First stop: one of Britain’s most successful design shops, to meet Designer and Stylist Sarah Wright.
Jenny: Is it easier nowadays to buy style with places like this?
Sarah Wright: Yes, very much so. We constantly have design trends thrust upon us with all these magazines, TV programmes and fashion. We are bombarded constantly.
Jenny: Can you give me any hints on what’s to come?
Sarah Wright: There’s actually a massive industry for this. There are forecasting agencies that sit in these little rooms and work out what’s going to be the latest trend in the coming years. Two years ago somebody said ’green’ in the Year 2000.
Sarah Wright is a freelance Designer and Stylist. She is also the stylist for the Guardian Newspaper.
Jenny: But there is so much choice around us, how do you know what’s right?
Sarah Wright: Your home is a very personal space so it should have personal elements in it: something that cheers you up or something that makes you happy or inspires you in some way and you really like it, not just because you’ve seen it in the latest magazine or TV programme.
If you would like to find out more about the use and meaning of visual images then have a look at course D850 The Image and Visual Culture
It seems that however much we like to be different and unique, we’re all subliminally influenced by what’s on television, what’s in magazines, and what’s in the shops. To find out whether this has always been the case, Jenny makes a visit to the Geffyre Museum.
Penny Sparke is Dean of the Design Faculty at Kingston University
Jenny: So Penny we’re standing in the Victorian room. What would this have been used for?
Prof. Penny Sparke: Well, this is a drawing room, the room where women occupied themselves really, where they received guests, where they withdrew after meals. That’s where the word "drawing room" comes from, where they took tea and where they entertained themselves.
Jenny: And what does it say about the people in the Victorian age?
Prof. Penny Sparke: Well it tells you the importance of home to the family. Home was a haven from work, and it was where the woman resided, she created the space as a sanctuary for her husband really, and for the education of the children. And so really everything here is deliberate, it’s kind of educational. The flowers for example, are telling you about nature, the birds for example, they’d have been seen as bringing nature into the home and teaching about it.
Jenny: There’s quite a lot of foreign influence as well. Take the old tea caddy, to me that looks foreign.
Prof. Penny Sparke: Yes, there are signs of the colonies of the empire being shown in a number of different forms: the tropical birds, the small silver Indian boxes and the tea caddy of course. The thing about Victorian drawing rooms and parlours is that they shut the outside world off and they become internalised, quite contained spaces.
But have we always had this fascination with nick-nacks? Jenny joins Maurice Howard to find out...
Dr Maurice Howard is a lecturer of History of Art at Sussex University. He is an authority on Tudor art and architecture.
Jenny: Maurice this is very different from the Victorian parlour isn’t it?
Dr Maurice Howard: Yes. We’re now back in a time when there would have been far fewer objects in the room. People would have owned things simply for their functional purpose which they would have passed on as family heirlooms from one generation to the next.
Jenny: Can you tell what class people are by what they’ve got?
Dr Maurice Howard: Yes, very much so. Rooms that had woven tapestry signified the upper end of the wealth scale as it had to be imported from Flanders. The middle-class family would have owned a lot of pewter, as silver was too expensive.
Jenny: So how do we get from a very minimalist design to a room like the Victorian Drawing Room?
Maurice Howard: In succeeding centuries people lives became more comfortable. They would slowly have begun to collect objects and have had a sense of their own personal identity in their interiors. So you would start to see around things that were very particular for them.
If you would like to find out more about Art and Design from the Renaissance to the present day then have a look at course A216 Art and its Histories.
We’ve seen some extraordinary changes since the 16th century. But have our designs differed that much? We have seemed to have gone in a circle, as we are now attempting that functional minimal thing all over again....
Jenny: It’s almost like the more successful you are now the less you put on show.
Prof. Penny Sparke: I think it used to be that you showed your wealth through your possessions, but now taste is about knowing what not to put in your house that’s going to give away bad taste. Our lives are cluttered, we’re cluttered mentally. So we need to come back to a kind of serenity and this is a very simple space. Design has become the word differentiating ourselves. We can’t say what is "design", it’s invisible, it’s invested in objects. So the more invisible it is, the more unattainable it is.
If you would like to find out more about history of Art and Design, here are a few suggestions.
Books you can read
’The Tudor Image’, Maurice Howard, Tate Gallery Pub., ISBN 1854371592
’A Century of Design: Design Pioneers of the 20th Century’, Penny Sparke, Barrons Educational Series, ISBN 0764151223
’Bedrooms and Private Spaces:Designer Dreamscapes’, Marcie Stuchin, PBC International, ISBN 0866364765
’Timeless Design’, Bo Niles, PCB International, ISBN 0866365435
’History of Interior Design’, John Pile, John Wiley and Sons, ISBN 0471356662
Links You Can Surf
For more information on the Geffrye Museum
Find out what the Design Museum has to offer
Infomation on Maurice Howard and his work
To find out information on Design in Britain from the 40’s to 2000
Also on this site : You can join David Goldblatt as he finds out whether a perfect world for some might be a perfect world for the rest of us and Ian Hislop travels to America to see if Utopia is a pointless dream
If you think you might be interested in studying more about these subjects, find out what the Open University has to offer.