Comparing the Ornate and the Natural: A Study of Two Theories of Design
History often dictates societal mentality more so than current climate, yet in times of peace, it seems that the beautiful and the artful flourish. This very concept is debatable, especially in interior design, where the fashions of the time very often have a much-felt impact upon design theories and the way in which they are carried out. Yet it is in history that one finds inspiration, or the contradiction thereof. For instance, during the mid to late 19th century, it was against history that romanticism was born. Yet in the early 20th century, immediately following this period of romanticism, it was out of a societal need for simplicity prior to the two Great Wars that a more natural aesthetic was born, expressed so perfectly by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The following paragraphs will comment on these two seemingly disparate design aesthetics, and will aim to unite them under the great umbrella of impeccable interior design.
The theories to be presented here are, as aforementioned, Romanticism and Early Modernism. These two theories span different centuries, yet they follow one another, and seem quite disparate. However, their similarity rests undoubtedly on the changing processes of the times they reflect. Another similarity rests in the fact that these two theories, as other before and after them, are utilized in concomitance with others to create very beautiful, well-flowing spaces, today.
Romanticism, as a design theory, is connoted by the period following the Age of Enlightenment. The years spanned by this aesthetic are from around 1835 to 1925, reflecting almost a century of changing Romantic ideals. This concept was not only reflected in design, but also in music, art, and fashion, as well as in literary and intellectual movements. Romanticism, as a social or societal idea, was born in order to rebel, in a way, against the constraints of symbolism and the Industrial Revolution. In fact, some state, "it was a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature. It was embodies most strongly in the visual arts, music and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education and natural history." (Customer Notes, 1)
A Product of the Times
Romanticism is thus, a very important concept in design history, especially because it was so influenced by history and society and has, in turn, influenced design for years to come, until present day, as aforementioned. In order to better understand Romanticism, one must inevitably look at the political and social history that precedes it, and against which it rebelled, as detailed above. Romanticism comes from Roman classic style, reflecting a combination of change and emancipation, very different from the ideas of balance and restraint that so reflected the classical era. Design was thus very expressive and creative, with many different, ornate styles.
During this great period of change and unbridled expression, it was clear that the restraints of the previous decades had grown tedious. According to some,
"the Greek Revival was diluted almost immediately by the antiquarian Romanticism of the "Gothic," "Tuscan," and "country cottage" fashions. These offered opportunity to the undercurrent of practical utilitarianism, repressed or thwarted by the classic formula, and also gave a fertile field for the novel or exotic in decorative taste fostered by a wealth-induced appetite for comfort and display." (Britannica, Academic Edition, 1)
According to the encyclopedia, by the middle of the 1800's, however, Romanticism evolved yet again, with early Victorian ideals disappearing "under a plethora of decorative motifs and objects easily and inexpensively produced by machines." (Britannica, Academic Edition, 2) It must also be noted here that color especially became very much prominent in designs, and especially brilliant, as well as infused with a multitude of patterns, which was the result of the introduction of chemical dyes with which designers had not experimented, as well as the Jacquard loom. This loom permitted incredibly ornate weaving of many patterns, thereby creating very detailed, Romantic-style fabrics.
Evolving in America and Europe
Whereas the styles of America and Europe had heretofore been very dissimilar in terms of what connoted Romanticism on both continents, increased ease of communication made American styles increasingly indistinguishable from those of Europe. (Britannica, Academic Edition, 2)
"This decorative salad of classic and medieval motifs was supplanted by the revival of the 18th-century forms which temporarily triumphed in the "second Rococo" of the 1850s, when rosewood and walnut took the place of mahogany. This was succeeded by fashions based on the 17th century and the later Renaissance, until the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 brought to America the "craft" medievalism and a new series of more literal style revivals including that of colonial times. These in turn absorbed the exotic Eastern influence of the Aesthetic movement of the later 19th century." (Britannica, Academic Edition, 3)
Though the Romantic movement took the world by storm and evolved to have many different, distinct periods within itself, as well as a lasting impression upon interior design, in the beginning of the 20th century, with the advent of technology, Romantic styles became available to more and more people. Instead of being funded by immense government projects, other firms could create their own romantic design, such as banks and theatres. Many of the world's greatest theatres and opera houses were built in this time, because finally the level of technology available increased to the point where romantic design was affordable. The houses of the wealthy were thus no longer solely characterized by the ornaments with which they had been accustomed, as these could be easily and cheaply reproduced.
A New Design:
Early Modernism and Frank Lloyd Wright
Many were now looking towards new forms of designs, including those characterized by Art Deco and another, early modernist style, best exemplified by the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright is the most iconic American symbol of design and architecture of the interwar period, although he worked for many years beyond the end of World War II. (Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 2012) The Beaux-art period leading up to the war was symbolic of the competition between nations for world supremacy, pitting extreme displays of wealth and excess across Europe and America against each other in a new age of commerce. After World War I, however, a new economic and world order was established, and the disaster of the war diminished the excesses of the various nations. This meant function had won over form, or in other words, the purpose of something became more important than the appearance of that thing. Frank Lloyd Wright was exceptional in this pursuit because he sought to bring simplicity and order to the needs of the middle and working class of America. In addition, he generally avoided major population hubs, instead preferring the vast openness of America, taking advantage of the growing use of the automobile, and creating his architecture to fit the environment, rather than transforming the environment to fit his architecture.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Influence:
The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright greatly influenced the design of Wright's homes, all of which was personally chosen by the architect himself. This concept puts the stamp of the architect more closely to the creation itself than any design form before. He would even take the time to design the dresses of the housewives who were to occupy his homes. Many of the modern "starchitects" of today, such as I.M. Pei, Jean Nouvel, and Santiago Calatrava have followed in Wright's footsteps. The colors of Wright's architecture came from the natural, and represented the material in question, in the context of the environment. This meant that woods were woods, stone was stone, and fabric was…