Principles of interior design
It is important to emphasize that interior design is a specialized branch of architecture or environmental design; it is equally important to keep in mind that no specialized branch in any field would be very meaningful if practiced out of context. The best buildings and the best interiors are those in which there is no obvious disparity between the many elements that make up the totality. Among these elements are the structural aspects of a building, the site planning, the landscaping, the furniture, and the architectural graphics (signs), as well as the interior details. Indeed, there are many examples of distinguished buildings and interiors that were created and coordinated by one guiding hand.
Because of the technological complexity of contemporary planning and building, it is no longer possible for a single architect or designer to be an expert in all the many aspects that make up a modern building. It is essential, however, that the many specialists who make up a team be able to communicate with each other and have sufficient basic knowledge to carry out their common goals. While the architect usually concerns himself with the overall design of buildings, the interior designer is concerned with the more intimately scaled aspects of design, the specific aesthetic, functional, and psychological questions involved, and the individual character of spaces.
Although interior design is still a developing profession without a clear definition of its limits, the field can be thought of in terms of two basic categories: residential and nonresidential. The latter is often called contract design because of the manner in which the designer receives his compensation (i.e., a contractual fee arrangement), in contrast to the commission or percentage arrangement prevalent among residential interior decorators. Although the volume of business activity in the field of residential interiors continues to grow, there seems to be less need and less challenge for the professional designer, with the result that more and more of the qualified professionals are involved in nonresidential work.
The field of interior design already has a number of specialized areas. One of the newer areas is “space planning”—i.e., the analysis of space needs, allocation of space, and the interrelation of functions within business firms. In addition to these preliminary considerations, such design firms are usually specialists in office design.
Many design firms have become specialized in such fields as the design of hotels, stores, industrial parks,or shopping centres. Others work primarily on large college or school projects, and still others may be specialists in the design of hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. Design firms active in nonresidential work range from small groups of associates to organizations comprised of 50 to 100 employees. Most of the larger firms include architects, industrial designers, and graphic designers. In contrast, interior designers who undertake residential commissions are likely to work as individuals or possibly with two or three assistants. The size of the firms involved in nonresidential design is a clear indication of the relative complexity of the large commissions. In addition to being less complex, residential design is a different type of activity. The residential interior is usually a highly personal statement for both the owner and the designer, each of whom is involved with all aspects of the design; it is unlikely that a client who wished to engage the services of an interior designer for his home would be happy with an organized systems approach.
Most large architectural firms have established their own interior-design departments, and smaller firms have at least one specialist in the field. There are no precise boundaries to the profession of interior design nor, in fact, to any of the design professions. Furniture design, for example, is carried out by industrial designers and furniture designers as well as by architects and interior designers. As a rule, furniture designed for mass production is designed by industrial designers or furniture designers; the interior designer or architect usually designs those special pieces that are not readily available on the market or that must meet specific needs for a particular job. Those needs may be functional or aesthetic, and often a special chair or desk designed for a specific job will turn out to be so successful that the manufacturer will put such pieces into his regular line. The same basic situation holds generally true in the design of fabrics, lighting devices, floor covering, and all home-furnishing products. All design activities are basically similar, even though the training and education in the different design fields varies in emphasis. A talented and well-trained designer can easily move from one specialized area to another with little difficulty.
In the discussion of the general aspects of design, it is important to note that there is an important distinction between art and design. A designer is basically concerned with the solution of problems (be they functional, aesthetic, or psychological) that are presented to him. The artist is more concerned with emotive or expressive ideas and with the solution of problems he himself poses. A truly great or beautiful interior can indeed be called a work of art, but some would prefer to call such an interior a “great design.”