily Icon Blog. (2012). Icon: Wohnmodell 1969 by Joe Colombo. Dailyicon.net
Frank, J. (2019). Paul Alexander Collection. Wow-art.com
Van Winkle, D. (2015). Back to the Future II Concept Art Reveals More 2015 Gadget We Still Don’t Have. Themarysue.com
Collections. (2012). A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000. Publicdomainreview.org