The History of Interior Design

Delving into the history of interior design opens a window to the past, revealing how our ancestors shaped the spaces that define our lives today. Understanding this history is crucial for any interior design professional; it provides a rich source of inspiration, teaches timeless principles of design, and offers insights into the cultural and technological advancements that have influenced design trends over centuries.

Join us on a fascinating journey through the history of interior design, from its earliest days up until the present, and unlock key periods and styles that have left indelible marks on the fabric of design history. Then, meet a contemporary voice in the field—Rebecca Gross, the author of Module 2: History of Style, Decoration, and Architecture in our Interior Design Course. Through an engaging interview, Rebecca shares her insights, enriching our appreciation of interior design's past and its implications for the future.

Image of the History of Design Trends

Image source: Trend Bark

The Evolution of Interior Design: A Historical Overview

Ancient Beginnings: From Cave Dwellings to Egyptian Grandeur

Our journey begins with the earliest human settlements, where the functional need for shelter gradually morphed into an expression of aesthetic and cultural values. Egyptian civilisation further advanced these concepts, introducing design elements that symbolise power and eternity.

Image of Anicent Egyptian Architecture

Image source: Shutterstock

Classical Influences: Greek and Roman Contributions

The Greeks and Romans expanded the lexicon of interior design, incorporating architectural elements like columns and pediments, and emphasising symmetry and proportion. Their contributions laid the foundations for Western design philosophies.

Medieval and Renaissance Marvels: The Birth of European Elegance

The Medieval period's fortress-like castles gave way to the Renaissance's rediscovery of classical ideals. This era saw a blossoming of art and architecture, with interiors reflecting a newfound emphasis on humanism and individual expression.

Image of Medieval and Renaissance Period

Image source: Cosmos

Baroque and Rococo Splendor: Opulence and Ornamentation

The Baroque and Rococo periods reveled in extravagance and elaborate ornamentation. Interiors from this time are characterised by their dramatic use of space, light, and richly detailed decoration.

Industrial Revolution and Victorian Era: Shifting Tides in Design

The Industrial Revolution brought about significant changes in society and interior design. The Victorian era reflected these changes with eclectic styles, a surge in mass-produced furnishings, and a focus on comfort and domesticity.

Modernism: A Paradigm Shift in Aesthetics and Functionality

Modernism marked a departure from ornate styles, advocating for simplicity, functionality, and the honest use of materials. This movement sought to create spaces that reflected the modern age of machines and technological progress.

Image of MCM Period and Ray and Charles Eame Chairs

Image source: Herman Miller

Postmodernism and Beyond: Experimentation and Eclecticism

Challenging the austerity of modernism, postmodernism introduced a playful mix of styles, colours, and forms. Today, interior design continues to evolve, characterised by a freedom to experiment and a global exchange of ideas.

Image of Postmodernism Interior and Chair

Image source: Megan Taylor + Masquespacio

An Interview with Rebecca Gross – Author of Module 2: History of Style, Decoration and Architecture

Dive deep into the past with Rebecca Gross, the mastermind behind Module 2 of our comprehensive Interior Design Course. As we peel back the layers of history in "History of Style, Decoration, and Architecture," Rebecca's expertise guides us through the fascinating evolution of interior spaces that reflects both societal changes and artistic innovation.

Understanding the history of interior design is crucial for any aspiring designer, providing not just context but also a source of inspiration and a framework for innovation. This early module in our course, meticulously detailed by Rebecca, sets a foundational knowledge base, encouraging students to draw connections between historical trends and contemporary practice. Learn more about the breadth of topics covered in this module and the entire course here.

Our course's richness and depth are a testament to the collaborative effort of a team of seasoned experts and industry contributors. Rebecca Gross is a shining example of the calibre of professionals who have pooled their knowledge and insights to create a truly accredited and holistic educational experience. In this interview, we dive into her background, motivations, and the unique perspectives she brings to teaching the rich history of interior design.

Interview with Rebecca Gross, interior design course tutor graphic

Image source: Rebecca Gross

Get to know Rebecca Gross!

Rebecca Gross is a design historian, freelance researcher, and writer specialising in design, architecture and visual culture.

She studies cultural history through the lens of architecture and design and holds a Masters in the History of Decorative Arts and Design and a Bachelors in Marketing.

Rebecca has more than fifteen years of experience in the industry and is a certified Professional Historian (Associate) accredited by the Professional Historians Association Inc.

What is your background? Can you provide a bit of info about yourself?

