Interior Design Styles through the Decades

Interior Design Styles through the Decades

History Repeats Itself

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The quote " History Repeats Itself" couldn't be more fitting when it comes to Interior Design styles and trends.  It's an interesting time for the decorative arts as we experience a shift towards more chunky, rounded pieces.  The influence of art deco and bauhaus design is evident.

Art Deco


Art Deco was introduced at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925.  Some of the characteristics of Art Deco originated in France in the mid to late 1910's via the Ballets Russes, an experimental ballet troupe in Paris headed up by the Russian artistic director, Sergei Diaghilev.  


The Ballets Russes had a look and feel that was completely unique and unlike anything anyone had seen before.  

Mayan Influence

The Mayan temple, El Castillo (The Castle) is one of several structures at Chichen Itzen in Mexico.  Built in 400-500 A.D.  The pyramid is comprised of 9 levels which represent the nine levels of the afterlife.  Each of the four sides consists of a series of terraces totaling 18, the number of months in the Mayan year. 

The Eastern Columbia Building 

The Eastern Columbia building in Los Angeles is a beautiful example of Art Deco Architecture.  The stepped design was clearly influenced by the Mayan pyramids. 

Elsie de Wolfe


"Simplicity, suitability and proportion" - Elsie de Wolfe

Elsie de Wolfe, also known as Lady Mendl is credited as being the first person to use the title of interior decorator.  Elsie was born in New York in 1865 and died in Versailles, France in 1950.   She worked with numerous celebrity clients and collaborated with famed designer Tony Duquette.

Marlene Dietrich


Elsie de Wolfe's design of Marlene Dietrich's home in Los Angeles is a study in Art Deco design and Hollywood Glamour.

Zebra and Black Panther with Cacti


Commissioned mural titled Zebra and Black Panther with Cacti by portrait artist & muralist, Charles Baskerville 

Side by side photographs of Marlene Dietrich beside a model in 2016 illustrates how timeless and classic the art deco mural is. 

Sketch London Tea Room

A reimagining of Scratch by Architect / Designer India Mahdavi
Ms. Mahdavi's design feels like a modern take on Old Hollywood with the rose quartz velvet club chairs and chevron patterned floor.
The uniform gallery wall is reminiscent of the framed caricatures at Sardi's in NYC.

Sardi's NYC



The Bauhaus school was founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, an icon of modern architecture.  Bauhaus was rooted in craftsmanship and accessibility in contrast to the opulent style and expensive materials of Art Deco that catered to the wealthy. 


Walter Gropius's philosophy was to employ craftspeople to collectively produce art, furniture, architecture, theatre, typography & weaving into a modern synthesis.  Steel, glass & masonry were the materials of choice.

A New Era


In 1925, the Bauhaus School moved from Weimar to Dessau.  Walter Gropius designed the campus which came to exemplify the Bauhaus style.  

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe


In 1930, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe took over as the school's artistic director after a short slightly contentious term by Swiss architect Hannes Meyer

While most consider Frank Lloyd Wright to be he inspiration for Howard Roark in "The Fountainhead", Mies Van der Rohe, arguably the most influential modernist architect of the 20th century was also rumored to have provided inspiration.

Bauhaus Berlin (1932-1933)


By the early 30's, as the Nazi party rose to power, The Bauhaus school's everyman philosophy was seen as a threat to the fascist Nazi party.  

In 1932 rather than cave into the Nazi's demands, Mies van der Rohe moved the school from Dessau to an abandoned telephone factory in Berlin-Steglitz to avoid detection.  

Unfortunately, The Bauhaus School in Berlin would not last.  In 1933, the Nazi's arrested several staff members.  Rather than cooperate Mies van der Rohe made the decision to permanently close the school.

The White City


In the early 30's dozens of German Jewish architects who studied at The Bauhaus fled to Israel.  In 1933 many of these architects were commissioned to design housing in Tel Aviv.  

The result being what became known as the White City due to the buildings white facades.


The Thermometer Building in Tel Aviv designed by German Jewish Architect Yehuda Luilka in 1936.

