ALL Eliza Doolittle wanted was “a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air”. She was, after all, only a homeless flower girl and a fictional one at that. But while homelessness was a real problem in Edwardian London where My Fair Lady was set, there were also plenty of people whose domestic aspirations were far loftier.

Early 20th-century middle-class housing was spacious and comfortable, with the influence of the Arts And Crafts movement and the advent of domestic electricity creating an appetite for tasteful interiors and state-of-the-art household gadgets.

It was in this climate of genteel consumerism that the Ideal Home Exhibition was born. Launched in 1908 in London's Olympia, the annual event showcased interior and exterior housing designs as well as the latest in kitchen technology and over the ensuing decades, the vacuum cleaner, toaster and electric kettle all made their entrance at the Ideal Home Show, as it came to be known.

This Friday, the 111th Ideal Home Show opens in London before coming to Scotland in May. So what exactly is the “ideal” home and how have our aspirations changed from previous eras?

Location, location, location

“Location is still the thing that drives buyers at every level of the market,” says Max Mills, an Edinburgh-based director of Rettie & Co estate agents.

So where do people want to live? It depends which poll you consult. According to a 2008 Country Life magazine survey, 80% of urban dwellers want to relocate to the boondocks. Orkney was named the UK's best place to live in a recent quality of life survey and within Scotland, Dumfries and Melrose are respectively the “happiest” and the “best” place to live according to studies conducted in 2017 and 2018.

In Edinburgh, the field of dreams, for those with £1m-plus to spend, includes Grange, Merchiston and Inverleith. Then again, says Max Mills: “A million pounds is not a lot of money in Edinburgh on the residential property side; £2m is the new £1m and people who are spending that kind of money will be more comfortable spending it in a street where they can see that other people around them have done the same.”

For more modestly endowed buyers in search of their first home, convenience and proximity to amenities matter most, while for “middle-market” young familes, the crucial factor is often schools.

Utopian dreams

During the optimistic post-war era, visions of the “ideal home” were distinctly modern. Grand Victorian terraces and tenements were bulldozed, ornate fireplaces and plasterwork were ripped out and high ceilings were lowered. In the west of Scotland, planners seeking solutions to Glasgow's housing shortage created Cumbernauld: a new town inspired by the hyper-modernist vision of Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. In decades to come, it would be twice maligned as Urban Realm magazine's “carbuncle of the year”.

“Utopias often become dystopias when they are put into practice,” says Eszter Steierhoffer, senior curator of the Design Museum, London.

In fact, the 20th century was replete with Utopian ideas for transforming the domestic realm and many of the era's avant-garde fantasies – including walking buildings and robot housemaids – are explored in the Design Museum's current exhibition, Home Futures.

In the 1960s, these wacky-seeming ideas were lampooned in American cartoon series, The Jetsons – a kind of space age version of The Flintstones only with robots, aerocars and push-button gadgets aplenty.

But as Steierhoffer points out, today's “smart” homes aren't far removed from those sci-fi visions. The question we need to ask, she suggests, is whether all this gadgetry is making our lives better and whose interests (aside from commerce) they are serving.

What's not in doubt, says Max Mills, is that high-end buyers now expect homes to come with state-of-the-art technology, including “Sonos systems throughout the house, cleverly placed non-intrusive TVs, underfloor heating and the best kitchen gadgets such cookers, wine coolers or microwave ovens”.

Paradoxically, perhaps, period properties have never been more desirable and Victorian fireplaces, cornices and other “original features” which survived the modernising zealotry of the 1960s are highly prized.

Space travel

Although wealthy Victorians and Edwardians had parlours, morning rooms, bedrooms and myriad other dedicated apartments, many poorer Scots lived in one-roomed “single ends” or rural blackhouses, which meant whole families sharing sleeping accommodation and even beds – sometimes with dead bodies, which were routinely kept at home for three days before burial. The advent of council housing from 1919 placed compartmentalised living – and privacy – within the reach of working-class people.

But in the 1970s, aspirations went into reverse with the vogue for open-plan living and according to Max Mills, the formal dining room is now “a thing of the past”. Instead, everyone wants a big “hub of the house” kitchen-dining-living space, even if wealthier buyers apparently expect an additional separate eating room and lounge for their £1m-plus.

