History of Commercial interior design and management
In the mid-to-late 19th century, interior design services expanded greatly, as the middle class in industrial countries grew in size and prosperity and began to desire the domestic trappings of wealth to cement their new status. Large furniture firms began to branch out into general interior design and management, offering full house furnishings in a variety of styles. This business model flourished from the mid-century to 1914, when this role was increasingly usurped by independent, often amateur, designers. This paved the way for the emergence of the professional interior design in the mid-20th century.
In the 1850s and 1860s, upholsterers began to expand their business remits. They framed their business more broadly and in artistic terms and began to advertise their furnishings to the public. To meet the growing demand for contract interior work on projects such as offices, hotels, and public buildings, these businesses became much larger and more complex, employing builders, joiners, plasterers, textile designers, artists, and furniture designers, as well as engineers and technicians to fulfil the job. Firms began to publish and circulate catalogs with prints for different lavish styles to attract the attention of expanding middle classes.
As department stores increased in number and size, retail spaces within shops were furnished in different styles as examples for customers. One particularly effective advertising tool was to set up model rooms at national and international exhibitions in showrooms for the public to see. Some of the pioneering firms in this regard were Waring & Gillow, James Shoolbred, Mintons, and Holland & Sons. These traditional high-quality furniture making firms began to play an important role as advisers to unsure middle class customers on taste and style, and began taking out contracts to design and furnish the interiors of many important buildings in Britain.
This type of firm emerged in America after the Civil War. The Herter Brothers, founded by two German emigre brothers, began as an upholstery warehouse and became one of the first firms of furniture makers and interior decorators. With their own design office and cabinet-making and upholstery workshops, Herter Brothers were prepared to accomplish every aspect of interior furnishing including decorative paneling and mantels, wall and ceiling decoration, patterned floors, and carpets and draperies. The style of these designs greatly inspired the manufacturers of faux stone panels in current era.
A pivotal figure in popularizing theories of interior design to the middle class was the architect Owen Jones, one of the most influential design theorists of the nineteenth century. Jones' first project was his most important—in 1851 he was responsible for not only the decoration of Joseph Paxton’s gigantic Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition, but also for the arrangement of the exhibits within. He chose a controversial palette of red, yellow, and blue for the interior ironwork and, despite initial negative publicity in the newspapers, was eventually unveiled by Queen Victoria to much critical acclaim. His most significant publication was The Grammar of Ornament (1856), in which Jones formulated 37 key principles of interior design and decoration.
Jones was employed by some of the leading interior design firms of the day; in the 1860s he worked in collaboration with the London firm Jackson & Graham to produce furniture and other fittings for high-profile clients including art collector Alfred Morrison and the Khedive of Egypt, Ismail Pasha.
In 1882, the London Directory of the Post Office listed 80 interior decorators. Some of the most distinguished companies of the period were Crace, Waring & Gillow and Holland & Sons; famous decorators employed by these firms included Thomas Edward Collcutt, Edward William Godwin, Charles Barry, Gottfried Semper, and George Edmund Street.