Where Did Interior Design Originate?


Interior design is not the same as interior decorating. Decorators work inside a room, enhancing the way it looks with fabrics, color and decor, but designers are typically involved in the design of the room's interior, either alone or alongside an architect to come up with ideas that not only augment the room's look and feel, but to make it an environment that interacts with its inhabitants in a positive way. Interior design has its roots deeply embedded in the European continent from which it originated.

Decorating Versus Design

  • Interior decorators focus on creating a space that matches or enhances a client's desires and personality, while licensed interior designers may be involved in the home's interior architectural design and planning to make the inside functional, comfortable and beautiful to all the senses. The focus of interior design is not so much on just decor, but on the human relationship with the interior environment. The first interior designers were often artists, architects and furniture-makers, as was the case with Thomas Jefferson, who designed his plantation Monticello -- inside and out -- based on his neoclassical preferences.

Primitive Man

  • As Mike Lesse reported in 2013 in "The History of Interior Design" for the Society for British and International Design, many historians feel that the urge to enhance our interior spaces started in Europe with prehistoric man who designed and decorated the interior of caves by adding natural materials -- wood, straw, mud and animal skins -- and adding religious or symbolic decor via their painted drawings on cave walls. Identified as a primitive instinct, the need to design interior spaces and to make them comfortable, inviting and a recuperative retreat from the outside world is ancient in origin.

Egyptians, Grecians and Romans

  • A conversation about the origins of interior design cannot exclude the influences of ancient peoples from Europe and Africa -- the Egyptians, Grecians and Romans. Many of the classical designs from these cultures are still used in architectural exteriors and interiors today. The Egyptians brought murals and innovative, but ornate, interior designs to royal and religious structures. The designs of the ancient Greeks and Romans still influence interior design today with iconic columns and massive pillared interiors, along with many modern bathroom designs, such as deep soaking tubs and indoor plumbing.

Modern Interior Design

  • Interior design has evolved through the ages with its defining eras intersected by art movements, architectural periods and more, ranging from the French-originated, 12th-century Gothic period to the modern and contemporary designs of the 21st century. Many interior designers come from multiple disciplines with backgrounds in architecture, art, cabinetmaking, landscaping and textiles -- just to name a few. The world's most famous interior designers include designers such as Frances Adler Elkins, responsible for the interiors of the Yerba Buena Club during the Golden Gate Exposition of the 1940s, Elsie de Wolfe and Dorothy Draper, who not only worked in interior design but came up with innovative furniture designs.

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