At the top end of the Edinburgh market, says Mills, people are “pushing boundaries” and installing swimming pools, cinemas and gyms. Are they showing off? Mills says it's rather a question of people “being proud of what they've achieved, having put their hard-earned income into bricks and mortar”.

“We call it 'wealth preservation' in Edinburgh,” he adds. “For many people, a house isn't just a roof over their heads, it's also an asset that they consider to be an investment, and a safe place to keep their money.”

Home suite home

In 1861, there were only five toilets in the whole of Dundee and three of them were in hotels. By the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to the post-war public housing revolution, nearly all Scottish homes had an indoor bathroom though by the 1970s, sparkling white sanitary ware was being ripped out and replaced with peach, avocado or even dark brown “suites”.

Today, says Max Mills, en-suites are becoming the norm and if you don't have at least one, you're considered to be “letting the side down”, especially at the high end of the property market.

The ideal eco-home

According to Max Mills, home-hunters are increasingly eco-conscious: “People used to roll their eyes when you said 'energy performance certificate', but now people are asking: 'Is the house going to be efficient to run?'” Are they thinking about their fuel bills or the planet? “Definitely the latter,” he says.

But are our dream homes really “ideal” from an environmental perspective? Take all those Grand Design-esque “eco-houses” with their huge, panoramic windows and double-height open-plan spaces that could house a dozen families yet are built for mum, dad and 1.9 kids, who presumably have to be driven 50 miles to school each day from their gloriously remote turf-roofed abode. Can that really be sustainable?

To be genuinely eco-friendly, a house should be located in a place that minimises car travel, says Matt Bridgestock, co-director of sustainability specialists, John Gilbert Architects. But he insists living in remote locations needn't be problematic and parts of rural Scotland need to be repopulated. The answer, he says, is to “bring people closer to their work or help them work from home”, use natural building materials such as locally-sourced timber, and maximise energy efficiency.

Open-plan, double-height rooms are OK so long as the building's fabric is well-insulated, ideally to “passive house” standard (a very high level of energy efficiency).

As for those massive windows, he argues that maximising beautiful views (presumably with triple-glazed glass) contributes to sustainability by making the house more desirable in the long term. From a resources perspective, “we don't want to be knocking houses down and rebuilding”.

For the same reason, all those draughty old period properties need to be maintained, but refurbished to 21st-century performance standards. “That's possible,” he says, “it just needs careful thought.”

He sees community self-build as a good way of providing sustainable homes that meet people's long-term needs, and as for existing homes, “consumers need to be more discerning about how houses perform, in terms of carbon emissions”. Even properties advertised as having top-rated energy efficiency often perform well below that standard, he adds.

Living without walls

In 1969, the Austrian architect, Hans Hollein, envisioned that people would one day work from inflatable mobile offices. Three years later, the “Supersurface” was conceived as a universal grid that would allow people to live without objects. Both were meant to facilitate a life of permanent nomadism without the need for a physical home. Crazy? The Design Museum's Eszter Steierhoffer believes we are already inhabiting a version of that dream. In big cities, where buying a home is becoming impossible for many young people, she sees signs that millennials are embracing a kind of “post-ownership” society, in that they share living space and cars (if they own vehicles at all) and eat out rather than cook meals in the kitchen.

“Our behaviours in the face of new technologies are changing enormously,” she says. “Privacy, for example, doesn't necessarily involve being between four walls, it's about whether or not you switch on your phone, which has become your window on the world.

“Home can be thought about in a more expanded way. You can perform domestic activities way beyond the physical borders of what you would traditionally call your home. You can have your shower in the gym, have your breakfast in a cafe, work anywhere n your laptop.

“So while at one time, the functions of the various parts of the home were quite rigid, that is beginning to blur as we use spaces in much more hybrid ways.”

Could it be that the ideal home of the future will not exist at all?

Ideal Home Show runs at the Olympia, London from Friday, March 22 until April 7. Ideal Home Show Scotland opens at the SECC, Glasgow, May 24-27

Home Futures continues at the Design Museum, London until March 24