Cover Image: The Elements of a Home

The Elements of a Home

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

A fun history behind the most basic and more famous varieties of the objects that make up our homes.
I love history, especially the history of everyday living, so this was right up my alley. Amy Azzarito covers objects from the more basic, such as forks, to specific famous types of chairs from how they were first invented, the changes they've seen over the centuries and how they are used today. And if you didn't get enough details, there's a thorough bibliography that will let you dive deeper into each object.
Was this review helpful?
I received a complementary copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

An incredible coffee-table book illustrating the historical bases and relevance of various household items. Well written, humorous, and extremely intriguing. Difficult to read with the watermark, but nevertheless beautiful in print edition. Would highly recommend
Was this review helpful?
Nice for those who have interest in learning how common household items came to be in a few pages. A little history lesson. In alphabetical order not by room.
Was this review helpful?
I could not review this title as it did not work in Adobe Digital Editions, it opened once but not the second time, shame as I was looking forward to it.
Was this review helpful?
Poison wallpaper and immoral eating utensils
A deep dive into the histories of everyday objects
Michele Harris
michele.harris@erickson.com

We use hundreds of simple household items in the course of a day, but how much do we really know about them? Where did the stuff we use every day come from? 

Did you know that ancient Greeks were the first to fasten heavy iron rings to their doors? We still use them today. They’re called door knockers. 

What was the world’s first eating utensil? The humble spoon. Later, some cultures used chopsticks and others used forks, but everyone used the spoon.

And speaking of forks, until the fifteenth century, they were considered “immoral, unhygienic and a tool of the devil.” Things turned around for forks in the early fifteenth century when Italians developed a fancy for candied fruits. The sweet, sticky delicacy stained fingers and slipped off spoons prompting society to reconsider the fork. 

Author Amy Azzarito explains the origins of the most ubiquitous and often overlooked domestic objects in her book, The Elements of a Home: Curious Histories Behind Everyday Household Objects, From Pillows to Forks (Chronicle Books). It is fascinating deep dive into the commonplace things we rely on. 

Poison wallpaper

In 1481, Louis XI of France wanted décor he could move and change at will. He came up with a clever solution. 

First, he commissioned the construction of metal rods that could be mounted on walls or ceilings. Then he asked Jean Eourdichon, his court painter to paint fifty paper scrolls with the first lines of Psalm 89 in Latin. Finally, he hung the paper scrolls from the rods giving him both inspiration and that all-important design flexibility. 

During the Industrial Revolution when paper became affordable and available English commoners started pasting colorful designs on their walls.   

At about the same time, (the late 1800s) people who lived in wallpapered homes starting to get sick.

One popular treatment for the mysterious malady was a retreat to summer homes where they could breathe in the fresh sea air. In fact, the sea air was better—especially if their summer house had bare walls. 

As it turns out, while green was an especially trendy color at the time, green wallpaper dye contained dangerous amounts of arsenic. 

While Victorians knew that arsenic was poisonous if eaten, they did not understand that it was also toxic if inhaled.  

Sadly, the arsenic in the wallpaper created undetectable toxic gas, thus poisoning those who were near it. 

Globes 

In 1519, a fleet known as the “Armada de Molucca” set sail from Seville, Spain. Led by Ferdinand Magellan, the goal was to circumvent the earth. 

Midway through the long journey, however, Magellan fell ill. He subsequently died in the Philippines, leaving navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano to steer the fleet home in 1522. 

Today an achievement as important as the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation would at the very least unleash a wide array of collectible commemorative globes but that was not the case in 1522. Some people thought the trip was a hoax and others already believed that the earth was round. In any case, they certainly didn’t need a souvenir globe because they probably already had one.

Globes existed long before Magellan was born. Archeological museums are populated with images and sculptures of globes with the earliest known terrestrial globe appearing in the 3rd century BC.  

While no early terrestrial globes exist today, the Archeological Museum of Naples has Farnese Atlas in its collection. Dating to 150 C.E., it depicts Atlas on one knee, balancing a celestial globe on his shoulders. It is the oldest surviving pictorial record of Western constellations.
 
Dollhouses

In 1557, Albert V, the Duke of Bavaria received the first known dollhouse as a gift. Although Albert fathered seven children, that dollhouse was all his. 

The cabinet was crafted in exacting detail and was furnished with hundreds of fascinating miniature objects including a tiny rotisserie chicken roasting in the kitchen.

Soon, other well-to-do gentlemen started commissioning elaborate dollhouses for their own amusement. 

Women had to make do with smaller versions called “baby houses” which were exact miniature replicas of their homes. 

One of the most famous “baby houses,” crafted in 1705, belonged to Petronella Oortman, a wealthy widow from Amsterdam. 

