Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Posted by Phoebe Oldrey in Interior Design Advice

17th Century House

It is over a year ago that I wrote my blog on the effects of the economy on interior design At the time we were coming to the end (though none of us could sense it was the end) of a long recession. The design industry had taken a hard hit and we as consumers were enjoying a period of time which saw us get creative on a shoe string. Skip diving must have been on an all-time high as Kirstie Allsopp encouraged us to get crafty.

Times have changed and we are feeling the start of good times again. Throughout history, difficult situations inspire have ingenious solutions and design is evolving forward.

There are two big game changes for people, and those are war and money, though I could discuss the social history of both, it is how we adapt our homes that fascinates me.

If you have an interest in the changing style of interiors I’d encourage you to visit the fabulous Geffrye Museum in London, which has room sets from each periods in history up to present day.

I have enjoyed many trips and what is striking is when a sudden change in style occurs. For me one of the most noticeable is between the rooms of 1910 and the 1935. The break between these two seems significant, moving us from the end of the Arts & Craft movement to the first steps of the modern design as we know it today. It cannot be a coincidence that sat between the time periods is the 1st World War.

With the war came a change like no other before it. A younger generation adopted a different attitude to life than their parents before them, and who wouldn’t when life could be so short.  War also brings some of the biggest leaps forward in manufacturing. During the war manufactures creates weapons and new forms of communication. After the war this technology can be put to use to create high end modern gadgets that every home must have. People and design changed together.

a drawing room from 1910 at Geffrye Museum

a living room straight out of 1935 at Geffrye Museum 

How people spend their money equally influences design. During affluent times we like to show off with our homes, always pushing for the latest. Regency times were good times and are one of the only times which could be defined by three different styles. Neo classism, rococo and chinoiserie. You can’t get a better show off of all of these than at Brighton Pavilion or at the Sir John Soane’s Museum from below.

Stone busts

Frugality also plays its hand in changing design and a great example of this was the introduction in 17th century of the “Window Tax”. This consisted of two parts: a flat-rate house tax of 2 shillings per house and a variable tax for the number of windows above ten in the house. Even back then people wanted to stick it to the tax man so to save being charged, many homes blocked up the extra windows, which you can still see today on the exterior of buildings (below). However the affluent would build more as a demonstration of their wealth, not only could they afford the expensive window but they could afford the tax as well. The same tax was brought into France in 1798 and they responded by introducing the “French Door” which is, after all, a door not a window, so exempt from tax.

House with bricked up windows

17th Century house

Hôtel Ritz in Paris lets in loads of light with beautiful french doors, not windows!

We have recently gone through the modern day equivalent to taxes with the introduction of regulations on Low energy lighting. The first wave came in the early ‘00s with a demand that 25% of lighting in a new build need to be low energy. At the time we didn’t have the products to match this demand and had to be very creative with our solutions and somehow managed to do it. Because of the regulations the LED light has been developed and pushed so far forward, from being a weird thing we had in touches, to becoming king of the lighting world, leaving the energy hungry halogen behind.  LED will revolutionise street lighting as it runs significantly cheaper, saving councils millions of pounds a year. Our own homes and pockets can’t help but feel the difference as you can run a whole room at the fraction of the cost of a halogen downlighter. They are also cool to the touch allowing us to use them in different places than before. Regulations are set to change again in 2015 and all new builds will need to be carbon neutral. Instead of sending the house builders into a tail spin we now know we can meet these regulations.

elegant LED lighting for a stairwell and the dining table

Design is a creative industry which thrives on a problem, the bigger the problem the greater the leap forward. Who knows what the next “Necessity” will be that will make us take that next inventive leap?

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