How has interior design changed over the years?

Interior design is defined as the art and science of enhancing the inside of a building. The aim is to achieve a healthier and more aesthetically pleasing environment for people that use the space. It is a pursuit that is thousands of years old, and throughout it has changed dramatically to suit the style of the period. Understandably, with advancements in technology, lifestyles and household objects, designs have developed and adapted to use new materials and to stay relevant.

Although the profession of ‘interior designer’ is a relatively modern concept, we can look back as far as the Stone Age to see evidence of early interior design ideas through the instinctive coordination of flora and fauna in prehistoric dwellings. However, it was not until the early 19th century that a true appreciation for interior design was recognised, while the profession was popularised when the Modernist and Art Nouveau movements gripped the era. Gone were the days where interior design was reserved for the upper classes and royal palaces. Instead, the innovative and enriching possibilities of interior design were made accessible to the public. Having beautiful, aesthetically pleasing homes that indulged in an excess of ornaments, textures and patterns was key to demonstrating luxury and, above all, wealth.

By the turn of the 20th century, the time of heavy, oversized and excessive furnishing and ornaments had passed, with functionality becoming a key component in interior design. With technological advancements in home appliances, the addition of washing machines, televisions and stoves presented a new and interesting challenge for interior designers globally. Whilst past projects would centre around the aesthetic appeal of a room, spaces now required to be designed with dual functionality. Many argue that the Eclectic style was born from this emerging need to harmonise juxtaposed styles, textures, colours and household appliances to create a cohesive and attractive space. After all, it is a style centred around experimentation and having fun with each element, enabling a new-found freedom for interior designers.

The 20th century gave rise to a plethora of innovative styles as designers worked hard to overcome the hold large retail outlets had on interior design across the globe. Interior designers during this period felt that the mass production of home furnishings had left spaces looking bland, boring and without any distinctive character. There was a strong push within the design world for spaces to be representative of the individual’s unique taste and habits, creating a space that was best suited to their life instead of manufacturing carbon copies of other homes. As such, Art Deco trends that originated from Paris and the more modernist style of Bauhaus from Germany began to encapsulate the interior design world during the ‘roaring 20’s’.

More than ever people sought out interior designers to bring glamour into their homes with foreign objects found on their travels abroad, mirrored tiles, bold geometric shapes and stylised images of modern transport. This glamorous period was however cut short because of growing tensions in Europe as the 1940’s paved the way for war-influenced interior design. The time of luxury had passed, and the next decade focused on budgeting in every aspect of life. Mixing and matching patterns and colours became popular throughout this period as part of the wartime ‘make do’ attitude.

Women looked to make their homes more feminine and welcoming, including floral patterns, wallpapers, softer lino and synthetic flooring. It wasn’t until the 1950’s, during a post-war boom, that interior design would see a distinct resurgence in the west and a push for consumerism would emerge. Among the wealthy in the society, Scandinavian interior influences took hold and designer furniture was the must-have style for the time. However, for the middle classes, the influence of new and exciting technologies meant that homes saw an influx of appliances – particularly in the kitchen. Many designers would note the substantial impact that the mantra of ‘Peace and Love’ had throughout the 1960’s.

Musical artists such as The Beatles spread messages that helped to create what many would characterise as ‘groovy interiors’. Shag carpeting, conversation pits, psychedelic colours and open-plan living were the must-have elements inside every home during the ‘decade of love’. After the vibrant design choices of the 1960’s, the 1970’s brought about a more transitional period. There was a shift towards postmodernism design mixed with the pop culture of the era and a renewed interest in environmentalism. For many designers, it is undoubtedly the decade that taste forgot with its distinct avocado bathrooms, lava lamps and woodchip wallpaper.

Political upheaval dominated the 1980’s, and interior design experienced a radical change as a result. During a period of social, economic and political uncertainty, individuals wanted their voices to be heard more than ever and this expression impacted their design preferences. Interior choices transitioned into a mix of 80’s modernism, Feng Shui, Country, Punk influences and much more.

Then, as the 20th century drew to a close, interior design was at its peak with interior design shows dominating daytime television. Sponge painting your walls was all the rage alongside beige tones, damask print and inflatable furniture that became the pinnacle of 90’s interior décor. There was a distinct mix and match vintage trend in the early to mid-90’s that saw this eclectic mix of colours, patterns, styles and cultures. What is abundantly clear when looking at movements such as Bauhaus, Modernism, Scandinavian Eclectic and so many more is that the style trends born from them have transcended time.

In modern interior design, we see many of these styles and movements heavily referenced, mixed and matched to create beautiful and practical spaces.

In many respects, the interior design trends we have seen throughout the 20th and 21st century can be categorised by the embrace and reaction of new and innovative technologies and the eclectic mix of old and new.

The world of interior design has developed dramatically throughout human history but within the last few centuries the possibilities for designers have exploded.

Interior designers today have access to infinite styles, influences, colours, textures, objects and movements that allow them to create spaces that are not only beautiful, but practical too and of course all of these movements and influences can be enhanced and combined, with the addition of beautiful artwork.


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