In most design projects, a great deal of planning takes place before the selection of furnishings. Designers consider the function of the space, the personalities and life-style of the occupants of the residence, the architectural characteristics of the dwelling, the lighting, color preferences and colors adjacent to the space-both indoors and out, the 'givens' of the space, including the materials used on the exterior and the interior of the building and, of course, the budget parameters. As the planning develops, furniture is considered only in a generalized way. Designers often use generic templates to space plan. What determines the style of furniture to be used? How will you know which styles to mix and how to do so with confidence, cleverness, and originality? Will you develop a single style, French country, classic modern, Asian, West Indies, neo-classical or will you enjoy working with a variety of styles?
The observation of historical development in architecture, interior design and furniture will often help you tap into a style that pleases you. None of these three elements can be studied separately, so this is a large topic, particularly for people who have little historical background or design experience in one style only. Have you heard it said that to break the rules you must know the rules? This is true in design. Unless you know the various architectural characteristics of different historical times and how interiors were designed to function in a way that complemented those interiors, you will never be able to fully appreciate how designers use their knowledge of style and history for inspiration, going beyond direct imitation with clever or respectful references to the past, while being innovative and original. Make it a point to visit historic buildings and interiors, museums and homes to learn about the historical development of design. The story of furniture is inextricably linked with the story of civilization, in our case western civilization primarily, since it was the Europeans who came to the U.S. first, bringing with them their belongings, memories and skills. The further back you go in history, the less you can know about residential interiors, since only buildings made of stone or items carefully hidden from the elements survived to give us insight into a way of life. When we look at historical artifacts, we are typically seeing what once belonged to the governing elites or the aristocracy-unless of course we look at public buildings designed for use by everyone-civic buildings, temples, churches, even baths. We only know about more modest dwellings of very recent times.
Developments in furniture styles are stimulated by the following: political or economic change, discoveries (such as the archaeological excavations of Pompeii and King Tut's tomb); contact with faraway places-seeing something new; changes in technology and production techniques and the keen creative power of gifted designers working to meet the needs of their era for both function and beauty. Each historic style period has unique influences and particular style characteristics. As an informed designer, you want to be able to recognize and identify the various eras of design style and the characteristics of the various historic styles. Hopefully you will enjoy the exploration of style that you encounter in this section, acknowledging and appreciating the power of human adaptability and creativity in creating functional, aesthetically pleasing designs.