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Interior design studios launching products is a trend vindicated by history

by Charlie Burton - Journalist based in London and Senior Commissioning Editor at GQ.


The notion of the interior designer is laden with misapprehensions. One that is particularly strange is how many people think that the profession is a modern invention – as if the whole thing was simply dreamt up by the baby boomers. Of course, that’s not the case. Candace Wheeler started the eminently successful interior design business Tiffany & Wheeler in 1897. Five years prior, Christopher Dresser published Studies In Design, in which he observed how interior design had coalesced into a discipline in its own right: “The decoration of a room,” he wrote, “is as much bound by laws and by knowledge as the treatment of disease.”

The history of the interior does of course stretch back long before that, through neo-rococo,reformed gothic, regency and so on. Those styles were influenced by an informal cabal ofarchitects, artists, critics and – most importantly – the people who actually produced the‘stuff’. Furniture designers and other craftsmen have had a huge bearing on the evolution of the interior in two different ways. For one, prominent retailers would often offer to fit out theircustomers’ houses, and the styles they offered would be determined by the products that they stocked. For another, there is no underestimating the power of an auteur.

“The furniture designer and interior decorator Robert Adam in the eighteenth centuryshowed what could be achieved when the same mind has control over all the levers,” saysPatrick Dougherty, founder of furniture, homeware and design brand Ivar London. Inspiredby the relics of antiquity that he saw while travelling around Italy with his brother James, he became a trailblazer of the British classical revival that was spurred by rchaeological finds at sites such as Pompeii. The “Adam style”, as it became known – a fine braiding of Palladian and Rococo aesthetics – was remarkable for its fully formed vision. The Adam brothers would oversee not only the architectural aspects of their projects, but also the plasterwork, furniture, floors, paintwork, the lot.

Image by NordWood Themes

The Adam brothers’ output is remembered as a high point in Georgian design. So is it any wonder that, today, there’s a trend for interior design studios producing their own products? Ivar London is one such studio, and Dougherty says that this move was inspired wholly by Adam’s achievement. “We wanted the ability to create truly distinctive interiors. Marrying interior design, furniture and dressing really enables the design team to develop strong, original and authentic design.” Indeed, not to do so, he says, would be necessarily limiting. “The analogy might be a pop star who performs but does not write their own lyrics or compose their own music.”

Integrating all aspects of the creative process is a long valourised artistic ideal. After all, the German philosopher K. F. E. Trahndorff coined the term “Gesamtkunstwerk”, which translates as “total work of art”, back n 1827. It was popularised by Ricahrd Wagner who used it to describe an imagined, perfect unity of different artforms on the stage, and it has since been applied to the holistic approach to architecture and interiors that resulted in the Adam brothers’ masterpieces. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for studios to broaden out from working only with third-party products to creating and deploying their own. Dougherty says that he could see a clear risk that customers may not accept it. “Most of our professional customers are used to procuring design services from a studio and furniture or products from a brand. In our minds the key to a successful gradual transition from a studio to a brand was to bring all our wonderful clients with us on the journey, such that they feel as comfortable working with our design team as they do placing orders for our products.”

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