We delve into the pages of ‘Interiors: The Greatest Rooms of This Century’ to uncover the world’s most influential interiors.

May 7, 2019

A who’s who of decorating, the book features 400 incredible spaces, from the great professional gurus such as Billy Baldwin and David Hicks or the do-it-yourself decorating enthusiasts advanced by television shows and social media feeds, it wasn’t until the 19th century that businesses specializing in what is now known as ‘interior design’ became real enterprises. Prior to that time, it was highly unusual for interiors to be perceived in a way that was independent of the architectural container in which they existed. The exterior and the rooms within were unified, with the inside space conceived and built at the same time as the outside space.

Today, we are accustomed to thinking about interiors as separate endeavours, with their own multi-disciplinary practice, that it’s hard to imagine that, at one time, the discipline of interior design, simply didn’t exist.

Notable early examples of the profession include Sir John Soane’s remodeling of three adjoining London town houses in the late 18th century to create his family home, and Elise de Wolfe bringing warmth to Henry Fricke’s  austere Fifth Avenue New York mansion in the late 1930s by adding softness and light to the building’s architectural shell. Later in the middle of the 20th century, after WWII, majesty loft spaces came into popularity, with repurposed factories, warehouses and various commercial spaces transformed into compelling, highly stylised residences.

The emergence of interior design as an independent enterprise has also resulted in myriad unintended consequences, from the popularity of decorating magazines to debates around modernity and postmodernity. Not to mention the efforts to rank interiors according to which looks are better, cooler, hipper, richer, more retro and other valuations of good taste.

Last but not least the rise of the interior design industry has resulted in trends devised to meet the constantly changing needs of fluid markets, and of course, styles that come and go according to the times.

Charles Rice explains in his book, ‘The Emergence of the Interior’ that interior design as we know it appeared in the 19th century primarily to articulate new ideas regarding comfort and privacy in domestic spaces. In the time period, the increasing availability of what we refer to as ‘the comforts of home’ coincided with the advancements of the industrial age and the move from an agrarian lifestyle to an urban one.

Before the turn of the 19th century, it was architects, cabinetmakers, upholsterers and other craftspeople who helped to create home interiors; a decorator was someone whose time was yet to come. The insides and outsides of houses were constructed simultaneously. They were passed onto the next generations, and wealthy families displayed their inherited domestic belongings in the form of art collections, ancestral portraits, and furniture, supplemented by objects acquired on their travels.

This unified approach meant that the relationship between the enclosure and the enclosed was implicit and uncontested.

The story of the interior will always encapsulate the intersection between the room and the space within which it is housed. It is this, and so many other things, that helps to explain the popularity, even the necessity, of interior designers – professionals who devote themselves to creating new ways of living our best lives within the home. Extracted from ‘Interiors: The Greatest Rooms of This Century, Phaidon, on sale May 22.

Interior of living room in Manhattan, 1997, by Naomi Leff, one of the 20th century’s most influential American interior designers and famously the creator of the flagship Ralph Lauren store in Manhatton. Her style combined architectural elegance with comfort and understated luxury.

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