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Exploring the intersections between art and interior design

Art and interior design are sisters, emerging together in the first caves. How have they evolved since?

art deco interior design
Photo by Pernille Loof; Styling by Mieke ten Have; via Architectural Digest
Exploring the intersections between art and interior design
Clara Carlino de Paz
May 10, 2023

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Art and interior design have long been connected... But how do these practices interrelate historically, philosophically and technically?

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The origins of art and interior design can be traced back to ancient times, when humans first began to create art and construct shelter. In fact, the earliest forms of art were often found in caves. These early artworks were often created for religious or ritualistic purposes, and their designs were influenced by the natural environment and the materials available.

As human societies became more complex and settled, so did their interior spaces. The first known examples of interior design can be found in the homes of ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, as they developed the practice of interior design by starting to go beyond function, into form. 

To many, art and interior design move in similar or identical trend cycles. Let’s go through some of the most important phases:

Ancient and Classical Periods (3000 BC – 476 AD)

During this period, interior design and art were heavily influenced by religion and mythology. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks, for example, decorated their interiors with frescoes and murals that depicted scenes from their religious beliefs. In Rome, interior design focused on luxury and opulence, with elaborate furnishings and decorative objects.

Mediaeval Period (5th century – 15th century)

During the mediaeval period, interior design was characterised by simplicity and functionality. Interiors were often dimly lit, and furnishings were made of wood and other natural materials. The Gothic style emerged in Europe during this time, characterised by pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and intricate stone carvings.

Renaissance Period (14th century – 17th century)

During the Renaissance, interior design became more ornate and luxurious, reflecting the wealth and power of the emerging merchant class. Interiors were decorated with paintings, tapestries, and other decorative objects, and furnishings were crafted from rich materials such as silk, velvet, and brocade. The Renaissance also saw the emergence of artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, whose works influenced interior design trends.

Baroque and Rococo Periods (17th century – mid-18th century)

During the Baroque and Rococo periods, interior design became even more opulent and extravagant, characterised by curved lines, floral motifs, and gilded surfaces. Furniture and decorative objects, and art alike, were often designed with exaggerated proportions and intricate details, and interiors were decorated with paintings and sculptures that emphasised drama and emotion.

Neoclassical and Empire Periods (late 18th century – mid-19th century)

During the Neoclassical and Empire periods, interior design and art styles were influenced by the rediscovery of classical antiquity. Interiors were designed with clean lines, geometric shapes, and a restrained colour palette, and furniture and decorative objects were often inspired by ancient Greek and Roman designs.

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Periods (late 19th century – early 20th century)

During the Art Nouveau period, interior design and art styles were characterised by flowing lines, floral motifs, and organic forms. Art Deco, which emerged in the 1920s, was characterised by bold geometric shapes, strong colours, and industrial materials such as chrome and steel.

Modern and Contemporary Periods (mid-20th century – present)

During the modern and contemporary periods, interior design and art styles have become more diverse and eclectic, reflecting the influence of global cultures and the impact of technology. The mid-century modern style, characterised by clean lines and a minimalist aesthetic, emerged in the 1950s and remains popular today. Contemporary interior design and art styles continue to push boundaries and experiment with new materials, forms, and techniques.

Beyond art trends affecting interior design, the principles of the artistic practice, such as colour, texture and balance, apply to it too.

For example, both in art and design, colour is a fundamental component. Depending on the palette, a place can appear bold, traditional or serene. Also, the obsession with texture and dimension is key for both; in art it’s all about the composition of a painting and in some cases its tactile nature, while in interior design it’s all about creating balance and contrast with a variety of consistencies.

The symbiotic relationship between galleries and interior designers sourcing for clients

Galleries and interior designers often work together to source art for their clients, as they have complementary skills and expertise. Galleries have a deep understanding of the art market, and they can provide access to a wide range of artists, styles, and mediums. They also have a keen eye for selecting pieces that are unique, high-quality, and culturally relevant.

Interior designers, on the other hand, have a deep understanding of their clients' needs and preferences, as well as the overall design concept of a space. They can help galleries to understand the specific requirements of their clients and can provide guidance on the style, scale, and placement of artwork within a space.

When working together, galleries and interior designers can develop a strong, symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties. Galleries can benefit from increased exposure to potential clients and can gain valuable insight into the needs and preferences of interior designers and their clients. Interior designers, in turn, can benefit from access to unique and high-quality artwork, as well as expert advice on selecting and placing art within a space.