The shock of the old

We have more to learn from his­toric in­te­ri­ors than we re­alise

Country Life Every Week - - Interior Design The Inside Track - Giles Kime

WHER­EVER you hap­pen to stand on the re­cent de­bate over whether study­ing his­tory of art is a dis­place­ment ac­tiv­ity for the over­priv­i­leged, the fact re­mains that it’s im­pos­si­ble to have a deep un­der­stand­ing of any­thing with­out a knowl­edge of its past, whether it’s pol­i­tics, the hu­man psy­che or con­tem­po­rary de­sign.

Any­one with a han­dle on the his­tory of de­sign will know that pared-back fur­ni­ture wasn’t a prod­uct of Swe­den in the 1990s, but of Wal­ter Gropius in 1920s Ger­many, with the re­sult that an aes­thetic that many re­gard as fash­ion­ably ‘mod­ern’ is ac­tu­ally nudg­ing al­most 100 years old.

They would also know that how­ever pro­gres­sive and ex­cit­ing Ja­panese-in­spired ce­ram­ics might seem, Bernard Leach was even fur­ther ahead of the curve than Gropius and also that Bud­dhist monks in­vented Min­i­mal­ism, not late-20th-cen­tury ar­chi­tects in Yo­hji Ya­mamoto suits.

This depth of knowl­edge is sim­i­larly im­por­tant in in­te­rior de­sign—an­other area where lit­tle is new. We face many of the same chal­lenges as our an­ces­tors when choos­ing colours, cre­at­ing lay­outs and max­imis­ing as well as min­imis­ing light and there is a sense in which it’s re­as­sur­ing—as well as lib­er­at­ing—to know that it’s all been tack­led be­fore.

It is the dearth of that knowl­edge that in­spired in­te­rior de­signer Caro­line Percy and ar­chi­tec­tural his­to­rian Oliver Ger­rish to launch His­toric Dec­o­ra­tion, a pro­gramme of study days held at Syon House in Isle­worth led by ex­perts on a wide range of sub­jects, in­clud­ing his­toric ap­proaches to paint, wall­pa­per, light­ing and pro­por­tion.

Their hope is that the depth of un­der­stand­ing th­ese study days en­gen­der will en­cour­age at­ten­dees to plough their own aes­thetic fur­rows, rather than slav­ishly fol­low­ing the crowd. ‘The past of­fers such clear ex­am­ples of suc­cess­ful in­te­rior de­sign, much of which is ig­nored and slightly in­tim­i­dates today’s de­sign­ers and home-own­ers,’ says Mr Ger­rish.

But this isn’t any old study day— as well as lunch and tea (in the Green Draw­ing Room), the 35 at­ten­dees get a tour and a rare chance to see Syon House devoid of crowds. The study days cost £180. For de­tails, tele­phone 020–3405 7159 or visit www. his­toricdec­o­ra­tion.com

‘Bud­dhist monks in­vented Min­i­mal­ism, not late-20th-cen­tury ar­chi­tects’

Left: Canaletto’s de­pic­tion of Syon House in Isle­worth, home to a new se­ries of study days look­ing at the his­tory of in­te­rior de­sign. Be­low: It’s hoped that the house’s Clas­si­cal fea­tures will in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers

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