5 Revolutionary Game Changers in Residential Interior Design
If you're not checking out these design resources, you should be.
You look up furniture and accessories on the Internet. You take a break from work and head off to an indoor bathroom. Your clients are familiar with concepts like crown molding and skim-coated walls. Whoa! Do you realize that there are some amazing—nay, revolutionary!—developments in the world of residential interior design that we're taking for granted? Let’s look at some of these developments, and point out their importance for all interior designers. Are you stepping up your design game to keep up with these game changers?
1. Interior Design Reality Television. Here's a big game changer for all interior designers. Home improvement and home lifestyle TV shows—like Changing Rooms in the UK, Trading Spaces and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in the US, and Debbi Travis' Painted House in Canada—began an addictive trend in the mid-1990s that still continues. Homeowners see quick, almost instant design results from fresh paint jobs, a few key furniture and accessory purchases, and DIY projects. Your client now expects to see instant results with what you do, but it’s important to manage expectations. Explain how TV decorating is meant to look great on video, but overnight jobs seldom stand up to daily scrutiny and wear and tear. (Remember theTrading Spaces episode where Hildi had a family room covered with straw hot-glued to the walls?) But it's vital that you manage projects to show off visible results at regular intervals; clients like to see the results of what they’re spending money on, so plan accordingly.
2. Dorothy Draper's Decorating Is Fun. Ms. Draper was an interior design and decorating brand long before Martha Stewart, and her 1939 book inspired homeowners to have fun with their decor. Her advice still stands true today: "I don't believe there is any rule in the game that can't be broken," She preached against following conventional ideas or creating interiors that look like you’re "living in some else's house" Follow her advice, pick up a copy of the still-inspirational Decorating Is Fun, and help your clients create spaces that are an expression of their own personality.
3. The Seagram Building. Located in Manhattan on 375 Park Avenue, this 1958 building was a joint Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson project, and mightily influenced American architecture. It used non-structural bronze I-beams to frame hanging non-structural glass walls like mullions—and now glass walls are dominant in most urban apartment buildings and in many homes. What's the interior design game changer here? It's important to see how interior design translates into a home’s exterior appearance. Mies van der Rohe was disturbed by the disorderly irregularity of window treatments, and his Seagram Building used uniform blinds that could only operate in three positions: open, half-open, or fully closed. When you design window treatments for your clients, don’t just consider them as interior elements; look at the whole-house effect from the outside and aim for pleasing uniformity or consistency. And this extends to other design aspects, too, including the way we have rooms flow outside, the use of flooring materials, how doors open up to the outside, and how we make window views part of our interior design (as opposed to blocking important views with walls where we can default to placing furniture and hanging art).
4. Designer Pioneers. A number of interior designers have greatly influenced how we work with clients, and a few pioneers opened up a wider range of design possibilities for us because of their work. Elsie de Wolff was a design "force of nature." Born in 1865, she was the first American professional to claim the title of interior designer. She radically changed cluttered Victorian era home style and said, "I opened the doors and windows of America and let the air and sunshine in." Her signature innovations included radical home entertaining concepts like the cocktail party and the intimate dinner party, eliminating clutter and streamlining the furnishings in a room, adding comfortable furniture like chaise lounges and softly-upholstered chairs, and using design elements like delicate writing tables, potted palms, faux finish treatments, mirrors with silver and gold finish frames, animal prints, Chinoiserie print wallpaper, and light wall colors. Elsie metaphorically passed the style baton to William Pahlmann, who dominated home design from the late 1930s through the early 1970s. He introduced "Swedish modern" furniture into our design vocabulary, popularized eclectic decorating by mixing antiques with boldly modern pieces, pioneered concealed lighting, and created the first decorator colors—his color palettes were breathtaking, introducing Cuzco blue, fuchsia, avocado, sulfur yellow, bottle green, and bleached cypress (among others) into everyday decor. He reached out to the public with lecture tours, talked about decorating on radio and TV, and popularized home design through his syndicated newspaper column "A Matter of Taste" until 1973. He was one of the first designers to believe that people can’t comprehend good taste and design without being shown examples of what’s good, and he introduced the "learn by looking" approach.
5. The Do-It Yourself Movement. Did you know that archaeologists discovered the ruins of a 6th Century BC Greek temple building in southern Italy that came with detailed assembly instructions? Despite these early roots, the DIY movement name was coined in the 1950s and really took off in the 1970s as college students and recent graduates began to fix up old homes and follow the advice of The Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools, published in 1968. Now it's common for homeowners to tackle short-term and long-term projects without the help of professionals. And here's where it gets tricky. Empower your clients, if they’re so inclined, to tackle certain projects in their home on a DIY basis, offering help and advice as needed. But for high-end decorating and design, it's going to take more than a weekend or a week of work to produce many of the desired end results, so help your clients embrace realistic goals that dovetail well with the Big Picture of what you're trying to accomplish.
Your client's DIY energy can be channeled constructively into gardening projects, shopping for certain accessories, or restoring and refinishing antiques—maybe even applying decoupage to a plain occasional table, helping your client add beaucoup personality to something humble.
What are your favorite game changers in interior design?
In November 2006, Manhattan-based blogger Jay Johnson and his partner Irwin Weiner, ASID applied the popularity of watching videos on the Internet to the house-and-garden arena. The idea for Design2Share was born. On D2S, they share their insight, tips, and strong opinions about how people design and decorate their homes, entertaining over 300,000 visitors a year; their syndicated original videos had over 22 million video views in 2010.