Art, Architecture and Visual Culture

Grace Lees-Maffei

Interior design is the result of a range of designed elements being brought together to produce an orchestrated space. Just as the interior spaces that accommodate much of our lives are designed, so the sensory experiences we have in those spaces are also designed, whether by professionals or by householders. Some interiors are put together with all of the senses in mind while others prioritise one sense over the rest, for example in appealing to the eye. This chapter examines a variety of ways in which interior designers, mediators and consumers accommodate and stimulate the sense of touch. Landmark examples of designers’ appeal to the hand range from Adolf Loos’ furry bedroom for Lina Loos to the smooth plastic curves favoured by Charles and Ray Eames, Verner Panton and, latterly, Karim Rashid, and demonstrated too in the ubiquitous Monobloc chair. By foregrounding touch in design ideation or production, mediation and consumption, this chapter offers an alternative to interior design histories which focus exclusively on eye appeal.

in The senses in interior design
Abstract only
Fireplaces and the senses in the early modern Italian domestic interior
Erin J. Campbell

Our worlds and our relations with others are made through the senses. Through the senses we inhabit our environments. Significantly, space is transformed into place through our sensorial experiences. Placemaking refers to the people and things, practices and representations, meanings and values that make space both meaningful and useful. Thinking specifically about the role of the senses in the placemaking processes of the interior, this chapter focuses on the sensation of heat in the early modern Italian home, 1500–1600. Heat is essential for life. Heat is enmeshed in all other sensory experiences: as inhabitants move through the home, the somatic experience of heat is interwoven with seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. Yet, as this chapter argues, heat as a significant protagonist in the sensual-social dynamics of the home remains largely unexamined. In particular, by focusing on selected examples of fireplaces in the context of prescriptive writings on the home, descriptions of interiors, household inventories, paintings, prints, ceramics and metalwork, the chapter shows how design elements worked in conjunction with the sensorial dimension of fire within both humble and elite early modern Italian interiors to transform the spaces of the home into places marked by the politics of gender and class. The chapter focuses on material from Bologna, which, despite having one of the largest preserved historical centres in Italy with dozens of extant domestic interiors, remains understudied in the literature on the early modern domestic interior. Comparative examples from other Italian cities are also included as supporting evidence.

in The senses in interior design
Abstract only
Masculinity, the senses and interior design in turn-of-twentieth-century Germany
Änne Söll

The description of Henry van der Velde’s 1899 design for a ‘Herrenzimmer’ (‘men’s room’) as a room for concentrated thinking shows that interior design for men was supposed to facilitate thinking, rather than sensing. Actual bodily and sensory experience was relegated and only served to make disembodied (male) thinking possible. The furnishing of the Herrenzimmer was discussed in interior decoration magazines from the end of the nineteenth century, becoming a regular feature around 1900, while the design of bachelor pads became a topic of attention around the First World War. In the market of men’s magazines in Germany, the design of single men’s apartments was a regular feature showing the male consumer how to furnish and decorate a space that would answer to all the needs and the senses of the bachelor. Taking magazines and interior design advice books as its base, this chapter unpacks the relationship between masculinities and interior design by focusing on how the senses are involved in creating a space of ‘maleness’. How does the idea of ‘male’ comfort go together with a specific idea of ‘male’ senses? How does the writing about male interiors reflect current ideas on the senses developed by the turn-of-the-century physiology? What type of interior design is recommended to relax the senses of the bachelor and make him feel at home? How do ‘male’ senses differ from ‘female’ ones and what happens when they meet in the interior?

in The senses in interior design
David Howes

This chapter presents a genealogy of the new ‘Age of Aesthetics’ proclaimed by American writer Virginia Postrel in The Substance of Style. It does so from the standpoint of the sociology of consumption to begin with, and then follows up with an anthropologically inspired critique of certain current trends in design thinking that purport to be grounded in the science of sensory evaluation, evolutionary psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. Next, this chapter entertains the style counsel of the LA-based interior decorator Catherine Bailly Dunne, with a particular focus on their practice as grounded in a ‘science of the concrete’. It concludes by offering an alternative model for design practice centring on the figure of the interior designer as sensory ethnographer.

in The senses in interior design
Abstract only
Scenes from the dressing room
Louisa Iarocci

In the nineteenth century, the stereoscope was celebrated as a new way of seeing space that provided access into a simulated haptic realm, complicating the relationship between the senses, the mind and the world. This chapter examines the representation of the nineteenth-century dressing room as a sensorium that merges the visual and tactile in virtual space. This private room in the domestic interior becomes a sensory apparatus that is both medium and subject in the exposure and reproduction of the human body, mediated through the ‘dark chambers’ of the human eye. Dressing scenes in the domestic boudoir became a popular subject in nineteenth-century stereoviews offering sentimental, erotic and humorous narratives for popular consumption. These staged tableaux ranged from lone figures languidly disrobing for a disembodied viewer to crowded bedroom scenes with multiple players energetically engaged in physical acts of dress and discovery. The architectural interior plays an active role in the uncovering of the body as it is reflected and amplified in the objects, furnishings and surfaces of the space. The space of the nineteenth-century dressing room materializes as a sensorium that acts as an ‘unfaithful mirror’, highlighting the deceptive play between vision and touch, and between the mind and the world.

in The senses in interior design
Interior design through the five senses
Marie-Ève Marchand

