The Great Debate: The Importance of Interior Designers

By definition, the role of an interior designer is to create beautiful, comfortable and functional interiors by playing with space, layout, light, colour, materials and furniture – all while keeping clients’ wishes and constraints top of mind. But are interior designers essential? As pandemic-containment measures prioritise goods and services that are deemed to be essential for society, this question gains new immediacy.
Interior designers make our lives better
By definition, interior designers’ work improves our quality of life. “Our surroundings have an enormous impact on the way we behave and feel and the role of the interior designer is more important than ever as we retreat to our homes during COVID-19,” says interior designer Lynne Bradley, who is based in Sydney, NSW.“A good interior designer will resolve the functionality of a space and address scale, curate a desirable aesthetic, inject soul and tell a story for the inhabitants as well as effecting productivity. Good interior design evokes happiness and soothes the soul. It can inspire confidence, empathy, pride, creativity, security and energy.

“Creating a meaningful space that fulfils the needs of the inhabitant and optimises their space is one of our key roles as designers and is essential to our society.”

“It’s not about whether the walls are painted in the latest colours, but rather whether the space evokes the desired emotions in the user,” says Maria Roussos, also based in Sydney.

“Does it entice, stimulate, relax, entertain, embrace, fascinate? Good design achieves this through the manipulation of space, light, colour, materials, textures, furniture, and myriad other elements. Ultimately all this works together in a delicate balance of form and function. And this is important because it improves our quality of life.”

Caterina Magliulo, an interior designer based in Milan, Italy, reminds us that interior designers are best placed to take on this challenge, thanks to their knowledge and training. “The professional interior designer has a great knowledge of materials and a perspective on spaces and colours as a result of their research and training,” she says.

It contributes to our wellbeing
The human element is essential to interior designers, and they can have a profound impact on our wellbeing. “It is a profession that has an impact on the person,” says interior designer Margaux Carnevali, who is based in Paris, France.“Our eyes need visual harmony of colours, shapes and [we need] adapted ergonomics,” she says. “We have square metres, which we get with the revenue at our disposal. Our work is therefore to find solutions to make these square metres more liveable, notably giving the impression of larger spaces.”

Also practicing in France, Elodie Ricord takes this a step further and cites the profession’s therapeutic potential. “Interior design can be therapeutic when it is shared with a client,” says Ricord. “I think that it is essential in order to create a sense of wellbeing in the home, to put together interiors where one can find oneself again and to create suitable spaces,” she says. “It is not something vital, but it is necessary for wellbeing. The therapeutic role of interior architecture consists in creating wellbeing while representing the client’s ideas in material form. If this is done well, the clients are very happy because they recognise themselves in the interior architect’s work. We do everything we can to create the client’s universe.”

Japanese interior designer Hiroko Machida says she bases her work on neuroaesthetics, or the study of the neural basis for the perception of beauty in the arts, literature, music, dance, theatre and film. She focuses on the state and functions of the brain in response to aesthetics. “I am working on interior designs which relieve stress and strengthen immunity. We are experimenting with interior design projects that apply the findings from neuroaesthetics research undertaken at the University of London,” she says.

Ulrike Kabyl, who is based in Germany, says a comfortable home is particularly important in the current circumstances. “To withdraw into our four walls means leaving stress outside, finding peace, feeling good and perhaps finding inspiration,” says Kabyl. “Interior designers can help create these kinds of refuges.”

Neuroarchitecture: The New Movement at the Forefront of Design

They help us consume better
As trends change season to season and interior decor is turning into a hobby, over-consumption is becoming a concern. “I hope that the situation related to the coronavirus pandemic will engender a lot of soul searching into the fact that we consume too much,” says Carnevali. “For this, I think that interior architecture is necessary because it makes it possible, if it is well thought through, to consume less.”Roussos suggests that the profession will increasingly emphasise ‘slow living’, sustainable development, our connection with nature and the importance of our families and friends, thus encouraging us to consume less.

Ricord agrees. “There are always many elements in our interiors that are not essential. I therefore try to help my clients to concentrate on the things that are, like human beings and their day-to-day habits.”

Ricord points out that there is enormous over-production today, and that marketing pushes individuals to buy more and more.

“Nevertheless, it is possible to change one’s interior by being minimalist and moving towards that which is essential. For this, you have to ask yourself: how many times did I use my belongings this year? This way we realise that the things we use frequently represent only 10 percent of everything we possess. The rest should be stored, donated or sold to those who need it.”

Interior designers can help by encouraging their clients to figure out what is truly essential for them, and proposing more lasting alternatives.

Furniture selection is one example. “People often buy furniture only to abandon it in the street again when they get tired of it. The quality of furniture and spaces is therefore important,” says German interior designer Tino Büchsenschütz. “I would recommend creating durable, simple and inconspicuous features for the most part, and picking and choosing elements that one could change easily according to the taste of the moment, like cushions, small furniture, lamps and accessories. In this way there’s no need to completely renew the interior when tastes change.”

Kabyl agrees. “One should choose to create interiors in which one could feel well for a long time, because this is also a form of sustainability.”

They encourage us to make sustainable choices
“We are living in a world where climate change and diminishing natural resources are very relevant, and I believe that we as designers have an obligation to society to take sustainable design very seriously,” says Bradley.“We have a tremendous impact because we select materials, construction methods and products. We influence how, ecologically, people will be able to interact with their surrounding spaces and have the ability to reduce energy consumption through our selections and methods. We can assist our clients with the selection of products and finishes that have a low environmental impact and those that are harvested sustainably.”

The provenance of materials is also important: sustainable development favours local production in order to avoid the carbon emissions related to transport. “Now, more than ever, the benefits of sourcing locally have become obvious to all – not only for the sake of sustainability and reliable supply chains, but also to support local industry,” says Roussos. “Designers are pivotal in educating clients to create further demand for locally sourced products and engaging local artisans to provide them.”
They help us adapt our interiors to social changes
The consequences of the pandemic for the way we use our interiors highlights the role interior designers could play in adapting our homes to social changes. “I believe that values and habits will change greatly, as will our homes post-COVID-19,” says Bradley.“Homes have become a place to retreat to, to stay safe in, and a place to come together but also have private space. Homes are now classrooms, offices, gyms and studios and so the functionality of space in the future will be vastly different to what it has been.”

Machida uses Japan as an example of the impact of her profession on society. She says that 70 percent of Japanese people live in cities and lead such busy lives that they use their homes only to sleep. She says that this is changing drastically because of the coronavirus pandemic, as people find themselves confined to homes where many cannot relax due to lack of space and a layout that is not adapted to these circumstances.

“Consider our information-linked, networked society where we live our lives without ever letting go of our smartphones, and the mental exhaustion this is causing so many people,” says Machida. “These are some of the problems that interior designers are increasingly being asked to think about. The world is in rapid transformation from a society based around competition and conflict. Interior designers need to think about every one of these social themes … [and they] carry a weighty expectation from society.”

Let us conclude with a quote from Philomena Seeto of Cameron Woo Design, who practices in Singapore. “Interior designers help to influence the way we live, dine, socialise, entertain, relax and play in the built environment,” she says. “While I wouldn’t like to suggest that our services are essential services for our society, they are vital for the hope and wellbeing of our communities as we are the creative leaders of the built-environment industry … So are we an essential service? The answer is no. But are we an important service provider? The answer is ‘absolutely’.”
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