Where did home design come from? In this article, we are looking at the history of design and the influence of various design periods on contemporary interior design. Designers have to know this stuff, and for homeowners it’s a lot of fun to know what era the pattern on their china dates to. (Think of the edge you could have on family trivia game night!) Since Western interior design is very mix-and-match these days, don’t be surprised if these styles from many hundreds of years ago seem familiar. Let’s jump into a quick history lesson, with a splash of design!
Prehistory is roughly divided into the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. It may seem like overkill to go so far back, but it was during the Prehistoric era that the first art and design emerged, such as cave paintings, statues, pottery and built housing structures. These were the building blocks of later design, no pun intended.
Egyptian (2700-30 BCE)
The earliest examples of massive architecture — Egyptian temples and pyramids — date from this period. Common, readily available materials included mud bricks and stone. Some structures have survived to this day due to Egypt’s dry, hot climate or because they were built on high ground unaffected by the Nile River. These structures are characterized by thick, sloping walls, flat roofs, and few openings. Decorations consisted of hieroglyphics, murals and carvings. Common motifs included the scarab (or sacred beetle), palm leaves, the papyrus plant and the buds and flowers of the lotus. Even thousands of years later, palm leaves and lotus flowers are popular patterns for textiles and prints.
Greek (Circa 1200-31 BCE)
Even though Greek design emerged over two millennia ago, several elements and motifs are still common in contemporary design and architecture, including Greek columns (in the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles) and the Greek meander pattern originally found on many architectural friezes and ancient pottery.
Roman (753 BCE-480 CE)
The Romans were heavily influenced by Greek design, but added to it with their arches and domes. They also moved beyond architecture to interior design, using murals, mosaics, clawed foot ornamentation and soft furnishings.
Byzantine (330–1453 CE)
The Byzantine era began with Constantine I, who rebuilt the city of Byzantium as Constantinople (now Istanbul). Though Constantine only converted to Christianity on his deathbed, he was a supporter of Christianity, and many churches and monasteries were built during his rule and in the following centuries. This era built on what the early Romans had done, with even grander domes and more extravagant flourishes.
Gothic (1140–1600 CE)
The Gothic style originated in Northern France in the 12th century. It was like Roman style on steroids. Stained glass and monumental sculptures depicting stories from the Bible were common in this era, as were the rib vault and flying buttress. Gothic architecture was massive and tall, with towers and spires jutting into the sky. The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. Even if this isn’t your preferred style, surely you can appreciate the use of windows and the increase of interior light that this period introduced.
Renaissance (1400–1600 CE)
The Renaissance (“rebirth” in French) style emerged in Florence, Italy, in the 14th-15th centuries and brought with it the first major shift from exterior to interior design. It was during this era that beauty gained importance, as reflected in the colorful paintings, grand furnishings and luxurious materials like velvet and marble. However, carpets and rugs were still too expensive for floors and instead adorned walls. The works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci date from this era.
Baroque (circa 1590–1750 CE)
The Baroque era began in Italy in the late 16th century as part of a movement within the Catholic Church responding to the Protestant Reformation. Baroque architecture is noted for its gigantic proportions, a large open central space, twisting columns, dramatic and theatrical effects, bronze and gilding, sculptures high overhead and an extensive use of trompe-l’oeil (an optical illusion making flat objects appear 3D) — and at the time, these elements helped to make a very visible statement of the Catholic Church’s wealth and power. Fond of chandeliers or mirrors? You have the Baroque era to thank for making those popular.
For the last 16 years, Rachel Kinbar has been a writer of articles, blog posts, white papers, essays, infographics, web copy, sales copy, scripts, poetry, lyrics, and more. She has keen research skills that she applies to a wide variety of topics, and she especially loves topics related to design, history, and sustainable living.