The Roots of Interior Design
Objects in Interior Design
Historically, paintings were commissioned by size and the painter would have had been able to provide other handicrafts as home furnishings. A sculptor who worked in bronze or other metals would have provided metal ornaments for decorating and supplying the needs of the home. High-ranking artists would have owned studios staffed with apprentices who helped fill the need for home goods.
The use of antiques as a deliberate design choice is common now, but was unusual in previous eras. Older pieces of furniture and decor were typically relegated to the lesser-used rooms in the house, while the more frequently-visited rooms were laid out in the modern fashion of the day. Home owners sought out new and old artworks to furnish their homes, but the traditional trade in antique artworks has been confined to paintings by well-known masters and some valuable pieces made of gold.
Architects of the past (and present) included interior design elements in their work, including furniture, rugs, wall hangings, pottery, ceramics and silver pieces in their designs. Cabinet pictures, paintings designed specifically to fit into a certain area such as the wall space above a couch, are incorporated into architectural plans. Mirrors have traditionally been included in interior spaces to make them appear more spacious than they actually are. Another architectural design element is the mural, which was often used during the 17th-century Baroque design era much like a mirror, to make a room look bigger.
For most of the history of interior design, only the homes of the rich, powerful and important were considered worthy of study. Only in the very recent past have art galleries, museums and scholars begun to consider the home furnishings of everyday people. Since the curators and scholars of these pieces studied them in isolation, however, the purposes of home objects was sometimes misunderstood. Furthering this particular problem is the division, in arts circles, between the fine arts and the industrial, or decorative, arts.
Since the 1840s, collectors who specialize in particular categories of antique furnishings have helped preserve their meanings and uses. Collectors valued decorative objects such as silver furnishings and objects like Meissen porcelain figurines so highly that these objects began to be taken out of use for their original purposes and placed instead on shelves and in collections.
History of Interior Design Across the World
Before the 7th century BCE, little evidence of decorative home furnishings survives. Cave-dwelling human beings who lived 20,000 years ago made paintings on cave walls, but these may have had a purpose other than decoration. No examples of movable furniture from prehistory have been found.
The very idea of interior design was made possible by the shift in human culture from the nomadic lifestyle to the settled agrarian life. Societies with nomadic lifestyles had little need for large collections of heavy, awkward furnishings to move around with them. Central Asian nomadic societies did, however, create fine carpets and rugs to provide for comfort and decoration within their portable shelters. Among these cultures, carpets and rugs are considered the highest form of fine art. One of the earliest known examples dates from the 5th century BCE in Central Mongolia, known as the Pazyryk carpet.
Fast forward to the 17th, 18th, and even the beginning of the 19th century, and designing interiors became the task of the homemaker of nearly every home. While the inhabitants of the homes were the ones making the design choices, sometimes they would enlist the help of a craftsman such as a woodworker to create custom pieces for the home.
Design choices were different across the world, and across time. By the time the 20th century hit, design choices became focused around functionality. This was only exacerbated when the Great Depression hit and there was no room for frilly, decorative “wants,” only what was needed to keep the home running. Much of this is seen in many mid-century modern furniture and interior designs. Finally, interior design slowly but surely began to transition into the decorative arts. From the Bauhaus movement to the emergence of art moderne, the designers of these functional objects began to get more creative with their work and produce something that was equally functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Over time, this has evolved into entire living spaces becoming aesthetically pleasing places to live, with hundreds of different design styles in existence, and the art of decorating these spaces its own career. Interior design has come a long way over the years, and we can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.