Interiors provide insights into how people of the early 21st century choose to live. What does a Zurich dining room look like? Or a bathroom in Niigata, Japan? How might a Miami art collector paint the inside of a bungalow? Taschen recently published 100 Interiors Around the World, a two-volume collection of photographs that showcases houses, early contemporary through modern, across five continents.
The locations of these houses could hardly be more diverse. They range from a Singapore tower block to the idyllic island landscape of rocks and pine trees surrounding one family’s home in Stockholm. Whatever the topography, the external environment inevitably influences the ambience inside. From Istanbul via Paris to Barcelona, a great many of the spaces are in apartments dating from the 19th century. Elsewhere, others take similar care of bold modernist houses built in the international style.
And then there are the contemporary homes, with their technical innovations, designed to meet the specific needs of their owners – such as a riverside villa in Dresden or a house on stilts in Nagano. But whether the homes are historic or brand new, these interiors exhibit the effects of an aesthetic evolution that has been shaping our built world for more than 100 years.
Many design projects take their cue from famous interiors of the past. One such influence is the Red House in the English town of Bexleyheath, in southeast London. Built in 1859 for William Morris, it was the cradle of the arts and crafts movement. Morris aimed to counter the tide of inferior industrial products with high-quality workmanship, and decorated the rooms of his own home with finely crafted furniture and handmade accessories in the neo-gothic style.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona Pavilion, on the other hand, heralded the arrival of modernism. A grid of narrow steel supports allowed for an open-plan layout, in which the space seemed to flow around the panel-like walls. Marble, onyx and travertine lent an air of dignity, calling to mind an ancient temple, while the architect’s purpose-designed leather-upholstered steel chair and stool have long since become classics.
Around the same time, Le Corbusier was developing his plans for the Villa Savoye near Paris. His design, on which work had begun in 1928, combined white walls, wide ribbon windows and glass frontages with elegantly pared-back interiors and featured delicate supporting columns, a ramp leading to the upper floor, and a roof terrace – something since copied in countless city apartments.
With his municipal library of 1933, in the then Finnish city of Viipuri, Alvar Aalto subsequently presented a softer, Scandinavian version of modernism: famous cylindrical skylights result in a warmer ambience that takes the edge off modern austerity. In Rungsted Kyst, Hanne Kjaerholm later created a house for herself and her husband Poul, another Scandinavian design pioneer, that perfectly embodies this philosophy.
Back in 1928, meanwhile, Michel Roux-Spitz had devised an interior for the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs in Paris, which acted as a catalyst for the emerging art deco style. In addition to drawing inspiration from Bauhaus modernism, this new movement also incorporated influences such as cubism and African art. Steel, chrome and Bakelite (a synthetic resin) were the preferred materials, while the defining characteristics included mirrors and the use of stepped profiles for furniture. Art deco was the collective expression of a playful yet elegant future.
Among those who gave modernism a new impetus in the mid 20th-century were the American designers Charles and Ray Eames. Their fibreglass chairs introduced plastic to the mix, and can now be found in homes from Madrid to Buenos Aires – either as vintage originals or in the form of re-editions by Vitra. Concrete interiors were built both by Louis Kahn, who developed his signature style in the 1950s, and, two decades later, by Japan’s Tadao Ando, who created structures that gave rise to Hijiri, a small concrete residence near Ito-shi.
In the early 1990s, the designs of Zaha Hadid brought new energy to architecture. Her forms are distorted and deconstructed. A few years later, around the turn of the millennium, the concept of the “white cube” exhibition took hold, although its roots can be traced back to modernism. The use of all-white rooms to allow objects to speak for themselves has now spread to living spaces, to the Milanese studio residence of Elia Mangia, for instance, or the former shipyard building in Tielrode, in which artists Sofie Lachaert and Luc d’Hanis have established their gallery and home.
Many of these interiors house the same pieces of furniture: Eero Saarinen’s Tulip chairs and table, for example, those plastic-shelled Eames designs, or the plywood chairs of Arne Jacobsen’s Series 7 range.
Perhaps this internationalisation can be put down to our collective travel fever, and perhaps it’s also influenced by the reach of today’s style magazines. They, in particular, ensure that trendsetting apartments such as Christian Liaigre’s duplex in Paris serve as inspiration to the world over. Liaigre and style pioneers like him have begun to write a new interior design story for today. What will the next chapter bring?
‘100 Interiors Around the World’ is published by Taschen (£34.99)