January 5, 2011

Telephone screens

One further aspect that I wish to address in this thesis is that of the telephone (as artefact) in its domestic setting.  In which rooms of the house was it kept, where was it stored (on a writing desk, sideboard, its own table, etc.), how did it fit in with the rest of the decor - such questions as these can reveal much about social attitudes.  As a 'piece of furniture' or as a piece of technology, how was space made to accommodate the telephone?

Thus, I was surprised to come across an art magazine with an article describing how one could make a telephone screen.  This is similar to the three-leaved dressing screens used in the old days but small enough to stand on a table and an inch higher than the telephone.  The article gives detailed design ideas and directions for its construction.  

But why have a screen on your desk to hide the telephone?  It was a matter of aesthetics: what the telephone (or the American woman's "man Friday") gains in utility, it loses in beauty.  Such a necessary evil as the telephone has to be concealed behind an elegant, hand-made, art deco screen.  Generally, the whole "telephone corner" constitutes a "trying aesthetic problem" and to this end instructions are also given for a matching telephone book cover and matching lampshade.  In this way the "telephone and its "furniture" are turned into objects decorative as well as useful."

My observations
"telephone corner" suggests that the equipment is something to be relegated out of sight, something that can't be comfortably integrated with the rest of the furnishings(Reminds me a bit of the naughty pupil banished to the corner of the classroom by the teacher!)

Telephone books, I admit, never have been easy on the eye.  Ephemeral documents, with a short lifespan, no one's going to spend time and money on producing quality books, so I can understand wanting to disguise them.  But why not hide it away in a drawer; after all, it isn't used that frequently.

Telephones of the 1920s and 1930s were becoming more 'artistic' - collectors pay a fortune for originals and manufacturers sell replicas.  Why hide these mini works of art?  Or am I transferring our values/preferences to the previous century?

Is it true that technology was considered 'ugly', regardless of its use value?

Telephones were also to be found in public booths and in offices.  Did this association with the public-business sphere colour people's perception of the telephone as something inappropriate for the private, domestic domain?

Laura Wheeler.  "Telephone Screens in Gesso."  Design-Keramic Studio.  May 1926-April 1927.

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Digital Telephone Book by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.