The concept of “style” in architecture and design was introduced in the XIX century. We used to believe the Industrial Revolution was defined by bridges and railway stations, but home interiors played an important role as well. Running water, flush toilets, and a pipe siphon were in common use at this time. Central heating systems gradually replaced furnaces. We saw new types of space – a bathroom or a children’s room. That’s why it makes sense to learn the styles from this era. The spread of mass production is directly related to the development of all the stylistic diversity that we see today.
The Rise of Middle Class: Victorian Style
Now the interior can be anything you want. But families used to inherit furniture from generation to generation. In the Victorian period, many were able to afford the choice provided by modernization. Middle-class families created microcosms in their homes. Mass production allowed them to fill their homes with a variety of textiles and pieces of furniture. Travelling to the East has stimulated interest in “exotic” designs of China, Japan, and India. American landscape painter Frederick Church collected such a microcosm in his house overlooking the Hudson River, calling it Olana. With the help of a professional architect and landscape designer Calvert Vaux 2, they created an interior in the so-called “Persian” style of 1874-1889.
Although the relevance of most stylistic components of Victorian design is now in doubt, it still remains popular. According to a recent study based on Google Trends’ search queries, people in ten US states most searched for it over the past year. In the XXI century, the “modern” Victorian interior has undergone many changes, mixing with elements of other styles. Synonyms for Victorian design include “historicism”, “ornamentation”, and “eclecticism”.
How to define Victorian interior: languid pieces of furniture, including armchairs, sofas, and ottomans; patterned tiles, textiles, and decoration; stained glass windows; excess decor.
In 1862, John Ruskin published a book describing his vision of a middle class without the Industrial Revolution. His followers, the Arts and Crafts Movement, declare mass machine production to be impersonal, idolizing the artisan as the sole author. Together with the opportunities provided by the modernization, it creates favourable conditions for the development of first “brands” and design gurus. 3 Inspired by the ornamental wallpaper, which William Morris’s company successfully commercialised, plant forms have become almost the most expressive element of modernity (not to be confused with modernism). Antonio Gaudi literally brought this element to the point of absurdity.
The article in The New Yorker said, “the profession of an interior designer was created by Elsie de Wolfe.” There were designers before her era but she was the first media interior designer. Elsie de Wolfe used (as seen below in the photographs taken in her 1936 interior) mirrors to expand the space, the trompe l’oeil effect, elements of chinoiserie and green prints to create the atmosphere of the garden.
Elsie de Wolfe wrote, “I opened the doors and windows of America and let in the sunlight and air.” Just ten years later (in 1946), another popular interior designer, Dorothy Draper, decorated the Greenbrier Hotel. Although she worked at the same time, her interiors aggravated Victorian eclecticism with an abundance of languid fabrics and contrast. Now this style is called Hollywood Regency, and its main features include luxury, velvet, richness of colour, lacquered surfaces, and catchy textures.
In the 1930s, furniture stores offered “traditional” products, creating furniture “suites” that they claimed represented a particular period, especially the favourite colonial. Even such a modern invention as the radio, since it has become a universally desired object in every home, turned into a wooden box made in the traditional style.
If we try to find out what these styles have mutated into in the XXI century, we are more likely to see such commercial spaces as interiors in Wes Anderson’s films or restaurants in Sketch — The Glade (Carolyn Quartermaine and Didier Mahieu) and Gallery (India Mahdavi). The floral style of Art Nouveau in staircase designs of the minimalist loft apartments in Germany won several awards in 2016-2017.
The Advent Of Timeless Modernism
The XIX century’s efforts to find new design languages — the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau, and other modernist styles — remained tied to the past. The Arts and Crafts Movement tried to return to the manual craft of the pre-industrial era while others were looking for new dictionaries, not realizing the extent of the changes that had affected modern life. Victorian decorative and superficial eclectic historicism became the main object of modernism attacks.
