Atmosphere Within Interior Design

As an interior designer you can choose to work either in the residential or commercial sphere; you can, of course, operate in both simultaneously. Interior designers undertaking residential work can ordinarily proffer more than the decorator by delving beneath the decorative surface to reconsider both space and its usage. As creative problem solvers they can rethink space and help to resolve any existing site problems. In contrast to this, the commercial (or trade) interior designer specializes in ‘public’ space, typically the interiors you enter when you leave your house to go about your daily life. Restaurants, bars, offices, retail, exhibition, healthcare and leisure spaces are all the preserve of the designer who chooses to specialize in the commercial sector. Commercial clients tend to be corporate and are often connected to the notion of a ‘brand’ and a brand message, so the commercial interior designer needs to deconstruct this brand to identify the prevailing ethos and the target customer in the search for a relevant design solution.

As a commercial designer you could find yourself working with a variety of site conditions; the design schemes are usually larger and more complex than those of the interior decorator, so the replanning of the existing space to house the new use is a priority. Spatial modifications can be proposed as part of this process but again only after consultation with the relevant professionals. Additionally, the interior designer has to understand the needs of the prospective user, whether they are the staff who work in the restaurant or the customer who eats there. User-centred design is a philosophy that prioritizes both an understanding of, and a dialogue with, the end user (for example, if you are working in healthcare or with a similarly vulnerable or unique user group), and it has become increasingly important within certain sectors. Graphics typically become an integral part of any commercial scheme, informing both the interior and exterior, aiming to create a cohesive look. Interior designers have the ability to think both decoratively and spatially, a combination of skills that helps them to address a project holistically.

For many, the interior decorator is employed to create a mood because they have the visual flair and vision to pull a cohesive look together. How this mood is created is central to their craft as a decorator. Interior decorators examine every aspect of a room in the creation of a carefully constructed, pervasive interior atmosphere. This requires them to consider how the space is used, the overall feel or ‘setting’ of the interior, through to small details such as ornaments or props that are used to ‘style’ and accessorize. For many of the iconic decorators from the early to mid-twentieth century, the decorated interior was connected to a look you had created or developed and became synonymous with, for example, the ‘Draper Touch’ or the ‘de Wolfe style’. It was all a matter of taste and they saw themselves as taste-makers. Whether you see yourself as bohemian, minimal or kitsch, there was a style or an aesthetic choice available to express yourself through your interior as, chameleon-like, it could don a thousand disguises.

It is far too easy when teaching, thinking about and studying interior design to concentrate upon the ‘visual’ aspects of space. We are all drawn to images on the Internet, in magazines and published interior monographs, but any understanding of the interior needs to move beyond this visual fixation. The spatial, material and architectural qualities of space should all be considered, but this analysis should place at its heart the experiential qualities of the interior, in other words, what is it like to actually be in? This is a phenomenological reading that prioritizes the ‘subjective’ experience of space through perceptions and emotions, the sensory and the psychological. An interior’s ability through its atmosphere and the staging of its space to tug at our imagination and emotions is an integral aspect of its impact upon our lives as the inhabitants of that space.

So what is atmosphere and how does it relate to the study of interior design? If an early definition or premise was that atmosphere was the ‘pervading tone or mood of a place’, is this simple definition still relevant? If the answer is no, then what has it become?

An interior can become more than a carefully constructed mood. Interiors relate to our lives and can become living, breathing, ever-changing representations of us as individuals, companies or brands. An interior can act as a mirror, reflecting the lives of the occupants it contains, or it can concentrate on communicating the message of a corporate brand. It has social, psychological and cultural connotations. The interior can represent the ad hoc, the cluttered traces of everyday life, or the ‘uber’ designed, carefully staged ‘inner life of a building’. At its best, an interior can proffer a pervasive atmosphere that tugs on our heartstrings, quickens our senses, pulls at our emotions and packs a psychological punch. The power of the interior can be harnessed and used to particular effect. Interiors can wrap around us, they can be immersive, they can tell a story, or they can help stage an experience. This leads to the questions: what does this type of interior look like and what are the components that help to form it?