A Complete History of Interior Design Style Trends


What's the interior design history? The past could offer us insight and inspiration, and knowing design history allows us to give context to our visual culture. We can then use what we know from the past to understand the present and potentially anticipate what we have coming in the future!

Interior design is usually seen as a creative outlet or something individuals enjoy doing to make their space their own. What you may not see is the art and science that goes into enhancing interior spaces to create not only an aesthetically pleasing environment but also a functional one too.

It’s a beautiful thought process of furniture arrangements, color and texture scheming, perfected lighting, and many other elements that are able to transform a simple space into a harmonious and visually appealing home.

On top of this process comes the significance that interior design can truly have on living and working spaces. We aren't just talking about decorating a space to make it look good. We are talking about the planning that goes into optimizing functionality and comfort with a side dish of visual appeal for the entire space. All the elements that go into interior design are what help to create a productive environment, support whatever activities you are into, and look to improve well-being.

Every country's interior design processes ebb and flow with the times. From ancient civilizations like Egypt to the Gothic and Renaissance of the Baroque, all the way to neoclassical design and into the contemporary styles of the 20th century. Interior design has and will continue to adapt to reflect the current culture, social trends, and artistic styles of the time.

However, now with social media and apps like Pinterest, we are consistently being introduced to types of designs and styles we may have never even considered. As the history of interior design is an incredibly fascinating journey, it's important to remember that it moves through time periods. Each one bringing its own design principles, unique influences and distinct aesthetics to provide people with a space they could be in and enjoy. Allowing for these design eras to come back and rejuvenate our space with their distinct characteristics.

1. Ancient Interior Design Styles (3000 BCE - 500 CE)

  • Mesopotamian and Egyptian interior design

Influences of religious beliefs and social hierarchy:

There is somewhat of an image we have in our minds when we think of Mesopotamian and Egyptian interior design. If you happen to be thinking about thick bases and walls, tall ceilings, stunning carvings into hard stone, and sculptures situated in open spaces, you'd be right.

What's most fascinating to understand is just how heavily influenced their designs were by religious beliefs and their social hierarchy. So much so that often the layout of their homes, decorations, and even furniture arrangements were all dictated by religious rituals and practices. While their social status would amount to the level of luxury or embellishment presented in the spaces of their homes.

Use of ornate decorations and symbolic motifs:

Yet, both very much utilized elaborate decorations and symbolic ideas. This meant designing the home with intricate carvings and murals, as well as sculptures presented on walls and furniture. Those carvings, murals, and sculptures were often hieroglyphics and representations of their gods and goddesses. This is why we are so sure that their interior design styles were heavily based on cultural and religious significance. Their incorporations were astounding and consistent throughout this time.

  • Greek and Roman interior design:

Emphasis on balance, proportion, and classical architecture:

While Greek and Roman interior design could be said to have similarities to Egyptian and Mesopotamian design, it seems to be mostly within their architecture of columns and capitals. Their differences can be seen and expressed in the mentality of their particular stylizations.

When it comes to Greek and Roman interior design, we can see just how much importance they placed on balance, proportion and classical architectural principles. Spaces weren't simply designed to look good but geometric harmony and ideal proportions were heavily considered and ideal. To create a visually pleasing and structurally sound interior, they created arches, large columns and dome elements.

Incorporation of frescoes, mosaics, and sculptures:

As for the interior, designs often emphasized colors from nature, and both Greek and Roman cultures brought in decorative features such as:

  • Frescoes: a mural painting technique with scenes of mythology, history, and everyday life executed on wet plaster.
  • Mosaic: While commonly used on flooring, mosaics generally use small colored tiles to create intricate patterns, designs, or even sculptures (still seen today in places like Portugal).
  • Sculptures: Most sculptures from this era depict gods, heroes, or important figures, adding a three-dimensional element to the interiors of homes.

With the combination of these three elements, interiors were able to be lavishly decorative, colorful, and pleasing to the eye.

2. Medieval and Renaissance Interior Design Styles (500 CE - 1600 CE)

  • Gothic interior design

Characteristic features of Gothic cathedrals and castles:

Gothic interior design is one of the most interesting interior design styles that society enjoys visiting today. For example, churches in Milan, Barcelona, and Vienna all encapsulate the perfect Gothic cathedrals and castles. Even Oxford in the U.K. shines a light on Gothic design as its university was designed in the English Gothic style.

Characterized by the high, elevated ceilings of cathedrals and sturdy castles, it is the pointed arches, stained glass windows, ribbed vaults, and stabilizing flying buttresses that draw in the crowds. When the vibrant light sifts through the biblically depicted stained glass windows and illuminates the expansive space with heavy oak furniture and elaborate wallpaper, we are left with an awe-inspiring idea of what the Gothic era would have been like for those living amidst it.