Oortman’s baby house contained exquisite reproductions of her finely furnished home including tiny floor-to-ceiling murals by renowned landscape artist, Nicolaes Piedmont. 

Oortman’s baby house served as the inspiration for Jesse Burton’s bestselling novel and subsequent mini-series The Miniaturist. 

It would be another hundred years before children started getting dollhouses to enjoy as toys.
 
[Sidebar]

While exiled on St. Helena, Napoleon wrote, “I die before my time, murdered by the English oligarchy and its assassin.”  

For Napoleon, the assassin he referred to may well have been the vibrant green wallpaper on his bedroom walls. 

in his bedroom at Longmore House on St. Helena where he was living in. The wallpaper has since been tested and it was full of arsenic. Autopsy results attributed his death to stomach cancer, but it’s certainly possible that the poison arsenic gas may have played a role.
Was this review helpful?
I loved this book but then again I love trivia books and this is very relevant to our everyday lives. This book goes item by item in our houses tells the history of that item. Fascinating! We all know the Victorians had arsenic laden wallpaper but this book goes a step further educating its readers about how fashionable France invented wallpaper. The book talks about household items big and small. Some readers might consider this book tedious but this is not a book to read all at once but to savor over time. I read this book in short bursts while waiting for things like prescriptions in the drive-thru which takes forever! Or while I am on hold which I am a lot these days, or just waiting for something to come out of the oven. One of my goals during quarantine was to learn something or several somethings new every day and this fit the bill.  I also think this would be a great book on the shelf for home schoolers. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing to read and learn in exchange for a review.
Was this review helpful?
The Elements of a Home: Curious Histories Behind Everyday Objects, from Pillows to Forks by Amy Azzarito is a fun and fascinating look at many objects you might find in your home, or at least is in many homes.

This is not, nor was it meant to be, an in depth look at every object. Since almost every item could be represented by an entire book, that is a physical and logistical impossibility. To whine otherwise is a weak attempt at appearing intelligent. Congrats, you failed! This is also done as more of an encyclopedia with each entry being a self-contained whole rather than, say, a stroll through a house and showing the history of items that way. Both work wonderfully (Bryson) but have entirely different purposes, one is a more memoirish personalization of the items while the other is a straightforward overview of each item to offer some insight and, through a wonderful bibliography, avenues for further reading if so desired. To make it sound like one book would be a substitute for the other is asinine at best and also fails at the same thing as the other faux-critique. Just for the record, unwarranted negativity does not equal intelligence, in fact, the opposite.

The entries in this book are ideal for either having handy to read when time is short or for simply having in your library as a reference. This is the kind of book I would keep on my nightstand for a few weeks until I finished all the entries, they would make ideal bedtime or waking in the middle of the night reading material. Much like a collection of short stories or essays.

While not oversized as many coffee table books, this would still make a fine one. It would be ideal for conversation starters or shifters. Or for reading when you're sitting there waiting for the party to start or for your favorite show.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
Was this review helpful?
Interesting, but not really the sort of thing you'd sit down and read in one go.  It's more one to flip through and skim read sections of.  No disrespect meant, but it would probably be great for those who love material to read on the loo!
Was this review helpful?
A lovely guide to all the elements that make up a home.From iconic candles ,canopy beds ,lovely chairs,Each object beautifully described and illustrated.Perfect coffee able book would make a lovely gift,Really enjoyed sinking into this book and learning so much about objects that surround us in our own homes #netgalley#elementsofhome
Was this review helpful?
Inquisitive minds want to know. And this is the book for those people. Such a unique collection of the history and interesting tidbits regarding the items in our homes. Each item features good detail, without being overwhelming. There’s an extensive bibliography if you desire more information on a particular item. The design and layout allow you to move quickly through items if you are just looking for the highlights. 

While I found it all fascinating, I was particularly drawn to items like teapot, napkin, tablecloth, and picnic basket. These are items that might easily find their way into my gardening blog at Patch405.com. 

I was offered an advance digital copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Unfortunately didn’t grab me — I think too many entries, too short — not enough depth to excite, and the attitude/voice just wasn’t enough fun.  Good concept though.
Was this review helpful?
Interesting look at the objects we keep at home. Seems to be well researched and written, but I just couldn't get into it. A lot of the historical importance of certain objects and the included quotes were mildly interesting. Maybe for a housewife this would be a cute coffee table book? I'd recommend Bill Bryson's At Home instead.
Was this review helpful?
If you like trivia or quizzes, you might want to read this book. It has a history of many things you have at home. A candle. A bed. You name it. I don't know if you want to read this at one go. I prefer to read this bit by bit because it has a lot of information, and I am afraid if I skim this book I might forget easily about the explanation.
Was this review helpful?
Da appassionata di microstoria e storia materiale, ho preso questo libro come una miniera: oggetti di uso comunissimo, che diamo per scontati all'interno della nostra casa, prendono nuova vita sotto i riflettori della loro storia - spesso antica e travagliata.
Una scoperta dietro l'altra.
Was this review helpful?
*This book was received as a reviewer's copy from NetGalley.

