Post 338 – by Gautam Shah


There is a common belief that Interior Design as a skill has originated from Architecture. This view gained strength from the fact that Architecture itself, as a unique skill branch, separated from the Building Engineering. Architecture, though, has facilitated other skills like Urban Design, Town Planning, Landscape Design. Interior Design as distinctive skill-based business has emerged due to distinctly different circumstances.

Firm of Herter Brothers, New York, (1864–1906), by Gustave and Christian Herter begun as an upholstery warehouse, became one of the first firms of furniture makers and interior decorators in the US after Civil War.

A building once constructed is initially readied for occupation by the original designer. However, buildings last for ages, and during the lifespan, must be altered and updated several times. Original building engineers or architects are unavailable or unwilling for such assignments. They do not have the income incentive for such ‘frivolity’. During early middle ages, or perhaps even earlier, low skilled ‘art -painters’ or artists’ assistants were hired to paint and decorate old buildings. The building decorators, worked along with their associate crafts-persons, like Iron smiths, Guilders, Glass blowers, Weavers, Embroiders, Rug and Carpet makers, Sculptors, Mural makers, etc. They would together undertake repairs, make furniture and update furnishings. These diverse services were coordinated by the Building Decorator. The services of decoration gradually emerged as a distinct business from Architecture or Building Engineering. The building decorator was neither a variant, nor subservient to the architect.


The decorators worked as a facilitator, scheduling and coordinating the activities, while supervising the quality of various vendors. The services of the decorator were more frequently required for resetting the interior spaces, than for exterior updating. The interior decorator gradually began to offer design alternatives and devised specific design solutions. Interior decoration became a well-documented strategy, serving two basic purposes.

  1. It showed the user or client, in advance, the solution, in a representative form -a surrogate.
  2. It helped creation of a functional system by coordinating skills, materials and objects, sourced from different agencies.

Once the second objective was achieved without being continuously present on the site, it was possible for the Interior in charge person to devote more time and attention to the first objective.

The Interior decorator began to play a very active role of a professional interior designer, rather than being simply a site bound contractor. The Interior designer now operated from a Design Studio, usually located in an urban area. The studio was used for creating drawings, sketches, other presentations, models, pilots, prototypes, dummies, and cartoons (replicas of artwork in full size). It contained material-samples’ catalogs. The studio was a fixed location where clients, suppliers and crafts people were able to meet the Interior designer.


The physical distancing of a studio from the site also separated the Design and Execution aspects of the interior practice. In the combined practice of Design + Execution, the need for a documented scheme was not very acute, as decisions immediately turned into actions. However, in pure (only) design practice, all decisions had to be not only communicated, but very often formally transmitted as an assignment to the site-based agency.

Schematic documentation of design of Interior work has been very difficult compared to Architecture or Building Engineering jobs. Amateur and untrained interior designers lack the capacity to document their design intentions, so prefer to work on the site, providing oral instructions to contractors or their workers. Many Interior Designers, even to day, where practicable would like to execute their work by themselves. The tradition of combining design + execution persists for many reasons:


1.      Interior components require complex details and sensual materials. These are difficult to present through formal design documentation, and can be implemented only through personal involvement.

2.      Interior designing involves improvisation. The coordinated effect can be achieved, only when components or systems are substantially produced by the designers themselves.

3.      Interior design involves use of many crafts. Human resources and craftsmanship, unless fostered at home may not be available on required occasion.

Kimbel and Cabus was a Victorian-era furniture and decorative arts firm based in New York City.