Heritage Interior Design1

Heritage Interior Design: An Expanding Industry Shackled to its Past

Where is interior design going, if anywhere?

How to keep interior design moving.

The process of freely designing the interior of a room or building has been at play for thousands of years, and the 1930’s gave rise to the term ‘Interior Designer’. Despite advancements in technology and education, allowing for an ever evolving and expanding industry- movements of conservation v restoration have caught up with the professional entitlement to make changes and adaptations to the interior design of some buildings. The extent of these restrictions plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of the interior design industry. So, how far can interior design go?

The question of whether to conserve or restore tangible cultural heritage explores the perimeters of the intangible notion wrapped around it. In other words, why conserve old brick and mortar, why restore it when it becomes too fragile, and what is lost when we abolish and redesign?

With this question in mind, there are some pretty clear cut reasons as to why extensive resources should be allocated to the conservation of both the interior and exterior of historical buildings. For a start, the intrinsic historical and educational value offers us a an accurate lense into the past. The very conservation of historical buildings itself, offers us the ability to explore architectural and interior design development through time. Not to mention, the undeniable charismatic charm of the styles belonging to our past. Keeping them around creates an accessible world of stylistic choices to turn to for design inspiration.

On the other hand, ‘restoration is a fad! Nothing but the total destruction of which a building can suffer, only accompanied by a false description of the thing being destroyed’- J. Ruskin (1849). Contemporarily interpreted as, the reestablishment of a building to a state which may have never actually existed. So, what’s the alternative? Some might say it is to let the inevitable demise of architectural heritage take its natural course, and proceed with modern, sustainable and mutually inclusive practices of interior design and architecture.

Surely enough though, most lovers of the aesthetics can agree on the importance of conserving the past. After all, where would one be in a world of forgotten histories, legacies, memories, dreams, scars and sorrow? Lost. Yet the designer- arguably the most in love with the arts, has found himself in a professional predicament when it comes to breaking away from the past.

Legal protection of both the interior and exterior of heritage listed buildings calls for conservation and preservation practices. Whilst it is true that prospects for total change are viable, ultimately the exhaustive list of restrictions, applications and red tape leave little scope for efficient and economical interior design.

Restrictions on the alterations of listed buildings can be as tedious as having to consult with local conservation officers, but the grapple for creative freedom doesn’t stop here. Enclosed with each application should be visual and written documentation to support the request. Upon granting of the demand, multiple conditions may be attached to the settlement. Alternatively, less time-consuming, rather more costly, Specialist Conservation Architects may offer a way to negate the constraints facing the interior designer. Yet again, to the disadvantage of the interior designer, this transfer of profession does not result in effective means of interior change. Rather, it reinforces notions of preserving architectural heritage.

Few would argue with the importance of remembering history through the tangible structures passed onto us. What is of interest here, is the continuity of the works of those who shape and reshape the space in which we reside. It should be noted that the ability to change the interior of a heritage listed room or building only becomes compromised if the designer so wishes to change it. With such restrictions in place, how can we keep interior design at the forefront of the design industry?

Work with what you’ve got. Sometimes, you really shouldn’t try to fix what isn’t broken. In the context of a historical building, of course this is a precarious matter and one should take extra caution to ensure that it isn’t in fact, broken. In any case, (unless that case is broken) it is highly possible and extremely rewarding to recreate the interior design of a historical building. Transforming the space of a once historically inhabited room into an area of modern design is definitely one way to break the chains of history.

The first half of the 21st century has seen a surge in the interest of personal and professional wellbeing. Not only does the practice of interior design attach a sense of visually pleasing warmth to the environment in which we exist, it also has the capacity to enhance one’s wellbeing by manipulating aesthetic elements to encourage more meaningful and productive experience. With this recent trend in mind, the industry has received mass attention and support from charities and individuals keen to assist in the continuation of promoting health, happiness, comfort and security. Within the industry of interior design, there exists mass scope for public interaction and involvement across the globe. The immediate effects of public participation in promoting wellbeing through interior design is twofold. Awareness through education, facilitates the realisation of the how’s and why’s interior design is necessary in modern living. Such awareness harnesses the power to support and promote the the interior design movement, effectively keeping it evolving.

So, how does one get around the legal restrictions on heritage listed buildings, for the purpose of modern interior design? Strength in numbers. If it is so, that the process of gaining conditioned approval to make changes to the inside of a historically listed building is time consuming and expensive- which it is, one way of reducing these opportunity costs is through the coming together of experts, professionals, charities and individuals. Through financial assistance, lobbying and  charity support, the likelihood of being granted permission, where necessary, to make adaptations to the interior of a room is conclusively heightened.

Economic growth, by virtue of basic economic theory, has the capacity to uphold interior design at the higher end of the creative industry. Whether it’s materialised through an increase in national GDP or whether designers focus on employee wellbeing to promote productivity, an enriched economy is more likely to invest in and support extensive projects around the enhancement of internal space. Government investment may provide the stimulant needed to keep the industry thriving. Meanwhile, competing for government attention are heritage protectionists who demand resources and support for the conservation of historical buildings.

Despite the rigidities within interior design, the UK has the largest design sector in Europe, so it’s doing something right. Ultimately, the interior design industry isn’t going anywhere. The professional predicament facing the interior designer looks as though it’s here to stay as well. Although, most will agree that it is a phenomenal responsibility, to create a warm and stimulating space within a room which once accommodated the past. Is would seem as though the occasional desire to make manifest alterations to the interior of a building cannot warrant the loss of tangible cultural heritage.

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