Today, creating a beautiful and relaxing home is a high priority for many of us, especially in this era when we can work, shop, and socialise without leaving our living rooms. There has never been a wider range of choice available, from furniture to wallpapers, to put our own stamp on an interior and make it a warm and welcoming space in which to live.
Of course, the desire to create a pleasant homely environment is not a new one. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Ancient Egyptians made an effort to decorate even the humblest of mud huts with wall murals, carvings, and simple furniture.
The ancient Greeks were noted for their elaborate interior decorations, although sadly not that many examples survive in the present day. In particular, they favoured intricate carvings in ivory and wood. Stone and marble were other materials used frequently in interiors, while the Romans favoured soft furnishings, such as cushions and tapestries.
A European Renaissance
The medieval era wasn’t exactly a golden one for the decorative arts, which were regarded as frivolous. There was an emphasis on serviceable and sombre furnishings, which were there to fulfil a practical function only.
However, the Renaissance saw a revived interest in the world of art and design, and this became apparent in the architectural flourishes from the 15th and 16th centuries. As if in reaction to the previous era of austerity, designs became increasingly elaborate and lavish. Wall tapestries and full-length murals were common in the grander houses.
Design becomes more accessible
Interior design as a formal profession didn’t really take hold until the early 19th century, as in the past, it was more usual to commission individual artists, seamstresses, carpenters, and so on to carry out pieces of work. It was also common for the architect of the building to provide guidance for the interior décor.
The industrial revolution, which led to an emergent middle class who had more income to spend on their homes, drove the demand for more professional services. In 1899, the Institute of British Decorators was formed to formally recognise the art of planning, researching, and coordinating the execution of interior décor plans.
A marriage of form and function
By the early 19th century, it was recognised that homes should not only be beautiful, but practical and durable places to live. Designers such as the pioneering cousins, Rhoda and Agnes Garret, and later the artist and textile designer William Morris, would promote the idea of design as a democratic process, that should resist the rising tide of mass-production.
Morris famously said: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” This remains a very useful piece of advice to this day, especially for those of us still mustering up the enthusiasm to get on with that late spring-cleaning session!
His lasting influence on our interior design choices today should not be underestimated. He had an amazing work ethic, designing no less than 21 wallpapers, 23 woven fabrics, and 32 printed fabrics. The English country garden inspired patterns, with rich natural colours, are still popular choices for curtains, wallcoverings, and soft furnishings today.
The rise of Art Deco
The Art Deco era, which was at its height during the 1920s and 30s, is another notable period in the history of interior design. It grew out of the earlier Art Nouveau movement, which began in the 1890s. The look is defined by its use of curved lines, geometric shapes, and sleek, cosmopolitan buildings.
It has proved to be one of the most distinctive and enduring style movements of the modern era, and its influence can be seen everywhere today. Geometric print curtains and wallpaper are currently the height of fashion in 2022, for example! It has a positivity and forward-thinking appeal to it, reflecting the optimistic period of growth between the wars.
The stock market crash of 1929 slammed the brakes on the more opulent and extravagant excesses of the era, with the Art Deco of the 1930s reverting to a simpler aesthetic. Although many beautiful Art Deco buildings sadly fell into repair or were demolished, many more survive, such as the Hoover Building in London, which today is luxury flats.
Contemporary interior design
Perhaps the overwhelming trend for the past few decades has been the Scandinavian aesthetic, which favours minimalism, neutral colour palettes, and unfussy sleek designs. The emphasis on natural materials, such as wood and hemp, appeals to our ongoing fascination with bringing nature into our homes.
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