Feeling it: Habitat, taste and the new middle class in 1970s Britain

Spring 2016

In 1964 the furniture designer and entrepreneur Terence Conran, along with various partners, opened a shop in London selling furniture and household goods. It was a ‘lifestyle shop’ called Habitat. By the late 1970s is was a fixture of many cities and towns across Britain. This essay treats Habitat as a taste formation, as part of a structure of feeling that was specific to what many social commentators were calling the ‘new middle class’. The essay charts some of those feelings and the material culture that supported them, and argues for an approach to taste that treats it as an agent of socio-historical change as well as a practice that maintains and reproduces social class. The feelings that Habitat could be seen to activate ranged from ‘cottage urbanism’ and improvised sociability to a sense of middle-class-classlessness. Habitat’s role was ambiguous, nurturing both middle class radicalism and the marketization of democratic impulses. In the transition from welfare state socialism to neoliberal

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New Formations 88: Markets and Machines