5 Reasons You Will Love Interior Design History

8 minute read

ancient greek temple
I’m already wondering who’s going to own the Erechtheum Porch of Maidens in the Metaverse.

Design School Diaries -Post 3

All aboard, Baddies. We’re taking a trip.

History of Interior Design was one of my favorite units in my interior design course, and that is actually saying a lot!

As a ‘designer-type‘ or even possibly hopeful future designer, you might not think about history as being that useful to the practice of design.

After all, if you skipped learning about the history of interior design, you’d still be able to design stuff. Am I right?

We actually know this to be true, because plenty of people do it successfully all the time (I’m looking at you, game designers).

However, I’ll let you in on a secret.

All of the very best interior designers out there know their architectural, art and design history – well!

The Only Thing We Learn from History is that No One Likes to Learn History

woman standing near old stone wall with carved images
Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Okay, I’m paraphrasing. That’s not how it goes. Arnold Toynbee (a famous British historian) was supposed to have said: “The only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history.”

I believe he was referring to humankind’s inability to keep getting into wars with one another.

Luckily what we’re going to learn about is a little bit more fun.

When it came to my understanding of history in the broad sense, I felt pretty confident about my knowledge base when I started my course.

I remember when I first looked over the contents of this history unit and the assignments that would be due. I was a little underwhelmed.

It was all essays.

Of course it, was, this was history and that meant we’d be looking through musty encyclopedias and cobweb-covered books and trying to make out things we recognised in them!

Not gonna lie. I was fairly well convinced that this wasn’t going to be any fun.

adult book boring face
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In our previous materials unit we learned about material properties, applications and safety, which was the “dry” stuff, but we also got to do some early actual “design” work.

Now going into the second unit it looked like the history unit was only going to be dates and facts.


Looking back on this unit, I’m happy to say that this is not how it ended up.

It turned out that getting up and personal with history using the very different lens of interior design (rather than, say, politics) was actually fascinating and despite myself, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The Benefits of Learning Your Interior Design History

Isn’t it incredible that as old as this structure is, it still has aesthetic appeal now?

Okay, you say, ‘So what’s so great about interior design history and why do we want to know about it?’

What follows are five reasons why you should absolutely want a free pass on my interior design machine.

Once you see the places we’re going, you might decide that you need your own time machine!

At the very least, if you stick with this for a little while you’ll be having more interesting conversations at house parties, guaranteed.

5 Reasons You Should Want an Interior Design Time Machine

  1. There is wisdom hidden in the past for those who are willing to find it
  2. If you don’t know a lot about history in general, learning interior design history will give you a colorful viewpoint for learning about many important world events that have shaped our lives
  3. The history of interior design, art and architecture are important humanities subjects with many applications
  4. Knowledge of interior design history helps you to understand styles in architecture, interiors, furniture, decor and art
  5. Knowing some interior design history allows you to see things that other people often don’t see in movies

Here are the five reasons in greater detail:

1. Glean the Design Wisdom of the Past

This image is courtesy of Nintendo. Sid Meier’s Civilization is an incredible game, and one that I personally play. Of the three leaders depicted, I would choose to play Hojo Tokimune first, Trajan second and Cleopatra third. These three are all good for cultural bonuses 😉

The first reason you will want an interior design time machine is because, human history quite literally is a goldmine of information and ideas.

The cultural past is chock-full of Easter eggs and treasure. There are tons of surprises for you to dig up along the way!

You’ll also be inspired by the personal stories of the greats of architecture and design through the ages.

If you have the idea that human beings of the past were somehow inferior to the NBA playing, NFL draft-picking and NHL goal-scoring humans we look up to today, you’d be wrong.

Try Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunalesci and Palladio on for size.

2. Brush Up Your General History Knowledge

soldiers charging guns near french national flag in nature
Do you remember what Napoleon has to do with Neoclassical style? Don’t feel bad. Most people don’t! It’s even more interesting how the style got to America and shaped the design of the White House and the Capitol Building .

I realize that there are people who enjoy history. For many people, however, this may be one of those subjects that never really grabbed you in school.

Likely, you didn’t have a way of relating it to your life at the time, so it just wasn’t interesting to you.

However, since growing as an artist and in your creative practice, you might find it more so. This might be your history gateway drug. That aspect of history that draws you in and gets you to appreciate the subject in the first place.

Not only is the history of interior design so much more enjoyable for some of us artistic types than, say, the history of gunpowder, but if you totally snoozed during history class, you have the chance to make some of those lost points up now.

