Pompous and stuffy, the Edwardians might have been in public, but their houses reveal that in private they were more relaxed. The Edwardian villa is, in some ways, the culmination of trends that date back to the 1880s - to the Aestheticism of JM Whistler and the Arts & Crafts movement of William Morris and Richard Norman Shaw. But it also represents a considerable advance on its Victorian precursors - consider how little they need to be altered for contemporary use.
This was a period of experimentation, as well as of dedicating particular rooms to specific functions (such as the breakfast, billiard or sewing room). Even when the Edwardian villa followed a traditional layout, its rooms tended to be higher and airier than in previous decades. The less formal domestic environment was reflected in Edwardian terminology: what would have been called the drawing room was increasingly referred to as the sitting or living room.
Perhaps the most striking difference between Edwardian interiors and their immediate predecessors would have been in their use of colour. Gone were the dark, rich shades beloved of the late Victorians. By contrast, colours were generally pale, with doors, skirting, ceilings, panelling and picture rails painted brilliant white.
With their mania for cleanliness, the Edwardians had little time for anything that gathered dust. Rugs (which could be taken outside and beaten) were preferred to fitted carpets, and plain or decorative encaustic tiles were popular around fireplaces, in halls, kitchens, bathrooms, porches and lavatories, and even down the garden path. Pattern was used sparingly - both wallpaper and curtains would most likely have been plain.
Edwardian windows were larger than those of the past because glass was now cheaply produced in sizeable panes, and air and light were held to be health-giving. Contrarily, doll-sized porch and inglenook windows were sometimes added to add the requisite touch of the picturesque.
Most houses continued to be heated by coal and open fires, and the fireplace remained the focus of the room - much as it had been for the past 500 years. Though the grate itself might be efficiently small, the Edwardians favoured tall fire surrounds, often constructed from fumed or painted oak.
Electric lights were already replacing gasoliers in many middle-class homes. Since electric lighting was both a novelty and something of a status symbol, much was made of electric fittings, which often owed much to the sinuous organic forms of Art Nouveau.
The Edwardian kitchen might still be the preserve of the cook rather than the housewife, but it was superior to its Victorian equivalent in both size and efficiency. Carefully ventilated, hygienically tiled and well equipped, it would contain a multifunctional range and would often lead to several subsidiary rooms including a larder and a scullery.
The Edwardians loved their bathrooms, and plumbed-in baths and showers were widespread in middle-class homes. Tiles, needless to say, figured prominently, as often did gas-fired hot-water 'geysers', noisy and unpredictable contraptions that were inclined to blow up.
The Dudley Virtual Resource Centre/Dudley Grid for Learning www.edu.dudley.gov.uk
The Porthcurno Trust www.porthcurno.org.uk
traveltrade.nationaltrust.org.uk by permission of the National Trust