Ornamental details and stained glass windows:

As mentioned earlier, glass windows were often stained with depictions of biblical scenes, creating stunning hallmarks and colorful pieces of art that both taught and brightened up the space throughout the day. However, moving to the interior, along with wood furniture, the Gothic era also embraced complex ornamental details. This included carvings, tracery, and decorative patterns. Nothing was left plain as woodwork and stonework adorned the ceilings, walls and furniture of the room, captivating our senses.

  • Renaissance interior design:

    Influence of humanism and revival of classical aesthetics:

    The Renaissance interior design style is not only seen in artworks but also in television shows like Netflix's The Tudors. It is a style of elegance and beauty, favored by many. As it was greatly influenced by the humanist movement and the rediscovery of classical aesthetics, there was less focus on religion and more on design. Inspired by ancient Greece and Rome, the concept aimed to create balance through harmonious proportions and mathematical precision in its designs. This technique made the spaces not only visually pleasing but also delightful to the senses.

    Grandeur and opulence in palaces and mansions:

    In larger spaces like palaces and mansions, Renaissance interior design exuded magnificence and luxury. Lavish materials like marble, rich wood and intricate tapestries were combined with extravagant architectural features like a grand staircase, decorative pilasters and the commonly seen decorative indentations in ceilings. When placed together, they created an elegant and gorgeous space for the people of that time to lead and relax in.

    3. Baroque and Rococo Interior Design Styles (1600 CE - 1800 CE)

    • Baroque interior design

      Elaborate decorations, gilded elements, and dramatic lighting:

      Baroque interior design is another favorite, and for good reason. Known for its extravagance and decorative styles, it is visually appealing and still inspires interior decorators and designers today. It includes intricate carvings, gilded elements, and adorned ceilings, walls and furniture. Large chandeliers and candles were added for dramatic lighting, creating a somewhat theatrical atmosphere in the space. It is a very dramatic, rich, and emotional style of design.

      Symbolism and theatricality in religious and royal spaces:

      This dramatic approach also heavily incorporates symbolism, reflecting the power and authority of the church or monarchy over its people and land. Its religious and royal aspects manifest through its symbolism and theatricality, utilizing religious iconography, symbolic motifs and allegorical representation. This particular design era is incredibly beautiful as well as powerful in its message.

      • Rococo interior design:

        Lightness, asymmetry, and delicate ornamentation:

        To lighten things up a notch, rococo interior design moved away from the powerful and heavy aesthetics of the Baroque period and embraced a more delicate approach. This can be seen in its lightness, asymmetry, and delicate ornamentations. It embraced playfulness and whimsical elements with delicate moldings, decorative patterns, and curved lines. The goal was to create a sense of elegance rather than a sense of power through its design.

        Emphasis on elegance and luxury in salons and residences:

        This emphasis on elegance and luxury is particularly evident in salons and residences. The most common elements included lavish furnishings like upholstered chairs and sofas, as well as decorative screens. The use of soft pastel colors and intricate details replaced hard colors and shapes, enhancing the space with the graceful and opulent atmosphere that the rococo interior design style is known for.

        4. Neoclassical and Victorian Interior Design Styles (late 18th century - early 20th century)

        • Neoclassical interior design

          Revival of classical architecture and design principles:

          Neoclassical interior design refers to the revival of classical architecture and design principles from ancient Greece and Rome. If you compare images of the design style, it could be seen as a modernized renaissance of sorts. While the Renaissance design style was from the 1400s to 1600s, representing a "rebirth" of classicism, Neoclassicism emerged as a modern influence of Renaissance architecture that dominated much of the 1800s.

          Neoclassical interior design focuses on simplicity with clean lines and a prominent sense of balance in its interior space. Columns, pediments, and arches were common classical elements utilized to create a sense of timeless elegance. Its decorative style, combined with simplicity, creates a light and elegant feel.

          Simplicity, symmetry, and restrained ornamentation:

          This is due in part to its characteristics of symmetry, restrained ornamentation, and, as mentioned before, simplicity. It is a less common concept compared to previous design eras. Rooms were often designed with harmonious layouts and a sense of order. This means minimal and refined ornamentation, with a focus on delicate moldings, rosettes and classical motifs, along with a light and neutral color palette. These elements contribute to an overall sophistication in the space.

          • Victorian interior design:

            Eclectic mix of styles and ornamentation:

            Encompassing various influences, including Gothic Revival, Rococo Revival, and Orientalism, Victorian interior design veers away from Neoclassical designs and embraces an eclectic mix of styles and ornamentation. This rich style incorporates features such as patterns, textures, and colors, blended together to create a lavish and opulent vibe in the space. It allows for a higher level of creativity to be explored.

