Daily life: housing throughout the ages


From single room to suburb

2 recommendations

A millennium of country living

During the Iron Age and the Viking Age people ate, slept and worked in a single, large room. Starting in the 13th century, houses began to include rooms that could be closed off and heated more easily. Farmhouses in the 17th and 18th century were built with new types of rooms: day rooms, complete with alcoves for the family's beds; great rooms for entertaining and storage furniture (chests and cabinets); sculleries and extra rooms. On the island of Zealand, the mistress of the house prepared food in the open chimney, on Funen and in Jutland homes had a fireplace in the day room, Homes were heated with peat in rear-fed stoves. Few were wealthy enough to have a third stove – and a third chimney on the main house. In the 19th century, farmhouses added new rooms as well – sleeping rooms, parlour, sunroom, guest room, and for some even a children's nursery. With the introduction of new types of cookers, day rooms became eat-in kitchens, and parlours were furnished with mahogany furniture, pianos and petroleum lamps. In the 20th century, rural homes were connected to gas and electric grids, making it possible to install refrigerators and freezers, modern bathrooms and WCs, and garden terraces modelled on those found in homes in towns.

Since 1950, the number of farmers has fallen consistently. Villages that once functioned as a community business have become "bedroom communities" no different from the suburbs of the big cities.

A millennium of town life

The number of rooms in castles, manor houses and the homes of the urban middle-class grew steadily during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century, the homes of the urban upper middle class had 10 rooms, clearly divided between the family's private rooms and servant's quarters. Most people in the 18th century lived in one or two-room flats with an area for making food in the chimney. Until the 1950s, it was normal for kitchens to have enough space for only one person (normally the mother) to work. The eat-in kitchen soon made its appearance, and in recent years the idea of preparing food and socialising in the same room as been reintroduced by prefabricated kitchen makers.

Until 1950, most flats had two or three rooms, and often housed families of 10 or more. Around the turn of the century, most preferred to have both a parlour and a dining room. If there wasn't room for a bedroom, the family slept in the dining room. After 1920, the combination of bedroom (with the whole family in one room) and open-plan kitchen became the norm. Since the 1950s, homes have normally been furnished with a big sitting room and bedroom for each member of the family, adult and child.

From half-timbered to single-family detached

At one time, most people worked where they lived. The merchant lived at the merchant house. Craftsmen had their workshops in their homes, employees – journeymen and apprentices – were unmarried and lived with their master; and even in towns and cities many homes had flower and vegetable gardens. In the provinces, most people owned their own homes; only the poorest rented small "booths". In Copenhagen alone was the lack of housing so great that people had to rent flats.

Industrialisation and modernisation divided Danes into owners and workers. There was no need for blue and white collar workers to live at their workplace. They started a family, even though they weren't self-supporting. The new trend led to the emergence of housing districts in cities. Workers in Copenhagen lived in tenements. Elsewhere, they lived mostly in small two- or three-storey houses. The middle class lived in blocks of flats with decorated facades. Many dreamed of building their own homes. The well-to-do did.

Labour unions sought to improve the quality of housing. First, salaried employees, inspired by trends in Britain, built terraced housing – nicknamed "potato rows" – and garden cities. In 1912, the first social housing association was founded – people now owned their homes collectively. Housing associations built blocks of flats or free-standing multi-dwelling buildings. Dingy backyards and alleys were not the order of the day!

People grew their own fruits and vegetables on small plots of rented land called allotments (the first ones were established in Aalborg in 1884). Around 1900, the trend turned towards ownership of private gardens, and groups began to buy up land and parcel it out among themselves. Most used their plot to grow vegetables, others built homes on them, thereby touching off a boom in the construction of single-family homes. Subdividing land for vegetable gardening became especially common in the face of the high food prices after World War I.

Urban planning and housing patterns

A housing shortage during World War I gave impetus to housing policies that gave subsidies or state-backed loans to build housing, and local councils began to build housing as well. Subsidies reached a peak after World War II with the State Loan Act of 1946. In the 1970s, a new law made it possible for people to receive help to pay their rents. Urban planning was also used to improve living conditions in cities. Efforts were made as early as 1910 to create industrial, housing and recreational zones but it wasn't until 1938 and the Urban Planning Act that legal tools for doing so were established.


A trend of urban flight began in the 1920s – away from the city to house and garden. More people were able to afford homes, and many built on parcels of land. Today, over half of the population lives in single-family homes. In the 1930s and 1940s, social housing added greenspaces, balconies and cul-de-sacs. Terraced and chain housing gave many people the opportunity to own their own home. After the 1950s, housing shortages were put to an end by industrialised construction. High-rises were built in the Copenhagen suburbs of Bellahøj, Rødovre and Gladsaxe, and prefabricated construction became common. The 1970s saw a movement away from the concrete high-rises towards low rise construction, and many moved back to the – now gentrified – cities. By 2000, the importance of social housing had diminished. Most newly built housing was developments of single-family homes or owner-occupied flats in former industrial harbours or in Copenhagen's new Ørestad district.

Most still dream of living in a quiet neighbourhood without through traffic or irritating neighbours. The suburb has claimed victory! The new urban pattern is that we often live, work and shop in different cities or towns, while we spend our free time at holiday homes or on holiday. Local councils fight each other to attract taxpaying residents and businesses, but we drive from one town to the next in our cars.