The 1940's & The Polar Bear Suite

Present day home of mid-century modern connoisseur Emmanuel de Bayser in Berlin.
In 1947, French Interior Designer Jean Royere designed the Boule Sofa seen in the apartment of Emmanuel de Bayser.  Upholstered in a white fuzzy wool fabric, the sofa and accompanying chairs became known as the Polar-Bear Suite due to their large, white, rounded appearance.  

Mid-Century Modern

Kirk Douglas lounging at home reading a screenplay in the old Las Palmas district of Palm Springs. 2 original Picasso's hang overhead.  The house was designed in 1954 by architect Donald Wexler, credited with creating the mid-century modern look so identifiable with Palm Springs.
Through my research,  I believe the interior designer was Hal Broderick of the firm Arthur Elrod & Associates.  Hal Broderick and Arthur Elrod were responsible for designing many of the more prominent modernist homes in and around Palm Springs in the 50's & 60's.  
Kirk Douglas's house in Palm Springs backs up to a property Donald Wexler designed for Dinah Shore.  The stars were close friends and used a small gate connecting the properties.


Postmodern architecture emerged in the 60's as a reaction to the clean lines and supposed "lack of variety in modern architecture".   

In 1966, Architect Robert Venturi published "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture" where he argued ornament, historical allusions and humor had a place in modern architecture.  In the book, Venturi wrote "Less is a bore" as a retort to Mies van der Rohe's famous quote "Less is More".  
In 1967, Architects Robert Venturi, Steve Izenour and Denise Scott Brown (Robert Venturi's wife)  authored "Learning from Las Vegas" where the case was  made the strip in Las Vegas was the American equivalent to a piazza in Rome.
A house Robert Venturi designed for his mother, Vanna in 1964 showcases the architect's ideals for postmodern architecture.  The pitched roof incorporates classical architectural elements with a sense of whimsy. 

Postmodern Architecture

The Binoculars Building in Venice, California designed by Frank Gehry in 1991.  Claes Oldenberg and  Cossje van Bruggen designed the binoculars.
Some of the most influential postmodern architects include Robert Venturi, Michael Graves, Charles Moore, Philip Johnson, Frank Gehry and Cesar Pelli.
The Binoculars Building in Venice, California designed by Frank Gehry in 1991.

Michael Graves


Architect and product designer Michael Graves had a large influence on Postmodern architecture and product design.  His 9093 tea kettle ws born out of the Tea and Coffee Piazza project in the 1970's.  The Italian housewares company, Alessi invited 11 architects, none of whom had previously worked in industrial design, to design a tea and coffee service.  The 9093 kettle is still popular today.  

The Memphis Group

The Memphis Group, founded by Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass in 1980.  Their designs incorporated abstract shapes, colors and lines.
Their name, Memphis Group was inspired by the Bob Dylan song "Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again".  
Sitcoms in the 80's & 90's like "Saved by the Bell" helped make the Memphis postmodern style more mainstream.  The diner designed by Production Designer  Richard Berg for "Saved by the Bell" is now a pop-up restaurant called Saved by The Max in West Hollywood.

The Revival of Postmodern Design


One good thing about styles that become revived is that they can be refined and improved.  While I'm not a big fan of postmodern design, I do like this modern interpretation by Arent & Pyke.  The pop of salmon pink, the graphic rug and chunky shapes are all reminiscent of the style.

Everything old is new again

As Jonathan Swift wrote in an essay in 1710, "everything old is new again".  Those of us who collect vintage furnishings & antiques appreciate the history and quality these pieces can bring to a modern aesthetic.  By embracing the old while also reimagining the past, we can create looks that feel fresh and modern while also timeless. 








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  • Hi William,

    For some reason Shopify doesn’t allow the writer of the blog to respond to comments. Isn’t that grand? I appreciate your comment. Upon further inspection, you are correct. It does appear most historians believe Frank Lloyd Wright was the inspiration for Howard Roark although some publications mention Mies Van Der Rohe as possible inspiration –, Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

    Stephanie on
  • Anything I have ever read suggests that Howard Roark was patterned after Frank Llyod Wright, not Mies

    william Foster on

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