Interior design is the art of designing the interior, often including the exterior, of a room or building. An interior architect is someone who integrates and manages such architectonic projects.
Interior design is a many-sided profession that includes theoretical development, corresponding with the stakeholders of a project, and the management and execution of the design. Interior design is the process of shaping the experience of interior space, through the right handling of space as well as surface treatment.
In the past, building interiors were put together naturally as a part of the process of construction. The art of interior design has been a consequence of the development of society and the complex architecture that have resulted from the development of advanced industrial processes. The pursuit of effective use of space, user well-being and functional design has contributed to the development of the contemporary interior design. The profession of interior design is separate and distinct from the role of interior decorator, a term commonly used in the US. The term is less common in the UK where the profession of interior design is still unregulated and therefore, not yet officially a profession. In ancient India, architects only used to work as interior designers. This can be inferred from the references of Vishwakarma, the architect – one of the gods in Indian mythology. Additionally, the sculptures depicting ancient texts and events are seen in palaces built in 17th century, in India. In ancient Egypt, “soul houses” or models of houses were placed in tombs as receptacles for food offerings. From these, it is possible to discern details about the interior design of different residences throughout the different Egyptian dynasties such as changes in ventilation, porticoes, columns, loggias, windows, and doors. Throughout the 17th and 18th century, and into the early 19th Century, interior decoration was the concern of the homemaker, an employed upholsterer or craftsman who would advise on the artistic style for an interior space. Architects would also employ craftsmen or artisans to complete interior design for their buildings.
Commercial interior design
From the middle-to- late 19th century, interior design services expanded in industrial economies of the West. As the middle-class in America and Europe grew in size and prosperity, they began to desire the domestic trappings of wealth to cement their new status. Large furniture firms began to branch out into general interior design and management, offering full house furnishings in a variety of styles. This business model flourished from the mid-century to 1914, when this role was increasingly usurped by independent, often amateur, designers. This paved the way for the emergence of the professional interior design in the mid-20th century. In the 1850s and 1860s, upholsterers began to expand their business transactions. They framed their business more broadly and in artistic terms and began to advertise their furnishings to the public. To meet the growing demand for contract interior work on projects such as offices, hotels, and public buildings, these enterprises (furniture stores, dealers) became large and complex. In order to service the growing clients, they began to employ builders, joiners, plasterers, textile designers, artists, and furniture designers, as well as engineers and technicians to fulfill the job requirements. Firms began to publish and circulate catalogs with prints for different lavish styles to attract the attention of expanding middle classes in Europe and America.
Retail interior design
As department stores increased in number and size, retail spaces within shops were furnished in different styles as examples for customers. One particularly effective advertising tool was to set up model rooms at national and international exhibitions in showrooms for the public to see. Some of the pioneering firms in this regard were Waring & Gillow, James Shoolbred, Mintons and Holland & Sons. These traditional high-quality furniture making firms began to play an important role as advisers to middle class customers on taste and style. Gradually, the furniture stores began taking out contracts to design and furnish the interiors of many important buildings in Britain. This type of firm emerged in America after the Civil War. The Herter Brothers, founded by two German brothers, began as an upholstery warehouse and became one of the first firms of furniture makers and interior decorators. With their own design office, cabinet-making and upholstery workshops, Herter Brothers were prepared to accomplish every aspect of interior furnishing. Some of their contracts included decorative panelling and mantels, wall and ceiling decoration, patterned floors and carpets and draperies.
Owen Jones, father figure
A pivotal figure in popularizing theories of interior design to the middle class was the architect Owen Jones. Jones was one of the most influential design theorists of the 19th century. His first project was his most important – in 1851 he was responsible for not only the decoration of Joseph Paxton’s gigantic Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition, but also for the arrangement of the exhibits within. He chose a controversial palette of red, yellow and blue for the interior ironwork and, despite initial negative publicity in the newspapers, was eventually unveiled by Queen Victoria to much critical acclaim. His most significant work was “The Grammar of Ornament” (1856) in which Jones formulated 37 key principles of interior design and decoration. Jones was employed by some of the leading interior design firms of the day. In the 1860s he worked in collaboration with the London firm Jackson & Graham to produce furniture and other fittings for high-profile clients including art collector Alfred Morrison and the Khedive of Egypt, Ismail Pasha. In 1882 the London Directory of the Post Office listed 80 interior decorators.