            Incorporation of rich colors, patterns, and elaborate furnishings:

            • This is particularly evident in its bold colors, complex patterns, and elaborate furnishings. Individuals could play around with:
            • Forest greens, royal blues, burgundies, and deep orange colors.
            • Damask, paisley and floral patterns that could be printed on upholstery, curtains, and wallpapers.
            • Heavily carved furniture with fringes, tassels, and tufting details.
            • Light fixtures and candles in entryways and, of course, dining, living, and sitting rooms, often using lampshades made of glass, chandeliers or wall sconces.
            • Fabric draping over windows, usually made of silk or wool.
            • The prominent display of accessories or decorations on almost every surface.

            As long as mixed textures, rich colors and bold patterns were utilized, you were well within the walls of such a diverse yet creative era of interior design.

            5. Modern and Contemporary Interior Design Styles (20th century - present)

            • Art Nouveau and Art Deco interior design

              Organic forms and decorative motifs in Art Nouveau

              Art Nouveau and Art Deco turned more to nature and are characterized by their use of organic and flowing forms. This era decided to embrace curved lines, floral patterns and themes such as plants, vines, and even insects, providing a softer approach to its designs yet still encompassing strong and bold architecture, especially in its craftsmanship. Furniture and decorative objects were to feature not only the intricacies of craftsmanship but also an emphasis on it, providing a flowing yet artistic approach to the era.

              Geometric shapes and sleek materials in Art Deco

              This style definitely embraces geometric shapes, sleek lines, and luxurious materials, but with a bold and glamorous aesthetic twist. Straight lines with geometric patterns and stepped forms were very common in furniture as well as in its architectural details. This stunning furniture style is often made from exotic woods and polished to maintain its natural form. However, mirrored surfaces were used to create a sense of wealth and grandeur in the space. Overall, it was a unique era of design that created a sense of peace and comfort in its form.

              • Mid-century modern interior design

                Clean lines, simplicity, and functional design

                Mid-century modern interior design also followed the principles of openness and a connection with nature. Emerging in the mid-20th century, it is known for its clean lines, simplicity, and functional design. Furniture often features organic shapes, minimal decoration, and slim-legged styles. Natural materials like wood and leather were heavily utilized. With a combination of vibrant colors, muted tones, and graphic shapes, they could create a visually appealing space that blended indoor and outdoor ideas.

                Integration of natural elements and innovative materials

                This style particularly emphasizes the use of natural elements such as large windows and open floor plans, allowing for an open and breathable room filled with space and light. The mix of color tones further enhances the space. The integration of innovative materials like fiberglass and molded plastic allows for intricate yet natural designs and placements. It further encompasses the concept of blending indoor and outdoor elements.

                6. Postmodern and Minimalist Interior Design Styles (late 20th century - present)

                • Postmodern interior design

                  Playful, eclectic, and unconventional approach

                  Postmodern design is the fun style you probably would have enjoyed most as a kid. Not because of the immaturity of the design, but the playfulness of colors and shapes that took place in this era. The eclectic and unconventional approach moves even further away from previous designs and embraces elements of irony, humor, and imitation. It commonly mixes styles, patterns, and materials to create visually striking and incredibly unique spaces that you can see in images and even in spaces today.

                  Emphasis on irony, pastiche, and deconstruction

                  As for the uncommon design principles of irony, pastiche, and deconstruction, it's not strange to consider that this design style was a reaction to modernism and the modern movement. It brings back playfulness to the home rather than any elitist or exclusive tendencies of the time. Architectural design elements were reinterpreted or distorted, and the combination of colors, patterns, and materials elevated the whimsical nature of the 20th century.

                  • Minimalist interior design

                    Stripped-down aesthetics and focus on functionality

                    Last but not least, we are stripping back everything to land on minimalism, the most recent design style trend to take over. While it's the complete opposite of postmodern design, it's a favorite due to its incredibly simplistic approach. Minimalism embraces a stripped-down aesthetic and focuses solely on functionality. It doesn't take away from the beauty of the design with open floor plans, ample light, and a beautiful, soft, but limited color palette. It utilizes an uncluttered, clean space with a sense of organization and order.

                    Reduction of clutter and emphasis on open spaces

                    While it may be a weird concept for some, it's a great one for others. The simplicity of the design helps with clutter and disorganization in the home. Furniture and decor are kept to the bare minimum and stick to neutral tones such as white, grays, and beiges (most commonly used). This provides a sense of balance in the mind and tranquility in the setting.

                    From ancient interior design styles to postmodern and minimalist designs and everything in between, interior design has taken a monumental number of twists and turns in its time. However, the greatest aspect of these designs is we often get to witness them today in worldly destinations or incorporate pieces and ideas into our homes.

                    Then, one day, we get to watch as a new evolution and diversification of styles approaches us. But why is it important to understand design history? While the past offers us insight and inspiration, knowing design history allows us to give context to our visual culture. We can then use what we know from the past to understand the present and potentially anticipate what we have coming in the future! If you don’t want to miss something please subscribe to Reibii.

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