The Art of Interior Design

May 22, 2015 |


Art has been an integral part of interior spaces meant for human habitation since pre-historic times. When early humans painted the walls and ceilings of caves with images, expressing their relationships with the world they knew, they were bringing their art into their interiors. Through every period in human history, people from cultures all around the world have created works of art that served to enhance, embellish, and even sanctify the interiors they occupied. In today’s society, we have devised categories such as the ‘fine’ and ‘decorative’ arts as a means of organising the myriad things we create as well as see around us that have artistic qualities to them. Works of art add great distinction and individuality to our interiors because their selection represents personal taste and experience.



Borrowing from the fine arts

The fine arts are concerned with the creation of two- and three-dimensional works of art designed as expressions of beauty and faith or as statements of the personal meanings and/or feelings of the artists who create them.

The fine arts traditionally include sculpture, painting, mosaic, drawing and printmaking, and can feature as integral pieces in the design of interior spaces. Sculpture, a threedimensional art form created by carving stone; working clay, wood, or other materials; or casting or assembling metal, is often employed in the exteriors and interiors of living spaces. Sculptures may represent the human form, animal forms, or other forms from nature in a realistic, conventionalised, or abstract fashion, and often sculptural panels or bands are used in conjunction with design. These can even be used as furniture or as small decorative objects.

A one-of-a-kind, two-dimensional art form created with coloured pigments and through a number of different vehicles (substances that give the pigment form and body), a painting can serve as a valuable piece in the design of an interior space. Mosaics–two-dimensional art forms made of tesserae (small pieces of marble, tile, or coloured glass) fi tted together to form a pattern and held in place with plaster or cement–similarly, can lend great beauty to the decor. The Romans used mosaics to decorate their floors. The interiors of churches shimmer with scintillating mosaic designs of great beauty.

Drawings are also one-of-a-kind, two-dimensional art forms that can substantially lift your interior environs. These are produced with pencil, pen and ink, charcoal, chalk, crayon, or grease pencil on paper or other surfaces and are art pieces in their own right. Drawing is considered a fundamental skill for artists. Drawings are produced as finished works and also as preliminary studies in the development of paintings, sculptures and other art. The works of the old masters often includes a large body of drawings that were used as studies for later work and now stand by themselves as treasured art pieces.

Indulging in the decorative arts

The decorative arts include utilitarian pieces such as mirrors, tableware, baskets, clocks, screens, lamps, books, tapestries, and rugs as well as non-utilitarian pieces like figurines or statuettes.

It is worth the effort to find good design in decorative and functional objects because these enrich and deepen our appreciation of true beauty. Both good and bad design can be found at every price level, and many times it costs no more to choose good design. Mirrors are often used to add depth, a feeling of spaciousness, and sparkle to interiors. They can be obtained in many sizes and framed to harmonize with period styles or used in sheets large enough to cover entire walls. Mirror finishes or types include clear glass, smoked glass, Venetian glass (veined), beveled glass, leaded glass, and etched glass.

Tableware–a term that describes plates, cups, drinking vessels, and flatware or eating utensil–likewise can add to the vitality of living and working spaces. Artisans through the ages have lavished their finest creativity and the best developments in technology in creating beautiful and useful pieces for the table and kitchen.

It is worth the effort to find good design in decorative and functional objects because these enrich and deepen our appreciation of true beauty. Both good and bad design can be found at every price level, and many times it costs no more to choose good design

Incorporating graphic art and photography

Graphic art includes posters designed to publicise athletic contests, concerts, plays, shows of artists’ works, and other cultural events. These are often worthy of display on the merits of their fine design and, in time, may become valuable. Posters and other graphics are an important resource for people who love art but are unable to afford paintings and other art forms.

Photographs are pictures or likenesses obtained by photography, which is the art or process of producing images. The images produced by any photographic means may have artistic merit and photography is considered an important fine-art form. Good photographs, properly displayed, make attractive and sometimes personal fine-art accessories.

Ceramics are made from clay that has been moulded in its softened form into useful

shapes and then fired or baked at high temperatures in an oven called a kiln. Glazes may be dull or shiny, clear or colored, and can be used by the ceramist to create decorative effects. Ceramic types include porcelain, china, stoneware and earthenware.

Metals and alloys such as aluminium, brass, chrome, iron, steel and stainless steel, together with gold, silver, pewter, bronze and copper are also common materials used to fashion art objects for interiors.

Plastics too are used extensively to create accessories and informal tableware for interiors. Plastic is generally less expensive than the other materials and can be used to create designs of great appeal and integrity. For example, some contemporary plastic dishes are bright, colourful, and well designed. Because they are relatively inexpensive, one can indulge in a splash of colour without much concern for budget.

