History Interior Design

An Introduction to Interior Design History

January 9, 2016

IntroInteriorDesignHistoryHave you ever wondered about the origins of Interior Design? Well, if you have, and would like to get a bigger picture and a deeper understanding of Interior Design by learning its brief history, read on.

Wikipedia defines Interior Design as the art or process of designing an interior. It’s a young profession, one that branched out from Architecture, where up until the 20th century, architects included the design of the interiors of the buildings they designed. Learning the origins of Interior Design would therefore only be possible by learning the history of Architecture. And its very origin dates all the way back when the first shelters were built.

Shelters reflect the culture and lifestyle of their people, and are heavily dependent on the technologies available to them. Whether the shelters were permanent or temporary depended on the people’s lifestyle; whether they were nomads or agriculturists, for example.

It was the development of agriculture that allowed people to settle and build more permanent dwellings. As they learned to keep their food supply under control and didn’t have to worry too much about it, they could expend energy into making life more comfortable and enjoyable.

Design choices go beyond mere needs—they’re about enhancing them aesthetically, too. Humans have always been concerned with aesthetics, decorating and ornamenting their homes and surroundings. This can be seen even back in the age of cavemen, reflected on the walls of their cave dwellings. We humans have an innate desire for beauty.

The development of agriculture allowed time for developing an aesthetically pleasing environment. And as agriculture developed, families expanded, and it inevitably led to urban development, which in turn led to the development of arts and crafts.

One of the most difficult techniques to develop was roofing a structure. This is called spanning space, and it is the basis of Architecture. By the time of the ancient Greeks, the four methods for spanning space were developed, which we still use to this day.

The Methods of Spanning Space

Post and Lintel was the first method of spanning space. It makes use of a horizontal structural member, the lintel, and supported by at least two vertical supports (called posts or columns), which can also be walls. This method was used extensively by the Egyptians.

An arch makes use of small blocks to span space on top of vertical supports. Each block, usually stone or brick, is laid so that each successive layer extends beyond the one beneath it until the two sides meet at the top.

The true arch makes use of wedge-shaped members called voussoirs that push against each other to form a strong support. Each stone thrusts outward diagonally. Once the keystone, or the stone at the apex of the arch, is in, the arch becomes self-supporting.

— History of Interior Design by Jeannie Ireland

The truss is a triangular form made of straight members connected by joints at the end of each member, where force is applied to only two points. This method can free up large interior spaces, and it was used a lot by the ancient Greeks, which allowed them to have more open spaces compared to the Egyptians who used the post-and-lintel method extensively.


Columns, usually decorative posts, are an important part of Architecture’s history as almost every historic architectural period is distinguished by its columns, as well as its arches. A column has three major parts—the capital (the crown), the shaft (the longest part), and the base. Columns can be structural, supporting a building’s weight, or purely decorative.


Arches and columns are the basis of most architectural forms. The Romans and Greeks used the diameter of the column as an architectural module and based all of a building’s measurements on it. Aesthetics is the use of proportions that please, and the Greeks considered the human body the ideal form and based their proportions on it.

Architecture is a good reflection of social and cultural history. It defines the source of power in a society, mostly indicated by the size of structures. That’s what’s so significant about it. Materials were usually obtained from sources near the building site, which affected the architectural designs and building styles, as much as the climate and amount of moisture.

Architectural styles are affected by changes over a period of time and evolve gradually unless there is a significant technological development. What are termed “historic” styles gradually evolved from their beginnings in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, influencing the subsequent styles of Greece and Rome, and continued to evolve as they were carried throughout Eastern and Western Europe and eventually to the Americas.

The development of architectural styles usually follows a pattern. In the beginning stages, the style incorporates simple forms. Gradually, the design is improved to best fit required functions … [then] there is a gradual addition of ornament to the structural form.

— History of Interior Design by Jeannie Ireland

Interior Design, Furniture and Accessories

From Architecture springs Interior Design. Until the 20th century, interiors were usually completed by the architects of the buildings, complementing the structure. Interior Design often incorporates architectural features such as columns, pediments, and moldings.

A big part of Interior Design are furniture and accessories. Furniture must support or store objects, and accessories may serve a function or be purely decorative. Furniture, like architecture, reveals habits and social mores of a civilization, and social status was reflected on the furniture by height, size and design.

What is today a profession and specialization, Interior Design stemmed from Architecture. Learning the history of Interior Design requires digging into the history of Architecture (with the arches and columns as the best guides), and it is quite interesting to know and understand its origins.

Once the most basic need of food gathering was met and kept under control by the development of agriculture, people could settle down in one place and build more permanent structures. This in turn led to bigger families, and then societies, and they started concerning themselves with their surroundings by beautifying their homes. This led to the development of arts and crafts and urban development.

Societies of the past are mostly categorized by the different styles of arts and crafts, and most importantly, by the different architectural styles. They tell a whole lot about these societies by revealing the technologies available to them and by what was most important to them, revealed through their architecture, furniture, accessories and ornamentation—which are collectively what Interior Design is all about.

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