One History, many Histories: how Design could enlighten the Interiors
L’oggetto misterioso (the mysterious object) was the title of a short, intense essay by Enrico Castelnuovo and Jacques Gubler, in the last pages of Storia dell’industrial design. The two authors – the former as an art historian who specializes in medieval glass windows and the latter a contemporary architecture historian – represented the quintessential blend in studying design.
Their lesson was the call to a complex research, which involves formal studies in economic, social and technical issues. Interiors history, in its turn, encompasses design and architecture ,the complexity required for the design historians has to be so still further implemented.
Investigating interiors from the objects that are housed in can offer a different explanation as to how and why spaces have changed. The transformation and improvements of the functions served by the objects mutated the problems that architects have to face in order to organize flows, technique solutions, and formal proposals.
Obviously, this relationship variesaccording to different cultures and points in history. When architects were the mastermind of the whole project –architecture, interiors, furniture, decoration- in a gesamtkunstwerk view, i.e., during the Neoclassic age or, more recently, in the Art Nouveau period, the communication between the different scales, architecture/interior/products, was almost automatic.
Then dawned a new, modern era,in which architecture, industrial design and decorative fine arts got increasingly organised as separate disciplines and both architectural spaces and industrialised objects have become discrete universes. The communication was interrupted and interior designers developed into something similar to the masters or better pivots of a delicate machinery. Interior historians had to learn how to interpret and untie the knots related to the mutual influences between architecture and design.
In 1895, Elsie De Wolfe decorated the interiors of the women Colony Club, New York, in one of Stanford White’s buildings, for which she chose light and soft colours and several late 18th century French pieces of furniture. The role of one of the first professional interior designer was to change the heavy and dark taste of men’s club with almost no relationship with the architectural context into something new . However, as she tried to set formal rules about the new interiors, De Wolf looked at houses in which “we must accept the standards that the artists and the architects accept, the standards that come us from those exceedingly rational people, our ancestors”. The statement is generic and abstract, yet it provides a clue about the separation between different research fields – architectures, objects (antiques for De Wolfe), and the design of both of them. Analyzing the quality of the items chosen, their provenance and their perception by the public could explain the final result not only from a formal point of view, but also from a complex perspective.
When architects entered the designing process of the interiors design, the possibilities to better clarify their approaches obviously grow up.
Another example is provided by Franco Albini, one of the most influential Italian architects before and after WWII. His own apartment in Milan (1939) is a blend of old furniture, paintings and accessories with modern exhibit systems, bookshelves, sofas, armchairs. His aim was, on one hand, to keep an eye on traditions while accepting the established taste, although in contrast with the mainstream just as De Wolfe, on the other hand and most of all, to set the literal and local cultural meaning for modern projects. Once again, only a better insight into the two main aspects of the question, i.e., how to organize space and choose the right objects or projects could reveal the inner soul of interior design along with the core function architects attributed to it: the elimination of bourgeois spaces of representation and the union between private and public dimensions.
As Albini planned all the details of the industrialized brand-new objects in relationship with the “period” ones, he designed those interiorsbased on the new possibilities given by the techniques and the industrial innovation in producing objects and pieces of furniture without losing sight of the past. Any understanding of this spirit and the organization of his interiors is subject to the comprehension of this ratio.
In Late Modernity, the leading role of the interior designer has been weaker. It has expanded and “liquefied “, which is an hallmark of contemporaneousness, also thanks to the possibility of accessing to low-cost and good formal quality products, developing the scope of “democracy” of the idea of design, somehow the greater openness and current interest. As blurred as it can be the interior designer still aims to an extra “quid”. Whether interior design shares visual art, compliance to the demand-supply mechanism, sentimental or anthropological moods, alignment to the will of the “do it yourself” logics, designers and architects look for new ways to articulate and compound the design of indoor spaces.
The research of the cultural assumption of interior design as a design process, side by side with research driven by gender or sociological studies, could provide contemporary interior designers with the key skills to orient their projects out of the authorial and branding system.
Moreover, the perception of the interiors and their story-telling has to be considered as a bridging-focus, useful to help students, architects and customers understand something –the project- which risks to be perceived as a mere sum of professional skills and not as a whole which reflects the culture and aspirations of its own times.
In the meantime, the task of the interior historian is rather clear: to blur boundaries and specify themes with the expected view to giving both to designers and architects the cultural instruments they need to carry out and interpret past, future, and most of all present projects.
 E. Castelnuovo (ed. by), Storia dell’industrial design, Milan: Electa, 1984, 3 voll.; this is, in spite of the thematic organization, one of the most forceful histories of design ever published
 P. Sparke, Elsie De Wolfe: The Birth of Modern Interior Decoration, New York: Acanthus Press, 2005
 E. De Wolfe, The House in good Taste, New York: The Century Co, 1913, p. 13
 G. Bosoni, F. Bucci, Il design e gli interni di Franco Albini, Milano: Electa, 2009; F. Bulegato, E. Dellapiana, Il design degli architetti in Italia 1920-2000, Milano: Electa, 2014, pp. 106-11; the Albini apartment is located in one of the Gio Ponti’s Domus in Milan, via de Togni 23.
 G. Ponti, La casa dell’architetto Franco Albini, in “Domus”, 143 (nov. 1939), pp. 28-31
 For example, A. Massey, P. Sparke, (ed. by), Biography, Identity and the Modern Interior, Burlington: Ashgate Pub Co, 2013