“My bedroom furniture is moving in on me.” This was the phone message received by a Chicago area Interior Designer in the middle of the night. It seems that Mrs. Smith (names changed) could not sleep due to her bedroom feeling overly oppressive. Rather than phone a close friend, or even a Doctor for help with sleeping, her first impulse was to call her Designer in the wee hours of the morning and put out a cry for help. Such is the role of the Interior Designer: Space planner, Interior Architect, Project Manager, and provider of peace and calm, and dare it be said, happiness?
It is possible that happiness can be designed and the Interior Design professional is game to the task. While other fields cure diseases, launch rockets, mend broken bones, offer financial advice, pave roads and feed the hungry, the Interior Designer is busy solving problems like where to position the recycling bin and dispensing happiness in the process. Rather than relegate the Interior Designer to the background of personal satisfaction and happiness, Alain DeBotton dispenses with the view that “ design is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent.” (97) In his book, “The Architecture of Happiness” DeBotton describes the affect and even the responsibility the Designer has to help individuals realize their full potential and satisfaction in life. (14) People who hire Interior Designers have an expectation that exceeds the choice of lamp for the sofa table. They want to feel something akin to joy when the lamp is placed just so.
Though the Interior Design client may not know how to describe this feeling, and may also never state it as a requirement before signing a contract, it is an essential part of the satisfied experience in design. As in all tangible items in homes, they too, hide a deeper sentiment than filling up space. DeBotton states, “It is in books, poems, paintings which often give us the confidence to take seriously feelings in ourselves that we might otherwise never have thought to acknowledge.” (DeBotton 97) It can then be realized that the poetry of life can be a set of words on a page forming something beautiful, or just as easily a painting properly placed over a mantel.
All of the interior spaces inhabited by human beings hold secrets and hidden stories that are endearing and essential to the fabric and tapestry of life (Edwards 37). The reading chair Grandma gave to Gertrude, that she cannot bear to part with, sits next to the glass and metal table purchased at an art show for no apparent reason. Gertrude just liked it and that was that. It is this sort of story that weaves its way around the wainscoting, down the hall on the oushak rug and into the living room that becomes part of family lore. It is the telling of the tale of the driftwood end table that brings a room alive, just as much as the function of placing the mug of cocoa down on it. Happiness is the by-product of these conversations and the Interior Designer helps the client tell the story.
What then is the responsibility of the Designer to achieve such lofty goals? If DeBotton is right, then the Design Professional is something akin to a house psychologist, not living in the back bedroom on staff, but tearing out the walls to expand the living space and helping the client achieve an elevated life experience as a result. The responsibility of the Designer must then be found in the measure of contentment and happiness achieved by changing the physical aspects of the space people inhabit. Suzanne Woloszynska states in her book, The Art of Interior Design, “There is very little in life with which we surround ourselves that has been developed without reference to our past through its social and cultural consequences.” (Woloszynska 17) It is the consequences of design that bring the responsibility of the Designer to the forefront. If the
consequences are dissatisfaction then it can be easily interpreted as a failure of design. Who wants to pay for a project that makes them sad? But on the contrary, people place exquisite value on surroundings that create serenity, calmness and joy. Happiness is the most important tool in the Designer’s tool belt and it is best to bring it out and strap it on.
A basic human need for happiness is a personal pursuit every human being begins at the earliest ages. Genetic disposition plays into this and some small children just seem “born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,” (Job 5:7) while others chortle away and smile easily and eagerly. No matter the natural disposition of the individual, happiness is valued throughout time and space. Time and responsibility can either quell this pursuit for happiness or expand its elusive effect. Within this framework, a person’s connection to home and home’s aesthetics, measures happier on this particular Richter scale (Tix 3). In the Pandav Caves of Pachmarhi, India, the inner decorations and paintings show attention to the beauty of the space that was not meant to be seen by anyone other than the occupants. The cave of Chavet Pont D’Arc in France only recently discovered in the early 1990’s once again points to early cave dwellers painting and adorning these personal spaces for no one other than their own personal enjoyment. It is not very much different today, as contemporary human beings desire to adorn personal spaces with all the uniqueness their own stage allows. Zen ideology dictates, “There should always be a single beautiful and harmonious item to contemplate in a home.” (Woloszynska 215) If the single achievement of the Interior Design professional is to add to the beauty and harmony of a space for a client, this is a significant contribution to society at large.