We use a lot of things every day without ever really thinking where they came from.  From what you sit on, to the things that make your home smell nice, there's a lot of history and development that went into the process.

This book gives short summaries of the histories of those things.  Napkins, potpourri, chairs (oh, the amount of chairs, the author must have especially loved those objects), pillows, and more; most standard items you use frequently have their place in this book.  And most have a nice illustration to accompany.

The short histories are fun.  This is a book that you can read at your own pace, or just flip to what item you're looking for (they're in alphabetical order, although this copy reviewed was an ARC so that could change).  I thought it was funny just how influential the French were when it came to many items, and having the history behind everything was interesting.  The product mix was good too, and there were several items that while we maybe don't use it much in recent times (potpourri or fancier chairs) we can remember from our childhood or relatives house.  For those that want something more in-depth I would say this is probably not the right book; this is more of a coffee-table style book and lighter in nature, but there's a reference section at the end that would provide those heavier tomes. In reference to the order, I can appreciate why it's alphabetical, but think a "type" order would be nice as well, I would have liked to have all the chairs in one section (but again, this was an ARC copy, so this could change).

Interesting book that covers all the history you never knew you needed to know.  Books that bring this unusual kind of history are some of my favorites and make learning about the past a lot more fun.  This one can definitely give you some unusual topics of interest for a conversation.

Review by M. Reynard 2020
Was this review helpful?
Often we take the things around us for granted.  However, the author of this book does not.  Instead she reflects upon things found in a home and writes about them.  The list of what she looks at is extensive and includes everything from bathtubs to Turkish and Persian rugs, from picnic baskets to pillows and from fireplaces to rocking chairs. For each item, the author provides an evocative entry. 


The first entry in these alphabetical listings is bathtub.  Their history from earliest times is presented and from there she moves to the present day.  Similarly in an entry on bookshelves readers learn that at first books were scrolls without shelves; a history is then given that goes right up to the moment when we started putting together shelves from Ikea.


There is a lot to learn in this book.  It has simple illustrations that enhance the text and engage the reader.  If you are curious about the objects around you, dip into this book.  It is a treasure trove.


Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this title in exchange for an honest review.


Pub Date 17 Mar 2020
Was this review helpful?
This was a really neat read. The author,  Amy Azzarito brings to life the back story of many common and not so common house hold items and fixtures. There were many things in this book such as a jib door that I had never heard of before. It was interesting reading how different items in a way became trendy in different parts of the world at different times, which I suppose is still the case. Interesting trivia book for those who are curious about the origin of things.
Was this review helpful?
***Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review***
This is a lovely guide to homes and all that it encompasses. Classically beautiful illustrations, but a little too descriptive.
Was this review helpful?
This is an interesting book but I'm not sure I'll ever really want to sit down and read an entire book telling the history of objects in my home. As such, I haven't added a read date since I ended up eventually just skimming it and only reading some sections in full. While it is cool to know about the accuracy of that old story of champagne glasses being modeled after women's breasts, after a while it feels like reading the backs of all the food packages in your cupboard.

It's fun and sometimes fascinating stuff, and perhaps would make a good coffee table book. Black and white illustrations accompany the text. I guess I am just not that interested in reading multiple pages of how everything from sofas to canopy beds to wallpaper came about, but this is a fun book if you're curious about these things.

I previewed a temporary digital ARC of this book for the purpose of review.
Was this review helpful?
In The Elements of a Home, Amy Azzarito offers up brief, trivia-centered histories of an eclectic mix of nearly 70 household objects, ranging from the small (wine goblets, spoons) to the large (sofas, rocking chairs, canopy beds,  billiard tables).  Some I’d say are more common than others — bathtubs versus topiaries for instance — but all were relatively common at one point, even if only to the aristocracy.  Most entries are about 2-3 pages long, sharing their space and/or followed by a number of helpful illustrations. Most also include a brief (2-3 paragraph) insert on a related topic, such as explaining exactly what champagne is in the segment on the champagne coupe. 

The style is conversational, always lucid and easy to follow and ss noted above, I’d call the entries more trivia-based than in-depth history. They’re interesting enough and offer up some fun facts and intriguing origins, such as how damaging a door in Roman times was a capital offense or how Spartans used dough as the original napkin. I would have liked more about many of the items, a deeper dive into their history, but that’s not the purpose here and for those like me Azzarito offers up a nice-sized bibliography at the end for further exploration.  A good browsing book. 3.5
Was this review helpful?