Professional interior design
By the turn of the 20th century, amateur advisors and publications were increasingly challenging the monopoly that the large retail companies had on interior design. English feminist author Mary Haweis wrote a series of widely read essays in the 1880s in which she derided the eagerness with which aspiring middle-class people furnished their houses according to the rigid models offered to them by the retailers. She advocated the individual adoption of a particular style, tailor made to the individual needs and preferences of the customer. The move towards decoration as a separate artistic profession unrelated to the manufacturers and retailers got an impetus with the formation of the Institute of British Decorators in 1899. With John Dibblee Crace as its president, IBD represented almost 200 decorators around the country. By 1915, the London Directory listed 127 individuals trading as interior decorators, of which 10 were women. Rhoda and Agnes Garrett were the first women to train professionally as home decorators in 1874. The importance of their work on design was regarded at the time as on a par with that of William Morris. In 1876, their work – “Suggestions for House Decoration in Painting, Woodwork and Furniture” – spread their ideas on artistic interior design to a wide middle-class audience.
In America, Candace Wheeler was one of the first woman interior designers and helped encourage a new style of American design. She was instrumental in the development of art courses for women in a number of major American cities and was considered a national authority on home design. An important influence on the new profession was “The Decoration of Houses”, a manual of interior design written by Edith Wharton with architect Ogden Codman in 1897 in America. In the book, the authors denounced Victorian-style interior design especially those rooms that were decorated with heavy window curtains, Victorian bric-a-brac and overstuffed furniture. They argued that such rooms emphasized upholstery at the expense of proper space planning and architectural design and were, therefore, uncomfortable and rarely used. The book is considered a seminal work and its success led to the emergence of professional decorators working in the manner advocated by its authors, most notably Elsie de Wolfe.
American woman pioneer
Elsie De Wolfe was one of the first female interior designers. Rejecting the Victorian style she grew up with, she chose a more vibrant scheme, along with more comfortable furniture in the home. Her designs were light with fresh colours and delicate Chinoiserie furnishings, as opposed to the Victorian preference of heavy, red drapes and upholstery, dark wood and intensely patterned wallpapers. Her designs were also more practical. She eliminated the clutter that occupied the Victorian home, enabling people to entertain more guests comfortably. In 1905, de Wolfe was commissioned for the interior design of the Colony Club on Madison Avenue. The interiors of Colony Club garnered her recognition almost overnight. She compiled her ideas into her widely read 1913 book, “The House in Good Taste”. In England, Syrie Maugham became a legendary interior designer credited with designing the first all-white room. Starting her career in the early 1910s, her international reputation soon grew. She later expanded her business to New York and Chicago.
The interior design as an exclusive profession became more prominent after World War II. From the 1950s onwards spending on the home increased. Interior design courses were established, requiring the publication of textbooks and reference sources. The historical accounts of interior designers and firms distinct from the decorative arts specialists were made available. Moreover, the organisations to regulate education, qualifications, standards and practices, etc. were established for the nascent profession. Interior design was previously seen as playing a secondary role to architecture. It also has many connections to other design disciplines, involving the work of architects, industrial designers, engineers, builders and craftsmen. For these reasons the regulation of interior design standards and qualifications was often incorporated into other professional organisations that involved design. Organisations such as the American Designers Institute founded in 1938 & Chartered Society of Designers set up in the UK in 1986 and were established as organisations that governed various areas of design parameters.
Designers vs. decorators
Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Whereas decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design. Interior design implies that there is more of an emphasis on planning, functional design and the effective use of space, as compared to interior decoration. An interior designer can undertake projects that include arranging the basic layout of spaces within a building as well as projects that require an understanding of technical issues such as window and door positioning, acoustics and lighting. Although an interior designer may create the layout of a space, they may not alter load-bearing walls without having their designs stamped for approval by a structural engineer. Interior designers often work directly with architects, engineers and contractors.