Baskets are woven for function, each type or shape reflecting its specific use. Produced by almost every culture in the world, baskets incorporate beautiful patterns using materials such as wicker and willow. Because of their decorative nature, baskets make excellent additions to informal interiors, particularly when they serve a useful purpose such as a container for plants, bread, fruit, or fragrant potpourri.

Today, timepieces such as hourglasses, sundials, and antique clocks are collected as objects of art. Looking at fine clocks with intricately designed cases, we appreciate the cabinetmakers and furniture designers whose creative genius turned scientifi c instruments into functional and decorative art. The design of clocks has changed over the years. Today’s high-tech clocks are often the work of industrial or product designers rather than furniture.

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Lighting fixtures have evolved over the centuries from torches, oil- and gas-burning vessels, and candle holders into the electric fixtures we use today. Some of today’s most common lighting fixtures are electric versions of historical lighting pieces.

It is also common to see decorative objects such as metal tea-caddies (antique tea containers), ginger jars, cloisonné (enamelled metal) and porcelain vases, as well as figurines and other sculptural pieces, made into table lamps. Table lamps, floor lamps, torchères, sconces, chandeliers and neon lamps are amongst the most common art-lighting luminaires.

Books are not only decorative but also appealing because of their unity of form and variety of color and texture. They may also lend a certain amount of emotional warmth to a space because, when read, they become like old friends, associated with all kinds of memories. Second-hand hardcover books are sometimes purchased and displayed like stage props. These look

attractive in settings such as restaurants and shops where the design is intended to create a homey atmosphere. Books stashed in attics or garages might be an untapped resource that could add a warm finishing touch to interiors.

Walls of books make a suitable background for furniture groupings; they are a welcome addition to almost any interior. They can be interspersed with objects d’art or plants to create pleasing compositions. Interesting books and magazines placed on tables for browsing make stimulating accessories.

Textiles serve important functional and decorative purposes as accessories as well. These items are an important part of the appearance of a completed interior and should be chosen in harmony with the

other elements of the design. Textiles are also used in the form of rugs and carpets, tapestries, and other types of hangings to add warm finishing touches to interiors.

Finding harmony in nature

Plants add life and interest to interiors because they are continually growing and changing, and because of their free-flowing and sculptural forms. Each type of plant has a distinctive quality of design that makes it better suited to one style of interior than another.

At any time of the year, one can find growing or natural things that can be brought indoors to brighten the environment and lift the spirits. Cut flowers from the garden or florist add colour and life to interiors.


Arrangements can be very formal and precise, like the Japanese ikebana, in which flowers are arranged according to strict, ancient rules of placement. Geometric bouquets purchased through florists remain popular, but bouquets of spring or summer blooms that appear to have been brought straight in from the garden and loosely arranged in an artistic way are often more pleasing because they have soft flowing lines that imitate the way flowers actually grow.



Consider this list of other objects from nature that often find their way into interior environments:

  • Sea shells and rocks can be displayed as decorative accessories. Large shells can be mounted on specially designed pedestals or displayed on a table or shelf as any other art object. Small shells can be massed together in baskets, glass bowls, or any appropriate container where their beauty can be fully appreciated.

  • Animal skins and hunting trophies may add an exotic or rustic quality to certain interiors. However, they may provoke objections on grounds of sensitivity, concern for conservation, or cruelty to animals. This should be a matter of careful discrimination.

  • Fish tanks or aquariums can also bring life to interior environments. However, like plants, they require meticulous upkeep in order to be attractive–a dirty aquarium or sick fish is anything but appealing.


Integrating appliances and charming curiosities

There are a number of things in our environments that are products of rapidly developing and constantly changing technology. Appliances, computers, video systems, audio systems, and telephones are important elements of an interior. These are chosen primarily for their function, although they may be good design as well. They should be considered an important part of the design and be accommodated with sensitivity to their function and aesthetic appeal.

Many of us enjoy collecting objects, and these collections usually say something about the background, travels, or

experiences of the collector. Some collections are worthy of display and impart a personal quality to the environment. These collections might be pieces of fine art, porcelain or other ceramics, antique toys, shells, books, bottles, or other glass pieces, stamps, coins, guns and swords or photographs.

A personal touch to design

If interior design is so clean that it forces designers to create policies prohibiting personal belongings, then it has failed to meet the emotional needs of its users. It should not be difficult to provide a space for personal mementos. Such considerate planning, rather than detracting from the design, will add vitality to it.



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