New homes

The blog is the paragon of a sophisticated approach to residential decoration, New homes nd de Wolfe’s instructions for achieving formal effects in residential spaces are rigorous and complex. Nevertheless, the decorator is still called to rely on his or her taste, converted into the measures of “simplicity, suitability, and proportion”- a decorator’s version of the familiar Vitruvian trinity of utility, firmness, and beauty. of other times was replaced by a selectivity which applied not only to costly new furniture but, ironically, to antiques as well, giving rise to the ‘period’ room.” Seale also observed: “A chief influence here was that, generally speaking, the man was no longer the builder of the house or the one who furnished it. Household art, by the 1870s, was in the hands of women; the architect’s client was now female, and the wise owners of furniture stores – and auctioneers – capitalized on that fact. To the American room, women brought criteria that they applied to the matters of personal dress. Now they were put to the task of adorning rooms.”8 The decorator, in this 1880s genesis, was a curator who shared the sensibilities of the women who were his (or her) main clients. But that is not the exclusive source of women’s association with interior design. There is also a very real history of practical design spearheaded by women who did not work as decorators. Above and beyond the growing interest in furnishing the home, the proper functioning and efficiency of the household itself became a subject of great attraction in the nineteenth century. As early as the 1840s, publications focusing on subjects such as domestic economics and domestic science were published in the United States. Interest in them was not limited to housekeeping but also addressed issues like the functional layout of kitchen space, down to the exact placement of cabinets and equipment (see illustrations on pages 90 and 91). This type of planning and programming is now, of course, a critical part of the process employed by the interior design profession. Women interior designers -even though they were not called such – can claim to have pioneered this detailed type of planning for buildings.9

The case can also be made that domestic-efficiency planning (which began as an exclusively feminine practice based on the study of repeated motions within the household) was the progenitor of the monumentally influential early twentieth-century programs to achieve industrial efficiency, best exemplified by the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor. Far from being dismissed as a superficial, feminine practice (as was the case with decoration), the domestic engineering profession was appropriated by industry with no acknowledgment of its feminine origins; a great irony indeed. The relegation of women to a marginal role was partially a result of their exclusion from other design arenas, as Robert Gutman writes in Architectural Practice, A Critical View:

Beginning sometime at the end of the nineteenth century, women, in particular, who were discouraged from becoming architects or were excluded from architecture schools, began to design interior domestic spaces, often along with furniture. The concentration of women in the field during a century in which the principle of patriarchy dominated membership in the profession inevitably diminished the status of the interior designer. This condition began to change with the rise of industrial design as an identifiable specialty in the 1920s, and the slow blurring of the lines between the design of domestic space by the interior designers and the design of work space by the industrial designers.10

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