Tag Archives: history

Should Interior Design Follow Fashion?

It’s an age-old argument among interior designers.

In fact, it’s been going on so long that I’m quite sure the argument started in the 1860s. The renowned Edith Wharton argued in her seminal work that it was time to move beyond the boring, conservative Victorian style of overstuffed furniture, dark, heavy drapes, and cluttered bric-a-brac.

Wharton announced that these rooms, while ‘fashionable’ were practically unusable, as they were so dark and unwelcoming.

Her successor as darling of design, Elsie de Wolfe, shared Wharton’s anti-fashion views, moving towards bright, vibrant and highly stylised designs. De Wolfe love including Asian accessories in her rooms, creating an airy, exotic and enticing atmosphere in a sea of dark velvets and heavy wallpapers.

De Wolfe not only brightened all the rooms she worked on, but she mercifully freed them of the intense clutter that was such a staple of the Victorian style. From heavy ottomans and pouffes, to massive loveseats, overstuffed sofas and endless tiny wooden tables, the old style was big on having furniture everywhere.

It’s much too intense to have so much stuff everywhere – people don’t want to be in them. They want somewhere they can stretch out, feel relaxed, be themselves.

And that’s where the next iteration of interior design excelled so well. Syrie Maugham gave everyone quite a fright when she created the first ‘all-white’ room in London.

The fantastic brightness of such a room, even in the dull grey light of a London day, was enough to startle even the most lethargic critics. And Syrie stuck to her guns, too, creating spaces that just screamed light and brightness all over the world.

So the question is not so much whether interior design should follow fashion, as whether interior design should be an expression of your own vibrance, your own passion and flair.

And the answer to that, resoundingly, is yes.


A Brief History of Interior Design

Interior design has been an industry from the very earliest pages of history.

The renowned architects of ancient India also functioned as interior designers, styling the interiors of the spaces they designed, as well as creating the original vision.

In more recent times, however, interior design has become a real profession only in the last 100 years or so. As the Industrial Revolution swept Europe and the Americas, there was suddenly a new middle class, flush with resources and ambition.

These people wanted stylish homes, they wanted to entertain, and they wanted to be vaunted as arbiters of style by their peers.

What better to way than to show your taste and panache than by throwing fabulous soirees in your fabulous house?

Truly, it was the upholsterers who caught the changing winds to begin with.

They quickly saw the opportunity to expand their services, and were soon offering the contracted services of builders, joiners, artists and furniture and textile designers.

The advent of department stores only served to feed the frenzy even more, and by the end of the 19th Century, interior designers were comfortably ensconced in the respectable merchant class.

As the practice of designing one’s home gained ever more popularity, and as more women began slowly to join the profession, there was a shift from the traditionally formal themes installed in houses to more personalised and vibrant settings.

After the Second World War, the Western world went into a frenzy, with people often decorating and redecorating every five to ten years.

The industry standardized, the theories expanded and people loved it all the more.

These days, most interior designers specialise in either residential work, commercial spaces, or entertainment spaces. Globalisation has meant that there are ever more influences to draw from, cross-cultural blendings to explore, and inspiration to be found in ever more corners.