I am returning once more to this book: Interiors, The Greatest Rooms of the Century, on this bank holiday Monday…. hellooooo *waves* is anyone out there….? as I wanted to look more closely at design through the decades. Now, the caveat is that I can only show you the rooms that were cleared for publication and clearly there are another 390 in the book – including Dorothy Draper, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Oscar de la Renta. Colefax, Spry and Nicky Haslam) but I still managed to source one from each decade and I thought it would be nice to have a stroll through.
William Norwich, the editor of this book, told me that was struck him most in putting this book together was the passion and enthusiasm that people have for creating interiors to satisfy their needs and points of view from minimalism to exuberance. As to what has changed over the last 100 years, you will perhaps decide that yourselves if you buy the book, or from these few images here but what struck me was that he said design is now about style not necessity. By which he means, for example, that having heavy curtains is no longer about keeping the house warm but about making a statement with textile, colour and pattern.
“Modernism was new in the 1920s and 1930s, mid-century modernism followed through the 1960s; industrial aspects for residential spaces in the 1970s; a movement from the 1920s seen as a gradual lightening of Edwardian and Victorian heaviness, a lot like fashion as dresses and men’s costumes lightened, if only because traveling by car rather than coach required taking up less space lest a long skirt get caught in the spokes of a car tyre.
Carl Larsson & Karin Bergöö
“People moved from cold farm houses to rooms in cities that were heated. Design and decoration adhered to these ‘advancements’. Then in the 1960s and 1970s, with jet planes and travel, combined with anti-establishmentarism, the wonderful hippie and bohemian designs inspired by hashish finding trips to Morocco and Turkey.
In the 1980s, and the 1990s, [there were] two directions in design, the celebration of mid-century modernism and the ornate layerings of what is called the Style Rothschild, an opulence. Combined, there is the luxurious minimalism of designers such as Joseph Dirand.
“Like everything post-modernist, what has changed is that anything goes, there is no one ‘correct’ look, if it’s good design, people recognise it by the level of interest and comfort they experience in the environment. Technology has made houses comfortable, function is inherent so style is a choice, not a necessity. (You don’t need heavy curtains at the window to keep the cold out, there’s indoor heating. Design now is style, for the most part, not necessity.)
Wells Coates The Isokon Building
So what of the rooms? I was tickled to note the pink sofa in the first room dating from 1902 by Lutyens as that’s about the most contemporary thing you can imagine right now. It’s also a lesson in zoning an open plan space – note how the large rug creates a “sitting room” round the fire even though there is no wall.
Carl Larsson and Karin Bergöo were artists who are credited as being the inventors of Swedish Modern design. Mother to eight children, she gave up painting when she married (on the request of her husband) and turned, instead, to decorating their home with handcrafted wall hangings, painted furniture and tapestries. His paintings of their home made her designs famous and while they were both influenced by the English Arts and Craft movement led by William Morris as well as the Swedish countryside, this, more folksy, colourful Swedish style is often overlooked when people talk of Scandi design. There is no hint here of the more familiar pale minimalist look which is actually more Danish in style.
Impossible to talk of the 1920s without Gabrielle Chanel who lived (although she slept across the road at The Ritz) at 31 rue Cambon, above her shop. She entertained everyone here from Dali and Picasso to Giacometti, Cocteau and Elizabeth Taylor. The decor has been unchanged since her death in 1971 and the suede sofa (edgy for the time) was famously copied by Frasier in his Seattle apartment.
In the 1930s we arrive in London to the famous Isokon building (which I wrote about in this househunter) designed by Wells Coates who subscribed to Le Corbusier’s theory that houses should be “machines for living in”. The flats were deliberately small to encourage use of the communal kitchens and even this penthouse was only slighter bigger than the other residences as much of the space was given over to a roof terrace.
The Isokon Furniture company (founded in 1931 by Jack Pritchard, who lived in the penthouse) was an attempt to bring modernist principles to the rather staid British design landscape.
New York, USA
Think of Yves Klein and its all about his patented colour International Klein Blue (IKB) which is about to be huge in interiors now as this strong vibrant blue goes so well with millennial pink, pale neutrals and so many other shades. Klein shared this Parisian apartment with the German artist Rotraut Uecker and before they moved in he painted it all white. After his death in 1963 at the age of 34, Uecker patented the acrylic coffee table in IKB and when in Paris he still uses the apartment – although he keeps this space as it was during Klein’s life.
Now this image of a room created by the modernist Vladmir Kagan may be in black and white and date from the 1950s but curved sofas are the shape of the moment. They’re great for long thin rooms as they can sit across the space and provide a contrast to all the straight lines but also look wonderful for those of you who are lucky enough to have square rooms. Why stick an oblong into a corner when you can have curves instead? Kagan, who was born to Russian parents in Germany in 1927 fled the Nazis to the US where he studied architecture.
His furniture was described by a former editor of Architectural Digest as having a “friendly embrace” and he was a huge influence on Zaha Hadid who became famous for her curved buildings.
This room by Joe Columbo epitomises the 1960s doesn’t it? The plastic, the curves, the colours and the space age feel to it. This room was commissioned as part of an open plan living area on a ship to showcase the possibilities of newly developed synthetic materials for life in the future. And we all know how that has ended up. Ironically, Columbo was a founding member of the nuclear art movement, a group of artists dedicating to interpreting and expressing the dangers of nuclear technology.
New York, USA
And it’s the 1970s. This might not be typical for many of us (remember it was about clearance for publicity in many cases) but this was created by the oldest interior design company in the US, which was founded in 1924 by Eleanor Brown (née McMillen) whose motto was: “If you do it right the first time you don’t have to do it over.” Which is true and a valid aspiration although I suspect with our 21st century short attention spans and low boredrom thresholds that that won’t wash any more.
For many of us this won’t be typical of the 198os but this Chicago apartment was designed by Mies van der Rohe and Powell, who moved in in 1983 refurbished it in a way that paid homage to the architect while combining sumptuous materials in a pared back aesthetic. Powell was important as he helped establish the practice of interior architecture in its own right.
Lauren, Lanvin and Lapidus are all in the L section but it is, of course, the home – indeed the bathroom – of Karl Lagerfeld that we want to see. This is in Rome but the German-born designer lived in more than 20 residences all over the world and it was, said writer Cathy Horyn, as if “the well-furnished mine of Karl Lagerfeld needs an ever changing stage… he seems to reinvent himself through his homes”.
He designed his homes himself (sometimes with help from designer friends) and this bathroom, which means to a bedroom above, was done with Andrée Putman (who I wrote about here).
Finally to the start of the new century with this charming living room by Ben Pentreath at his home in Dorset. A splash of what we can all Millennial Pink on the walls, Pentreath creates a sort of contemporary classicism that manages to successfully mix mid-century with Moroccan rugs and ikat cushions. It’s worth noting that this home is rented rather than owned but Pentreath has managed to bring his own style.
So there you have it. A chunky read for a bank holiday. I have found it fascinating looking at these different styles and I hope you have too.
The book by Phaidon, Interiors The Greatest Rooms of the Century is out now and you can get it for £38 instead of £50.