Elle Décor Magazine has been setting the new standard of success in the shelter magazine competition. Their editorial style has attracted a hip and stylish following of readers and the work of designers who accommodate that sensibility. The void of classical furniture and period decorative arts that are pre-1940s is startling. Whatever happened to creative, dramatic interiors embellished with these interesting, functional, and well crafted items?
If you want to understand why today’s decorators feature these stark, white walled and glass residences, go look at an old Architectural Digest from the 1970s. What kind of stodgy, very old fashion rooms were featured? The wall paper (heaven forbid) and boring brown wood furniture would put anyone to sleep. Oh yea, there was some spectacular art on the walls, like today. In looking at the style of living that Billy Baldwin or Eleanor McMillen Brown created, it almost seems like something out of the 19th Century. Minimalism was a fine art form and not a generally accepted style of living.
But to those pioneers of today’s professional interior designer, an understanding and respect for the decorative arts was a priority. Just as collecting and living with these items was a hobby of the rich (Havemeyer, Frick, Hearst, Yves Saint Laurent, etc), the focus of today’s wealthy individuals is centered on trophy art. However, the decorative arts require more sophistication and knowledge than the ease of selecting a Damian Hurst or Renoir. Spending $45,000.00 on a Joan Miró print is easy; buying an 18th Century Italian painted console is a bit more daunting. It shouldn’t have to be this way.
As sure as the sun rises in the East, interior design will reflect the trends and influences of how society evolves. What we think of as the latest and greatest can in no time seem ephemeral. The needs of the affluent set the benchmark for the success of luxury items. Minimalism in the living environment of today’s affluent consumer doesn’t seem like something that should be a permanent standard of living. When it does break out, the followers of post 1940’s designs might feel like how dealers of pre 1940’s decorative arts have been doing for the last 10 years. Connoisseurship, knowledge, and taste aren’t dead yet. The heart beat might be faint, but it can be rejuvenated.
For me to be optimistic about the future of all the decorative styles would require a strong stomach in the present economic environment of my industry. The dealers and auctioneers, who ply this market and still are surviving, struggle with financial hurdles that any good turnover of inventory would solve. Shelter magazines abet the situation with predicable photos of rooms with a view but little or nothing in the room. All things considered, I’d rather look at interesting items than little or nothing at all. It doesn’t seem like a stretch of the imagination to envision an alternative to minimalism.