Call us today on: 01767 317773
The History of Interior Design

How Interior Design Has Changed and Developed

Interior design is a widely used practice a popular profession. Numerous skills and elements go into being an interior designer and so many things to consider in order to create a beautiful, bespoke living space. Interior design is a well-known subject now, but where did it all start? What did it use to be like and how has it changed?

The practice of interior design dates back to ancient Egypt, who decorated their mud huts with basic furniture they had enhanced by using animal skin, simple textiles, graphic biographical and spiritual murals, sculptures and painted urns. Although the practice of interior design became more apparent in ancient Egypt, there are some signs that it dates further back to the stone age, whose approach to interior design featured with animal skin, sticks and mud as decoration. It is argued that cave paintings were used as decoration, however, evidence also suggests these displayed early rituals of mankind.  The later period of the stone age handmade pottery was used for both practical and decorative purposes across Neolithic Europe.

Roman and Greek civilizations advanced the Egyptian art of interior designing and accessorising. The Greeks would use elaborate wooden furniture which featured intricate details with ivory and silver decorations, while the Romans focused on comfort. They had furniture made of stone, marble, wood or bronze and added comfort by cushions and expressive tapestries. Both Greek and Roman civilisations displayed vases and wall paintings to make their space unique, as well as both creating mosaic floors. The Romans also added clawed foot furniture to their homes. Interior design came to a bit of a halt and fazed into the background during the ongoing wars throughout medieval Europe and the rise of the Christian church. Interior design became very practical, featuring plan wood panelling, minimal and only useful furniture and a stark stone slab floor.  Even the wealthy citizens stuck to muted textile colours in tapestries and even stonework. After the medieval period, the Renaissance followed allowing a rebirth of culture, art and economy. For interior design, this meant grand furnishings and art with vibrant hues and luxurious textiles such as silk, velvet and marble. Carpet was also a large concept during the renaissance; however, it was still very expensive, even for the wealthiest of people, therefore carpet was hung on the walls.  Art became a great desire for interior decoration, Michelangelo was an Italian sculptor, painter and architect, who painted ‘the Creation of Adam’ on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Leonardo da Vinci who was responsible for paintings such as the Mona Lisa was also a great architect during this period. Similar the Renaissance, came the Gothic period which also featured a lot of bold colours, alongside delicate ornaments and open plan living to allow light to flood the space from the multiple windows, which is an element of design which is still used today. 

                                                          Nativity painting

The baroque style was popular during the periods between 1590 and 1725, Baroque derives from the French word meaning ‘irregularly shaped’. The Baroque style featured ultra-rich artistic elements, gilt mirrors, grand chandeliers stained glass, twisted columns and paintings on the ceiling. Towards the end of the Gothic period and the Baroque era, the traditional design presented rich history contrasting with the decidedly modern elements for an elegant spin and highlighting 18th and 19th-century décor. Rococo designed followed the ideology of traditional design, adding unique elements such as tortoiseshell, pearl embellishments, Asian porcelain and botanical silhouettes.
                                                                  Ornate bronze frames and paintings

Before interior design became a profession, architects would often design the outside and inside of a home, however, it remained simple with wood panelling and practical furniture before people started to follow their own trends and the latest fashions, adding small comforts and soft furnishings. It is believed that people in the 15th and 16th Century in England decorated their homes to indicate wealth. For example, when the pineapple was first bought to England in the 1500s after being discovered by Columbus, being seen with one would make people consider you as being incredibly wealthy. A single pineapple, in the height of its popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries, could cost the equivalent of approximately £8,000, so people would display the fruit in their homes, and it would not be consumed and they became an insanely popular and a status symbol. In the late 17th and early 18th century, the interior design started to become more popular and saw a rise of influential designers. William Kent James was an architect is credited as having introduced the Palladian style to Britain which is strongly based on symmetry.