Numerous authors have explored the connections between architecture and the senses, but scholarship addressing sensoriality in the history and practice of interior design remains significantly more limited. Yet sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing are instrumental to both the design of the interior and its experience by users. Interiors are designed with at least one, if not all, of the senses in mind, and it is through the senses that the human body responds, consciously or not, to its surrounding environment. Emphasizing the importance of this volume as an essential reference on the subject, the introduction provides the reader with an overview of the current state of research, before discussing theoretical notions that are key to examining the relationships between interior design and the senses. It concludes with a presentation of the fourteen chapters in the volume, highlighting their specific contributions and drawing interconnections between them in a way that foregrounds the crucial role that senses play in the experiences and expressions of interior design. Accordingly, and because a fair distribution of scholarship between sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing has yet to be achieved, the chapters presented are grouped thematically rather than by any one particular sense.

in The senses in interior design
Sensual luxury, primitivism and the French bourgeois interior
John Potvin

This chapter attempts a decolonization of the senses and interior design through the exploration of the bourgeois art deco interior and the objects in its landscape. What Rosalind Krauss terms ‘Black Deco’ refers to the work of Pierre Legrain and others, specifically the decorative effect of transforming African sources into ‘smoothed out’ objects suitable for bourgeois tastes. The luxurious affect of these objects and various techniques elicited a symbiotic sensory connection between vision and the haptic. African or tribal-inspired designs and objects were the site of a cultural contest and were emblematic of either disease and contagion or as a liberation that renewed modern Western culture. Moreover, the fraught and tense relationship between modernism and art deco has conjured a series of mostly artificial oppositional binaries: avant-garde/bourgeois, exterior/interior, structural/decorative, industrial/handmade, mass/elite and male/female at which point the supposedly excessive nature of the decorative, the sensory and the primitive reside. These tensions, contests and issues are at the centre of the chapter’s investigation of the use of so-called ‘Black Deco’ within the interwar bourgeois interior.

in The senses in interior design
Sensorial expressions and experiences

The physical world is experienced and understood through the five senses. This is especially true of the interior where decorators and designers, both professional and amateur, have long experimented with, embraced and harnessed new materials, objects and technologies to enhance or heighten sensory awareness and wellbeing. Yet a discussion of sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste is too often overlooked in the histories and historiography of interior design and design history. Interiors do not solely exist in abstract or inchoate form: it is through the senses that the body navigates and negotiates the experiences that interior design offers. Drawing from fields including design history, design studies and sensory studies, The senses in interior design charts the somewhat fragmentary histories of how the senses have been mobilized within various forms of interior. Grouped into three thematic clusters exploring sensory politics, aesthetic entanglements and sensual economies respectively, the contributions brought together in this volume shed light on sensory expressions and experiences of interior design throughout history. Examining domestic and public interiors from the late sixteenth century to today, the authors give back to the body its central role in the practices, understanding and uses of interiors. In so doing, they explore fundamental considerations about identities, social structures and politics that reveal the significance of the senses in all aspects of interior design and decoration.

Abstract only
Robert de Montesquiou’s sensorial installations and their condemnation
Benoit Beaulieu

Before becoming a famous socialite, Count Robert de Montesquiou (1855–1921) lived a confidential life in the attic of his parents’ hôtel particulier. Situated in the aristocratic Faubourg Saint-Germain, this apartment was responsible for the count’s notoriety and his reputation as a decadent and sensitive aristocrat. This chapter examines the ways de Montesquiou transformed the interiors of his apartment into a work of art through the solicitation of the senses, and how this in turn came to be used against him by his detractors. De Montesquiou’s queer sensoria is explored through the critiques that it generated in relation to hyperaesthesia, effeminophobia and pathologization. De Montesquiou developed an original idea of the interior as artistic, aristocratic and therapeutic. As a strategy of legitimation, he would emphasize the artistic aspect of his enterprise with claims that his décor was a form of literary and musical writing. At the same time, he would invoke his illustrious ancestors and their glorious civilized past as part of that strategy. De Montesquiou countered accusations of sickness by claiming the therapeutic and calming virtue of his interior designs in his poetry. This chapter offers an alternative genealogy of modernity, one that is ornamental, queer and extravagant. More significantly, this chapter enables a better understanding of the role the senses played in the condemnation of queer style as well as offering a recognition of queer agency and strategies of affirmation.

in The senses in interior design
Ben Highmore

In 1974 the UK-based furniture designer, retailer and restaurateur Terence Conran published The House Book. Since then, over two and a half million copies of the book have been sold. Because of the photographic basis of the volume the primary sensual register is visual, but this visuality is itself multisensual, stressing textures and other haptic qualities and often including the presence of food, flowers and musical instruments. The aim of this chapter is twofold. Initially the task is to suggest that a historical sense of what an interior ‘feels’ like – whether it feels ‘homely’, ‘fabulous’, ‘convivial’, ‘sacred’ and so on – is dependent on a synaesthetic mix of sensorial materials, and that these are perceived through orchestrations of the visual, haptic, auditory and olfactory. The second task is to suggest an approach that tries to grasp the synaesthetic effect and affect of space through a vocabulary that is capacious enough to register multisensory affects. Through the term ‘atmosphere’ the chapter suggests a way of grasping the gestalt of the sensory scene of the interior. But sensing is an interactive affair, and while atmospheres are active agents in interiors so too are the subjects that congregate there: ‘attunement’ names the symbiotic assemblage of attuning environment and attuned and attune-able subject. To give material form to these approaches, the chapter uses the case study of Conran’s The House Book and the domestic aesthetics that Conran and the shop Habitat developed from 1964.

in The senses in interior design