“The architecture and sense of style around us can change and affect moods and explain something about ourselves.” This quote by DeBotton points to an interesting premise and that is the sense that personal space affects disposition. It is possible to see this in both the work place where a drab environment has everyone walking about somber and dour, and so enter the designers to drag out the beige and bring in the French blue and the tangerine all with the goal of elevating the mood of the occupants. This mood change increases productivity since a happy worker is a better worker (Guerin, Journal of Interior Design). Thomas Wright, Jon Wefald Leadership Chair in Business Administration and professor of management at K-State, has found that when employees have high levels of psychological well-being and job satisfaction, they perform better and are less likely to leave their job. (Science Daily, 3 Feb., 2009) Alexander Kjerulf, a leading expert and author on the subject of the work place and happiness has stated, “Physical space matters. It’s easier to be productive, creative and happy at work in a colourful, organic, playful environment than in a grey, linear, boring one.”
This mood change can be seen as well once it is found out that the kids did not make their beds and that the dishes were left in the sink. Is it not space and function that also adds to a person’s satisfaction in life, and therefore happiness level? If the small elements in our spaces can change the temperaments of the occupants in a flash, the larger spacial relationships can be seen to increase happiness if designed correctly. This is then another question, and that is who determines what is space designed well and what is space designed with flaws? One measure for this is indeed the happiness of the occupants. Since it would be highly ridiculous to measure the affects of a space strictly from an ADA compliance viewpoint, though there would be those who would try, (www.ada.gov) it is best to measure this from the occupants viewpoint. People are happier in places they consider beautiful.
In the International Interior Design Association’s magazine, Perspective, Steve Hendershot documents interior spaces that change and evolve to something greater when the occupants find their homes beautiful. He writes of the satisfaction of the “spaces that are alive, that are perfectly suited to the needs of the people who use them, and that seem to have grown even more beautiful and functional than when the work was completed.” (Hendershot, Perspective 2010) In the same article, Tama Duffy, Principal at Perkins & Will in Washington D.C. is quoted as saying, “I’m more willing to go out on a limb with a client and find that space that will change lives, not just be a competent solution.” (Duffy, Perspective 2010) If then Designers value the happiness and contentment of a client, this then can be considered a tangible measure of project success for both the Designer and the client.
Perhaps the best evidence that Interior Design does indeed bring happiness to the inhabitant of homes everywhere is the client’s viewpoint. “As he hurried along, eagerly anticipating the moment when he would be at home again among the things he knows and liked. Home! Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day’s work. And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him.” (Graham) And so Mole, from Wind in the Willows, goes home to tidy up, rearrange, and find happiness, much in the same way the Interior Designer dispenses happiness to clients everywhere one room at a time.
De Botton, Alain., The Architecture of Happiness, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, NYC, 2008. Print.
Edwards, Clive. Interior Design: A Critical Introduction. Berg, Oxford. England. 2010. Print.
Graham, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. Methuen. United Kingdom. 1908. Print
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Hendershot, Steve. Perspective. IIDA Magazine. 2010 Fall
Maffei, Grace Lees. “Professionalizing Interior Design.” Journal of Design History. 2008: 1-18. http://jdh.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/1/1.full. Web. 01 Dec 2011
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Woloszynska, Suzanne. “The Art of Interior Design.” Creative Publishing. Minnetonka, Minnesota. 2001. Print.
Tix, Randy. http://thequestforagoodlife.wordpress.com/
Maida Korte, the principal designer, is the creative force behind ‘Designs by Maida, Inc.’ Her experienced team works in collaboration with all contractors and vendors every step of the process. Maida’s unique background in construction, furniture, and textile design offer her client’s an extensive expertise. Designs by Maida, Inc. has access to worldwide design resources, capable of creating solutions for all of her clients from across the country. Maida’s fresh approach to design is reflective in her signature style of layering color, texture, pattern and period for a truly inspired living environment. Designs by Maida, Inc. has been featured in many premier publications including Chicago Magazine, Design Times Magazine, Chicago Home and Garden Magazine, Window Fashions Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Luxe Home, At the Lake Magazine, and Quintessential Barrington. Maida has been featured on HGTV’s “New Spaces” for two episodes, as well as a finalist on HGTV’s “Designer’s Challenge.”