The Roots of American Interior Design

Georgie explores the roots of the increasingly popular American design style and shares her current American Interior Designer to watch.

American culture has been a pretty strong influence on many aspects of Australian culture lately, ignoring the influences of TV and movies, just think about all those pulled pork sliders, ribs and BBQ joints that have just mushroomed recently in our inner urban precinct. Love your local ‘Speakeasy’ serving American bourbons? Well we know a replica bar in every city from Brisbane to Hobart. But a conversation we have had a great deal more difficulty starting, is understanding how American design has influenced our interior designers.

It’s pretty clear that the American design style has never really translated to our shores. Yeah I hear you talking about ‘Hamptons’ style but in reality that never has found a true expression in Australian homes, and has often been a mash-up of other influences, particularly the Scandinavians simple use of wood, wash and single hues in the colour palette.

Is American design bad, crass and over the top? Well no its not, in fact so much of American design is just so darn good that we are at a loss to understand why we have been so slow to adopt aspects of it. If you stay at an upmarket Hotel you will find an attention to detail, proportion and level of comfort that really is only surpassed by the grand hotels of Paris. On reflection the lineage of this design is Georgian in origin, which was characterised by an adherence to theories of order, symmetry, and proportion drawn from classical models during the Renaissance, represented a significant departure from earlier English decorative traditions.

This design trend, based on the firsthand observation of Greek and Roman ruins, idealised the perfect state and carry the weight of American independence and sense of built identity. Typically you found interiors of this period with a simple cornice and dado rail running along three of the room’s walls and elegant crossetted moldings enhancing the fireplace surround and overmantle. Fluted pilasters on the fireplace wall established the proportion of the room and carried a simple entablature that incorporated the window surrounds as it encircled the room.

Later the influences of Rococo ornament in the middle of the eighteenth century, with its use of naturalistic ornament to circumvent strict classical conventions, also had an effect on Georgian interiors. If you think wallpaper, carved wooden rosettes and embellishment over doorways, then you get this very American interior design style that is just so persistent in the USA today.

Our American Designer to watch is Catherine Kwong of Catherine Kwong Design, who epitomises that design lineage with her rich and elegant interiors. If you look closely at her interiors you will see Georgian, Roccoco and Quaker influences in her designs, which are very uniquely American.

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