Before the industrial revolution hit most corners of the world, interior design advances happened every century or so. Small, miniscule changes would spread slowly across villages, towns and nations, become en vogue, and then new waves would emerge, like soft ripples across a vast sea. Chairs would maintain a similar look for hundreds of years, as wood dressers or wash basins would too.
Suddenly, steam emerged from the English countryside, mass production rose like a bastion of progress and things changed. Fast. Slowness became a luxury and everyday life sped up, machines whirling faster, automations becoming more efficient, humans less needed.
During the twentieth century, artists and designers all around the world built on the industry’s advancements. They blended craftsmanship and technology at every opportunity, and conceptualised different ways humans could live better, more fulfilled lives in their own homes.
In the last ten years – which, at the time of writing this, means “since 2012” – we have lived through truly momentous times. Things have changed on a seismic scale; more than people believed could happen in their entire lifetimes. We’re not talking about style here alone – we mean the very fabric and structure of the interior design world has shifted.
Before you start to feel dizzy – and we admit we’re feeling it too – let’s take you on a journey of digital metamorphosis and stylistic exploration. Are you ready to experience time and space in a new way?
The recession hit the design industry hard
Consider this the start of our narrative arch. We start our ten-year story in the depths of a dark, cold time. The recession had reached its worst in 2011, and interior designers’ numbers were only now starting to pick up; ever so slightly, and ahead of the construction industry.
On one hand, clients’ budgets dwindled, and interior design projects decreased during this time. When commercial sites had been renovating every three years, now it became every five. Where there was a new need in a home, interior designers were no longer called: families made ends meet with their own hands. If they did have the means to hire an interior designer, then the projects’ budget was severely lowered and the scope and length was cut. Interior designers did not have the scope to create the lavish homes that had once been a staple of the mid-2000s.
On the other hand, the work that did come in was not coming regularly. Designers faced stretches of time without clients. Inevitably, this meant that studios had to fire some of their designers and make difficult decisions about the state of their companies.
This period was without a doubt some of the hardest times the interior design industry had faced in a long, long time. However, and here comes the redemption storyline, it forced a lot of designers and consumers to get creative with their approaches. To innovate beyond what they thought was possible. To look beyond the pre-established brands and methods to create some truly unique spaces with unconventional materials and structures.
Overall, the recession served as a springboard for much of the contemporary interior design we see today. As they say, savviness is not bred in peace, but in war. And we’re grateful for the changes that came after.
Vintage and second-hand furniture continued its rise
Aided by the rise in ecologist thought, and significantly impulsed by the lack of money around, vintage and second-hand furniture became a staple in many homes and designers’ arsenals.
For many, this was the most economically efficient way to refurbish their homes without costing them the budget that they didn’t have. The furniture came from parents and grandparents’ homes, auctions, thrift shops, charity shops and other second-hand options.
Human ingenuity worked overtime with these pieces of furniture, adapting them to modern sensibilities and tastes. A look that arose from this new buying pattern was the eclectic style of interior design. While eclectic styles had existed for a long time, they did resurge with this rougned-up, gritty professional atmosphere. Rather than adopting the highly stylised and homogeneous look that had prevailed during the 2000s, designers opted for a look that relied on mixing and matching furniture from different eras and making it look refreshed and individualised for the client.
The rise in old furniture gave a new life to many pieces that would have been thrown away or been forgotten in old storage units. This new appreciation for the old continues to this day, and full communities have formed alongside niche pieces of furniture and the art of upcycling them. On that topic…
The DIY movement emerges
Couple old furniture, a burgeoning blogosphere, people strapped for cash and a whole lot of imagination, and you have yourself a “Do It Yourself” movement in your hands. Suddenly, many consumers who’d never been particularly interested in interior design decided to take matters into their own hands and create or retouch pieces of furniture.
Full blogs and YouTube channels pivoted their content to cover DIY projects. While many were angled at the digitally native pre-teen and teen audiences, others were directed towards millennials with dreams of having new things without paying much for them.
These projects extended from making your own shelves to repainting old mirrors with gold spray paint, to even making your own tiny home strapped to your car or RV. The extent of this community cannot be overstated – their influence made itself felt in the trends of the time. For instance, textures like exposed brick or plywood became fashionable, when they were once regarded poorly. Chalkboards entered the homes, decorated with DIY illustrations and positive quotes. Perhaps these weren’t the highlights of their time, the trends that we’ll look back on with awe, but the situation warranted this type of imagination.
