14 June 2019

Interior design in the round

Financial reasons, such as the prodigious spread of an extremely high-end market for contract design, along with psychological motives, such as the need to build totally coordinated ‘nest-rooms’ geared to welcoming and ‘cocooning’ people are fostering a move from designing individual pieces to designing entire spaces.

Few designers these days are capable of putting together ‘assemblages of differences’ for interiors. Decorative schemes are now indissoluble wholes: the flooring is reflected in the wall finishes, the upholstery and the paint, all of which are set off by sophisticated ambient lighting. The chosen shades have immediate continuity with the textiles used for the upholstereds (there has been a significant increase in research in the fabric sector). Objects are no longer used to give character to finished spaces but have become fundamental mouthpieces for taste and culture, developed in tandem with the design.

Great fluidity of design and uniformity of approach mark out the spaces, prompting the use of shared finishes for living and kitchen spaces, sleeping areas and water-based/relaxation spaces (absolutely not to be referred to as bathrooms, and certainly not ‘washrooms’). As we have seen, outdoor spaces belonging to buildings (be they homes, hotels or offices, have acquired the same dignity as the internal ones. We are suddenly having to take note of the fact that people’s entrenched hierarchies of values (and purchasing priorities) have undergone a huge sea change.

We are also seeing designs that straddle different domestic dimensions. The first and most obvious is the crossover between collective and domestic spaces, with office and living environments constantly colliding, and, for example, soundproof upholstereds - undoubtedly useful in public co-working situations - being adopted by the more recent realm of co-housing.

Equally borderline are the products that straddle the ambiguous line between furnishing and art – a targeted response from the manufacturers to the unstoppable rise in ‘gallery-style art’ (also known, not surprisingly, as ‘art design’).

Aside from furniture, surfaces

The real revolution for 2019, if we can put it that way, concerns surfaces rather than objects in their volumetric identity. What might well be described as ‘an aesthetic of surfaces’ has really taken off. This a two-dimensional design approach, in which the more traditional and consolidated materials such as white Carrara marble, quarter-sawn oak and neutral varnish, have been decisively overtaken by a proliferation of veins, breccia, marks, oxidisations, grafts and intarsia: surfaces are striking out with the opulence of their finishes. This is a trend that took off a few years ago but has recently exploded.

There is a need to stress the fact that this trend has had an extremely positive effect on the retrieval of well-nigh forgotten artisan and productive techniques, in the rehabilitation of ancient quarries and forgotten types of wood, in the rediscovery of traditional materials. A wealth of superlative skills underpin the firms involved with weaving, with firms carrying out out in-depth archival research whilst endowing their fabrics with the sort of technological performance that would have been unthinkable until a short while ago. Meanwhile, velvet has also reigned supreme for some time, in sumptuous palettes of autumnal colours: shades of red (from powder pink to terracotta and oxblood), shades of yellow (Marsala, honey), shades of brown, shades of green (khaki, sludge and sage).

The beginning of the end for archi-designers?

The focus on materials in design has meant that, once research in study centres and technical offices has been completed, often the presentation of the results, which obviously calls for a hugely meticulous approach, is entrusted to stylists rather than designers. This altered state of affairs has persisted for some time, and we should now try to codify it as we wait to see its real outcome and how well it stands the test of time. Another consequence of this step change is the evident reassessment of so-called design-stars: brand and business skills have taken on an ever-increasing importance, regardless of the signature and personal self-promotion of the designers.

Perfection/Imperfection

Summing up, the 2019 design products present us with two contrasting hypotheses: on one hand the idea of comfort and luxury persists, often informed by the Fifties and arranged into seamless and sophisticated decors. These are put together not with the accent on designing single pieces but on building an overall ambiance, furthering the great Italian tradition of interior decoration. On the other hand, however, fresh value is being attributed to imperfection and to artisan processes (craftsmanship is undoubtedly one of the most cited words of all). The only thing that both trends appear to have in common is the use of gold. All shades of this precious metal are allowed, from aged brass to a more pronounced gleam, from hand-applied gold leaf to bodywork paint, what really matters is that now we can make mention of gold.

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