"I am really just bored with the interior design scene. I think it has become an uninteresting subject because everything has been said, everything has become sort of tired and finished."
This set out to be another post but when a friend sent me this link, it occurred to me that what David Hicks had said all those years ago had not lost its force, at least for me. I, too, sometimes think I've seen it all. As well I may have.
I saw the book referred to in the link, Undecorate: The No-rules Approach to Interior Design, on the bookshelves the other day and I admit I, in my blasé way, walked on by, thinking that finally we had come to this: someone sat in an office somewhere planning the
About a hundred years after the profession of interior design began - arguable, I know, given the history of the upholstery trade from the 18th century onwards, but bear with me - all, it seems to me, we are left with is trend. Nothing is new - the comfortable armchair as we know it developed in 18th-century France; was refined, if that is the right word, during the 19th century; and since then the only changes have been in manufacture and materials. A table is still a table, whatever its function - arguably the only new piece of furniture the 20th century produced was the salon- or coffee-table. A sofa, for all its comfort, is still a development of the settee, which in its turn was a development of the bench with an attached back. That most iconic and most uncomfortable of chairs, the Barcelona chair, is nothing more than a 1929 adaptation in modern materials of the ancient klismos. Seemingly, all we are left with at this juncture is to restyle or remake in another material. And I wonder sometimes what the implications are.
Much, in the magazines, is predicted in terms of styles yet little actually stays the course. The mainstay of traditional decorating from the 1980s onwards, the so-called English Country House style as personified by Lancaster, Fowler, Buatta and Parish, and the American Style personified by Billy Baldwin, Hadley and few others, were merely longish-lasting fads - we're all trapped in our times and subject to the ultimate influence of our time - selling. The fads of one generation become the justifications for the succeeding generation to cite the names of its (preferably dead) practitioners and thus, it is hoped, give credence to their own work and place in history. Ultimately, I think, it doesn't actually matter. For if the only standard is to sell, and if quality - if it still exists - has been usurped by the logo merchants... then what hope is there?
New, in interior design, as in fashion, is nothing more than the re-styling of what has already been used but deemed out of style. Unfashionable and its siblings new and classic is but a concept that drives the wheels of industry, and turns the pages of books and magazines. Much as the words new and improved sell washing powders (even as the contents remain the same), the self-same same words or their synonyms are designed to sell magazines and the products the editors have to all intents and purposes discovered. New is never, however many times the taglines repeat it, about style.
Perhaps, then, here is the explanation for the growth in propping and accessorizing - the fictionalizing of interiors as I've called it before, with its underlying desperation for novelty where there is none - where nothing changes except for superficialities. Interest must be created somehow. The latest superficiality, seemingly, is to make a fashionable virtue out of disarray - mess, some of us would call it. Perhaps that pile of last week's clothing still on the bedroom floor, the unmade bed, sex toys on the nightstand, last night's dinner still on the kitchen countertop - in fact, all that is slatternly could, arguably, become storybook elements for the interior design stylist.
Accessorizing may also be a reflection of the way our current culture celebrates the famous. In the past, celebrities were seen from afar, on the big screen and in the picture weeklies - in a distant and controlled manner, on a pedestal. Today, the pedestal is long broken and celebrities are seen close-up, warts and all, their all-too-human foibles writ large on the small screen - indeed their shortcomings, their "just like us"-qualities are the most celebrated. Celebrities are no longer role models, they're just people in the 15-minute glare of the moment that "could happen to you."
In the same way, we are no longer content to view interiors in serene, inviolate perfection – that's too stuffy, too sterile for our democratic 21st-century everyman-celebrating appetites. Instead, we want to see the rooms as lived-in, the detritus of everyday (albeit oh-so-artfully and aspirationally styled) in evidence. "Oh look, they use the same brand of toothpaste we do." It's more relatable-to. More gritty. More real – real, that is, as in reality TV.
This room, Hicks' set in Albany, is an abiding favorite of mine, and the absolute antithesis of what is happening in interior design today. It was, if I remember aright, an announcement that he was still around and relevant. Relevant, in my mind at least, he remains - especially in the light of what is happening, or rather not happening, in today's interior design. In my opinion, David Hicks is one of the most significant decorators of the twentieth century and did not have to rely on stylists to increase his worth - in fact, stylists hadn't really been invented. Effectively, he was his own stylist.
I understand from some commentators that Hicks, the man, was not well-liked. I have little to say in response, except that I believe a man's work should not be judged by his character but by what he produces and the influence he has. Having made that statement, I can also argue that in other cases the history of a person is very hard to disassociate from the work they do - a theme certainly for another post.
Photos from David Hicks: A Life of Design, Ashley Hicks, Rizzoli 2008.
The interview referred to is of the series Gandee at Large published in House and Garden, March 1989.