Mid-century homes recovered their allure
Until the economic consequences of the recession had not made themselves evident, mid-century homes had been iced out from the popular imagination. Outside of interior design circles, they were generally seen as a by-product of their time; clunky, excessive and outdated in their use of wood. A trend no one saw coming back.
However, in an age where things were proved to last little and be made without the quality other generations had come to normalise, mid-century homes and furniture gained traction and exploded in popularity.
Nowadays, mid-century is just another term in the common parlance of the interior design industry, and a common reference point when discussing the style elements of a home. If you don’t believe us, just look at the internet sensation Dakota Johnson’s mid-century LA home became!
Social media changed the game
Now, this is perhaps the most important technology to rise… ever. Social media has radically transformed the way we communicate and interact with each other, and businesses will no longer operate the same as they did before it.
In 2012, a fun little app called Instagram took over photographers’ lives. Soon, it was the whole world. To put it simply, it was a Twitter but with images; at least at the time. People posted what they ate, who they hung out with, what their favourite spots were. It was a simple time. Valencia filters were the height of aesthetics and neon was classy. Alas. we have changed.
Of course, as Instagram gained popularity, business-minded people saw the massive possibilities of the app. Influencers rose like foam and interior designers found a new way to commercialise themselves outside of the mouth-to-mouth or editorial recommendations that had been fueling the industry for so long.
And that’s how interior designers became influencers. Online, many designers started to post photos of their work and sometimes their personal lives, crafting a new image of what an interior designer could look like. Instagram stories followed their movements, publications showcased their brightest moments, and soon a new way to market oneself and reach new customers was born. Oh, and affiliate marketing also came about – another stream of income for designer influencers!
Of course, social media influenced much more than interior designers themselves. Suppliers, design brands, artists and other important members of the interiors industry joined in, creating new ways to attract customers and design enthusiasts.
Eventually, interior design became one of the core pillars of inspiration-based social media accounts and a hub for online activity. Social media opened the door to expand the potential market size of interiors beyond home-owners and new renters; everyone is obsessed with interior design, no matter their situation. Some even keep up with the industry out of curiosity, without any immediate need to buy.
Social media is also responsible for a great change in the industry: increased diversity in style. Now that big architectural and design magazines no longer own the cultural zeitgeist, consumers can easily access different types of styles and influences. Rather than adopting a style that is the “expected” in editorial prints, designers now have the chance to think outside the box and be markedly different from other designers.
E-commerce democratised sourcing for all consumers
The internet struck big with the furniture industry. Before onlines shopping rose in popularity, furniture was sold to consumers in shops or via catalogues. Designers shopped for their clients in specialised suppliers that catered mainly to designers. The look you could achieve with a designer was miles away from the one a consumer could aspire to most of the time. The information on these high end luxury brands or special pieces was not a Google search away – you needed to be in the business to know about it.
Nowadays, all consumers can source products from the suppliers designers buy from – if they put their detective hats on, of course. Almost every single furniture or materials brand has the option to ship internationally and take orders online without any large barriers to entry.
One might say that this change has lowered the value of an interior designer; they are no longer the gatekeepers of high-end brands, and everyone has access to the same information they do (albeit, with some exceptions). I’d raise you one and say yes, more people can play the role of designer now. Nonetheless, the power of the designer lies in creating magical, functional spaces for a multitude of clients and budgets – not just being able to decorate and organise their own home. There will always be space for expertise and experience in the industry; designers aren’t going anywhere.
The pandemic boosted renovations
Interior design might be one of the few industries that not only survived during COVID-19 but thrived in it.
In March 2020, the clocks stopped and everything flipped on its head. With the economic recovery of the mid-2010s, more people had begun to rent and spend less time in their homes. Holidays, experiences, eating out – all of it was part of our everyday life.
However, in the spring of 2020, millions of people were forced to stay inside their homes. Suddenly it became incredibly easy to see the real value of comfort and beauty in our houses. Our spaces became even more multifaceted than before: now they had to enable entertainment, exercise, good food… and a safe haven from sickness and fear.
Interior designers had busy periods in 2020, despite the uptick in layoffs and stringent laws against face-to-face meetings. As in all periods, designers adapted quickly, using tools like Zoom to communicate with their clients when other options were impossible.
To this day, interior design has seen a huge boom, but its longevity is now in question. Rising inflation, a creeping recession and a war in Europe certainly dampen the story… But for now, we can end this story with a positive note: interior design has found new audiences and a reinvigorated love. A happy ending for once! If this article showed you anything, it should be the resilience and imagination that designers have to make things work. No matter the tide, beauty is accessible if we put our hearts into it.
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