I call myself a writer, researcher and design historian. I have a master’s degree in design and decorative arts from Parsons School of Design in New York, and I’m really interested in learning about and understanding history and culture through the lens of architecture and design.

For the last ten years, I’ve been writing about architecture and design for magazines, books, websites and directly for architects and designers (media releases, website copy, etc). I’ve learnt a lot about contemporary architecture and design through my writing, but as my education was in history, I’m always trying to consider the broader context of what is happening in design today to better understand the changes and trends.

You authored Module 2 of our online interior design course, which is all about the history of interior design. Can you tell us a bit about that, and is there a particular aspect of your job that you love most?

I loved writing the history module as it brings together so much of what I learnt at university and through my work. In writing each section, I felt it was important to consider what was the most interesting and engaging for students and the most relevant in helping them with their interior design education and career. I find that learning the history of each design style or era – how it came about, rather than just its characteristics – helps with remembering it and understanding the bigger picture.

A particular aspect of my job I love is speaking to architects and designers about their projects to learn more about them and their work. And I love when I get to visit a house in person! I’m most interested in ones that have clever ideas because there are some particular constraints that the designer has to work around.

What is a typical day in the life like for you? Do you have any rituals that you stick to?

I’m an early riser, and I start my morning with a matcha latte and playing a handful of puzzles like Wordle, then I’ll go for a walk. I go to a co-working office and I stick to fairly routine working hours. I will have several writing jobs at any time, and I work through them in different stages. I might have an interview with a designer or architect for a story, or if the house is in Sydney then I will visit. And because I run my own business, I also have marketing and admin to do.

Do you have a particular design style or favourite period?

Generally, I’m into everything from the 1910s to 1980s – from modernism to postmodernism. Because it's a more recent design comparatively, I feel it’s more relatable – we can imagine how someone might have lived and why – and because there are lots of great examples still around.

Specifically, my favourite right now is postmodernism. It’s often misunderstood, but once you have a better understanding of how it came about and why, it’s really fun and allows for more expression in design.

Image source: Prue Roscoe

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from the architecture and interiors I see – both historical and contemporary. They can tell us so much about the way people live, and this will often inspire my ideas for writing.

What are you most passionate about?

I’m passionate about learning – through education, travel, conversations and other people’s experiences.

Image source: Benjamin Rasmussen + Oksana Zavarzina

What books are you reading?

I recently finished Lessons in Chemistry. I used to be an avid reader, but I’ve struggled with reading since covid (I’ve heard others talk about this too). And because my job is writing, I sometimes get fixated on the words and can’t pay attention to the story.

Speaking of books, tell us about your new book Ornament is Not a Crime!

Design is often cyclical, so in the same way that postmodernism followed modernism, I spotted a trend in which the themes of postmodernism have been emerging again. Homes with lots of bright colour, bold patterns, a fresh approach to materials, and designers experimenting with shape, scale, humour, and symbolic or historical references. So the book is about contemporary interiors with a postmodern twist. Sometimes the designer has done it deliberately, other times it is incidental or how I’ve interpreted it (and they’ve agreed).

The book features twenty-one homes and 5 designers from around the world, and they run the spectrum from quite restrained to way out there. The concepts are driven by personalities, interests and memories so they are all very personal and expressive (rather than for resale value).

Image source: Rebecca Gross

What advice do you have for aspiring interior designers?

Explore your own interior design style and don’t be afraid to develop your own point of view in your work. You can still be adaptable in what you create to meet a client’s brief, but it allows you to become known for something. That can help with attracting clients, and of course it can keep evolving with time.

How can people connect with you?

The best way at the moment is either rebeccalgross.com or @rebeccalgross

Image source: Ozan Bal + Christine Francis

Kickstart your Interior Design Career Today

Exploring the history of interior design through Rebecca Gross's lens in Module 2 offers more than just a deep dive into the past—it's a gateway to understanding the evolution of spaces that shape our daily lives. Her contribution highlights the importance of historical knowledge for aspiring designers and enriches our course with invaluable insights. We also have a fantastic online workshop with Rebecca, which is all about design history in today’s world and is available for students enrolled in our course

We're incredibly thankful to Rebecca for lending her expertise to our students. Her work is a testament to the high-quality education and mentorship that The Interior Design Institute prides itself on providing.

Feeling inspired to embark on your own design journey? There’s no better place to start than at The Interior Design Institute. Under the guidance of industry experts like Rebecca and a curriculum that bridges historical wisdom with modern practice, you're well on your way to a successful and vibrant career in the interior design industry.

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