It is no news that humans are affected by their surroundings. It becomes even more important when we realise how much time we spend indoors or in the ‘interior’ environment, more so now having gone through the pandemic. However, the interior space became important to us long back in time. As soon as humankind started building shelter, we started crafting our indoor spaces as per our own needs. Even though the formal ‘interior design’ came up much later, the innate human ability to envision and craft products and spaces had extended itself to the interior space much before.
Today, the role of interior design is to create functional, aesthetically pleasing and healthier spaces. It only makes sense for one to take a look at the entire journey of the field of interior design throughout human history.
Interior design can be defined as the art and science of understanding user behaviours and desires to create functional and aesthetically pleasing spaces. Before the profession formally came into the picture, interior design was instinctively associated with the architecture of buildings.
From ancient Egypt to ancient India, one can find numerous evidence and references to the designing of interior spaces. Even Roman and Greek civilisations took the art of interior design from the Egyptians forward. They created elaborate wooden furniture featuring intricate ivory and silver decoration, while the Romans focused more on the synergy between beauty and comfort in interior spaces. In both cases, the interiors were designed and decorated to reflect socio-political status and wealth whilst making the spaces unique to the user.
Throughout history, interior design reflected the times and the region. Regional techniques and local vernacular materials naturally found their way into the interiors, and so did the larger context. An example would be the Dark Ages in Europe. The interior design of this era featured minimal and sombre furnishings with little to no presence of decorative elements, and rather the spaces and their adornments were largely designed to serve a practical purpose and less of an aesthetic purpose.
Survival was more important at this point, and the interiors reflected that. This was followed by Europeans going back to introducing ornamentation and the introduction of the Gothic style in the 12th century, which emphasises making the best use of natural light and open interiors.
Interior design movements have always gone hand in hand with the movements of art and architecture. However, the epitome of popularization of interior design came about in the 19th century, when the idea of making interiors that are ‘life-enhancing’ was no longer exclusively for royal compounds or homes of the wealthy. The idea of interior design began to reach the masses in the late 1800s, with all the major styles coalescing to give rise to more eclectic outcomes.
Soon, in the early 20th century, the term ‘interior decorator’ began to be used formally with Elsie de Wolfe, followed by the term ‘interior design’ being coined in the 1930s by a magazine named ‘Interior Design and Decoration’. Here, it’s also important to point out the difference that arose between interior decorating and interior designing.
Even though earlier there seems to have been more of an overlap between the two, interior decorating involves the furnishing and adorning of a space with elements that are decorative and to achieve a certain aesthetic, while design focuses on the functionality of spaces.
After taking a journey through so many ages and various styles, contemporary interior design is known for being crisp, sleek and functional. Some would say it has become more impersonal and cold, while we do see instances of sensitive approaches as well, but with simplicity and subtle plays on the materiality. With the formal knowledge of the field getting more refined, today, we have an increased understanding of concepts of layouts, furniture, comfort, ergonomics and materials.
The ultimate goal of contemporary architecture is to provide a simple balance between aesthetics and functionality, tailored to the needs of the user.
As seen in the past through the present, interior design is increasingly and gradually becoming available and accessible to everyone, irrespective of your wealth and/or social status. With the age of digital technology rapidly supporting the process of design, interior design also seems to be adopting the digital route.
Thanks to more and more online platforms coming up which provide services of visualisation and effective communication, the work of designers becomes easier and less intensive and provides more accessibility to the users to get their needs met in the best way possible. Everything will become ‘smarter’, from the design process to the end materials.
With the growing focus on health and well-being, especially with the experience of the recent pandemic, interior design will intertwine further with the emerging sensitivities of designing for inclusivity and designing for improved mental and physical health indoors. There seems to be a need and an inherent direction to how the profession of interior design is increasingly becoming human-centric and life-centric.
We are already looking at sustainability being integrated deeply into the design process, and it’ll only become more integral and profound, with more emphasis on the entire life-cycle of any project or product. It is up to the industry and us professionals to decide how the squiggly future of interior design will take shape, and it will be informed by the people, along with the people, as we make the process of design itself more inclusive and participatory, with the appropriate sensitivities in place.
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