Words by Emily Brooks
Interiors with curves are like a hug. A lack of sharp corners in a space means that it is easy on the eye, lending a soothing quality. Living through times of trouble as we are, maybe this is the principal reason why curves have caught on so much, in architecture as well as product design – but softer lines were incoming well before pandemic times, with designers such as Kelly Wearstler in the US and Pierre Yovanovitch in France embracing sweeping art-deco-inspired curved sofas and sculptural shapes from the mid-2010s.
Since most rooms are rectilinear, adding curves is a way to balance hard angles and create a softer visual outlook that appears more inviting. Designers use curves to lead the eye though and around spaces: your eye will trace the outline of a curved rug as it leads to a curved desk in the corner and upwards to a softly rounded floor lamp, and so on.
The trend for curves is showing itself in architecture, too. In the early 2000s it was all about supremely curvy, algorithm-generated design from practices such as UN Studio and Zaha Hadid, producing buildings that were often amorphous, with no two curves the same. Now, the rigour and rigidity of the simple arch is fashionable, especially in residential architecture: a series of arched openings replacing a swathe of glass in a kitchen-diner extension, for example, or used to elegantly divide rooms.
Staircases are beautiful examples of how curves can create sculptural interest on a grand scale. For a Notting Hill townhouse, designer Fran Hickman designed a sinuous example that was inspired by a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, which is restrained in its palette of white and oak, yet incredibly dramatic in its form. Walls themselves are also getting the curvy treatment, with plaster finishes such as tadelakt and clay possessing the ability to create softly rounded corners (read more about Portaire’s favourite plaster finishes here). For London hotel The Connaught’s Red Room, Bryan O’Sullivan Studio (BOS) used Clayworks’ products to create an open shelving room divider that recalls the work of Mediterranean mid-20th century architects such as César Manrique.
Once you’ve softened the edges architecturally, it’s time to install the curvy furniture, lighting, rugs and accessories that will give the whole space movement and dynamism. A sweeping sofa is a great option for filling larger rooms (equally, though, these space-hungry pieces are not great for smaller rooms), especially if they can be seen in 360 degrees, because their swooping back is just as attractive as the front. They are also useful if the brief calls for entertaining space, since they naturally draw in the people sitting on them for intimate conversation. Pair with bulbous, overstuffed armchairs (this trend has been dubbed “fat furniture”) upholstered with off-white tactile fabrics such as boucle and sheepskin. The influence of the 1960s and 1970s is felt here, especially the work of French designer Pierre Paulin: Gubi has just released Paulin’s low-slung 1975 Pacha chair as an outdoor version, so you can even take the look outside.
On the floor, the rug market has evolved from standard rectangles and circles to include asymmetrical and other non-conformist shapes, including rounded edges.Italian brand cc Tapis’ latest collection, a collaboration with US studio Atelier de Troupe, features bold circles and fluid outlines: it was shot at Milan’sCasa a Tre Cilindri, the famously curved mid-20th century apartment block designed by Angelo Mangiarotti e Bruno Morassutti.
Sculptural shapes can be incorporated into almost any feature, and objects that can double up as both sculpture and functional piece work extra-hard. The rise and rise of collectible ‘design art’ – gallery-sold limited-edition pieces created by makers that see themselves as artists – only reinforces the popularity of this idea. From oval dining tables with sculpted bases, to lighting with interlocking glass loops, designers now want every room to feel like a jewel-box of artistic influences, where the boundaries between art, sculpture and design are beautifully blurred.