But it was not easy to part ways with the past. Art Deco is pretty noticeable among the many modernist styles of the XX century. It was not associated with the problems of functionalism and technology typical of modernism. It was primarily a fashionable style that had to take its place in a sequence of styles from the past – styles, among which the designer and the client could choose. Among the modern interiors referring to Art Deco, we would like to mention the work of Ghiora Aharoni.
Adolf Loos, who had a great influence on modernists, spoke about contemporary architects, “They become specialists in props, all sorts of illusions and abstractions but completely lose the sense of proportionality because it is typical of the theatre: it’s only temporary. Theatre directors invited me to make decorations for plays. I refused. It’s against my nature. For me, theatrical scenery is simply unbearable. It’s not architecture at all.”
In Tomorrow’s House (1945), modernists George Nelson and Henry Wright stated they would not present any catalogues of “styles” or instructions of good taste in their book. Modernists opposed to “fashion” characterising themselves as timeless. Many movements appeared within modernism, such as functionalism, internationalism, Bauhaus, constructivism, etc. All these movements bring together the rejected decoration and national peculiarities of interior and welcomed direct forms and smooth surfaces. The famous mantra of minimalism “Less is More” came from this broth.
How to define Mid-Century Modernism: timelessness, iconic and legendary furniture, open layout, lamps of complex spherical forms, natural colours, expressive straight lines.
The contemporary style is characterized by constant change. It has up-to-date trends called sub-styles. Their distinctive features are not easily defined. They mix with each other, forming new trends. Their number is still growing. We tried to outline some of them.
Neo-Memphis: a multinational group of designers, founded in the ’80s in Milan by Ettore Sottsassom, existed for less than a decade, and the products of its activity were used more as museum exhibits that never went into mass production. This style is gaining popularity again. Neo-Memphis is characterized by more comfortable furniture and more pronounced borrowing of forms from the graphic design of the 80’s. It’s interesting that David Bowie was a huge fan of Neo-Memphis, and his collection was sold in Sotheby’s after his death in January 2016.
How to define Neo-Memphis: elements of Art Deco with its striking geometric shapes, kitsch as a symbol of revolt against minimalism and bright colour palettes.
Scandinavian hygge: Scandinavian countries have played an important role in the formation of modernism. The contemporary Scandinavian interior is often associated with hygge — the Danish word for the art of being happy. The UN regularly places Denmark on top of the list of the happiest countries in the world. No wonder the book Hygge. The Secret of Danish Happiness was written by the founder of the Danish Institute of Happiness Research Mike Viking. Now hygge has become a whole movement of hedonists from the northern regions of Europe, who love the atmosphere of cosy communication, hot drinks and large woollen blankets.
How to determine Hygge: white-colour walls, aged wooden floors, lots of carpets and blankets, monochrome shades, plants, candles, wicker baskets, soft windowsills.
Minimalism: the basic principle of this style (“Less is More”) was formed by modernists in the early XX century. In the XXI century, minimalism is often associated with a way of life, although the Japanese had this principle as part of their culture long before western modernists realized it.
How to define Minimalism: simplicity, linearity, lots of sunlight, smooth surfaces, monochrome tones, zero useless decor.
Environmental minimalism: its essence, as Buckminster Fuller put it, beating the slogan of minimalism, is “to do more with less”. It is tied up to architecture, particularly sustainable design. The use of environmental materials in the building and interior is one of the most revolutionary topics in recent years. The world is increasingly focusing on environmental health and materials are essential to creating a cleaner, more environmentally friendly world. It is important that materials are intended for reuse and do not leave a large carbon waste.
How to define Ecological Minimalism: ecological materials, plants, natural tones, ecological energy sources.
The interior, as well as the way of life, is a matter of fashion. There were times when it was believed the interior should reflect the high level of culture. Then came the period of modernism and functionality. Now good taste is becoming a matter of perspective and environmental design.