The start of the Industrial Revolution made interior design easier for the general public, rather than just for the wealthier citizens. There was an easier printing process making it more prevalent and luxury items became more affordable to the average person. This allowed a lot more people to have well decorated and designed homes and allowed interior design to be more appreciated and increase its popularity. As the British empire expanded interior design took its inspiration from the occupying regions. Tropical designs from Indian and the West Indies featured in wallpaper which was no longer a luxury exclusive to the higher classes, this kickstarted the trend of furniture matching the wallpaper.

Interior design became a profession in the early 1900s, originating in New York with Elsie de Wolfe who is believed to be the inventor of the career. Elsie de Wolfe is known as ‘the American pioneer who vanquished Victorian gloom’ and after retiring from the stage in 1905, she turned to interior decoration. Her reputation as a set designer and success in decorating the house her and her close friend shared, as well as her social connections all aided towards her advancement in interior design. Elsie worked with an architect called Stanford White who helped her win the project of designing the interior of the Colony Club (New York’s first social club for women). This was where Elsie first exhibited her signature principles of design: simplicity, airiness and visual unity. Through the use of mirrors and light hues of paint and fabric, Elise achieved her spacious design – her success there firmly established her as the first professional interior designer. Elsie de Wolfe had many distinguished clients, among these were: Amy Vanderbilt (American author), Anne Morgan (philanthropist), Henry Clay Frick (American industrialist) and the duke and duchess of Windsor. Elise transformed wealthy homes from harbouring dark wooded and heavily curtained interiors to light intimate spaces, showcasing fresh colours and 18th-century French furniture.

In the late 1800s towards 1940, modernism took over interior design. Simplicity and clarity were the top trends. The clean, simple colour palette and use of materials such as metal, glass and steel defined the sense of functionality which ultimately characterized modernism as a whole. Art deco also made an appearance during the 1920s towards the 60s. Clean lines, angular shapes, bold colour and stylised patterns defined to a feeling of the Art deco period. Rooms were decorated with ornate embellishments, metallic hues, a lot of glass elements such as vases, bowls and figures. Glass was also used in tables and mirrors. The year 1930 saw a unique turn for interior design as surrealism strongly dominated the scene. Following inspiration from Salvador Dali and the unleashing of creativity of the unconscious mind and dream-like imagery. Surrealist designers offered a stark contrasting environment. One of Salvador Dali’s most famous works is his Mae West lips sofa inspired by the Hollywood actress. Surrealism is still seen today with quirky and unique furniture with many approaches, for example, the use of bowler hats as lampshades or bronze birds’ legs to support a table.

                                                                   multi coloured glass bottles

The 1950s saw the rise of technology such as television. Interior design adapted to include and make technology part of the design as well as having the obvious practical uses. This method is still seen today through the use of TV walls and furniture purposely created to display technology. This transitional period continued to adapt alongside developing technologies. The late 70s saw the rise of postmodernism which featured playful shapes and bright colours, celebrating an unconventional style. Designers would use multiple textures such as leather, glass, plastic and laminates alongside the primary colours which were very prominent in this era. Designers used salvaged and distressed materials to create the appearance of an urban concept. As postmodernism developed the colour palette expanded to a mix of natural and retro shades such as burnt orange, avocado green, mustard, turquoise and metallic tones. Layering is a key design element in postmodernism, featuring different materials and textures such as chunky knits and wood grains used to create warmth and contrast.

Eventually, the contemporary period emerged in the 80s, allowing interior designers to follow the fashion trends of the era. Today this features of calming and serene atmospheres, bold scales and a concise colour palette, warm space and easy sophistication. Interior design today still features multiple elements and approaches from previous eras, these may have developed or been kept the same to create a unique environment. Clean lines and texture play featured in the art deco and modernism period and are still as relevant today. Interior design has developed and adapted to fir new trends and fashions but the idea of using art to decorate a room is still well-practised in today’s designs. Elise de Wolfe created the ideology of using light to enhance a room which cultivated throughout the years but the concept of using light to a designer’s advantage remained the same.
                                                                     Bronze and LED TV wall with marble fireplace


Turning your ideas into your dream piece of furniture

All we need is a sketch of your idea and our workshop will do the hard work

Turning your ideas into your dream piece of furniture

All we need is a sketch of your idea and our workshop will do the hard work
interior design bespoke furniture