History is all intertwined.

Focus on what you are interested in history, and in my experience, you will pick the rest of it up along the way.

Interior design is mixed in with the history of empires, civilizations, kings, queens, peasants, industries and a bunch of social movements down the line.

There’s plenty of variety to keep you entertained and even learning valuable information that you can apply in the real world, believe it or not.

3. Get a Leg Up on a Creative Career involving the Fine Arts

man standing in front of paintings
If this dude is staring at his phone he is really missing out.

When it comes to my first name, I have my mom’s major subject, art history, to thank. Saskia was the wife of the Dutch high renaissance artist Rembrandt, and the subject of many of his oil paintings.

If you have heard of the Dutch Golden Age artist Rembrandt van Rijn, your art history recall ability is above average.

If, on the other hand, you have never heard of Vincent van Gogh and the impressionist movement, pardon our French, but you need an art history crash course, now!

As an aside, it would be hard to understand what is happening in art right now, and in the world of NFTs, if you don’t know anything about the art world.

Knowing some basic art history helps to set you up to understand current day events and the value behind objects which may not seem to have inherent value, and yet do.

If you’d like to work in the interior design field, the chances that you will come in contact with art and antique dealers, estate auctions, flea markets and private collectors, is high. You will also frequently work with architects.

The great thing about interior design history is how it is woven in with other important stories. Most notable are the histories of art and architecture.

Interior design could not really exist without industry, craftspeople, art and architecture. While interior design tells its own unique story, you will also have a chance to learn a ton about these rich neighboring fields.

I should add that the history of graphic design is an important and useful segway in your education, too.

Should you later decide that pursuing a careeer in interior design is not for you, you will still have some incredibly valuable knowledge tucked under your belt.

Want to be a consultant, a curator or a guide? Interior design history could be a steppingstone to several other interesting positions in the creative fields.

4. Understand the Period Styles of Houses and Furniture and Recognize Their Imitations and Influences

vintage interior of cozy room in hotel
Who were the people who once inhabited this room and what kind of lives did they lead? Wouldn’t you love to know?

Interior design has a rich history that is hard to appreciate if you only ever barely scratch the surface.

There is so much to learn and to know, and for that reason alone, it is worth our time to investigate.

A very concrete reason to get interested in the aesthetics and fashions of the past is so that you can understand what you’re looking at right now, today. Could you spot a knock off, or better yet, spot what it’s imitating?

Designers are always referencing history and to be worth your salt, this is a language you will need to understand and ideally get to speaking yourself.

You will have much better context for all of the layers found in contemporary interiors when you are familiar with the evolution of individual items and understand where they originated.

This understanding can even help you avoid making rookie mistakes, like calling something by the wrong name or confusing their cultural heritage.

Know the rules before you break them, my friends.

Breaking the rules and coming off successful by accident is a stroke of luck, but when you have done it deliberately it is a stroke of pure genius.

5. Impress People with Your Movie Insights

man and woman sitting on a couch in front of a television
Netflix and impress your date with your interior design history knowledge.

You just might be amazed what you’ll notice when you watch movies after taking up interior design history.

Once you start learning about the origins of interior design styles you’ll literally be seeing them everywhere!

I got really excited the first time I recognized something from a history class in a period movie I was watching.

I haven’t taken movie sets as much for granted since.

Since learning interior design even boring history movies now have intrinsic appeal. Being able to name the styles of furniture is also a great party trick.

“Dude nearly tipped over the imitation Louis XVI, but then he passed out on the peacock chair until his mom took him home.”

While watching those historic movies, give a thought to the incredible costume, makeup and set designers who worked on those films and took pains to get those details perfect. From the story board artists to the opening and finishing credit dequ3ences, it’s human art and expression on a highly collaborative level.

Yes, people, designers of every variety are amazing.

Final Thoughts

photography of opened book

There is so much wisdom to be gleaned in studying the past, as well as no end of interesting stories to entertain you on the way.

Another cool fact is that a lot of interior design’s most influential history is recent enough for us to visit many of the places we learn about, or at very least, to be able to find amazing pictures and websites for.

What stories will you discover on this trip on our interior design time machine?

I hope that they empower you to start telling your own design story.

In our next installment of Design School Diaries we will be moving laterally to the first article on the third unit I studied in interior design school, Drafting.

Our next history article will be an overview of the periods covered in my History of Interior Design.

Happy design learning, Baddies.

If you missed our first materials unit post, you can catch up here:


We are on a mission at Design Baddie to make basic interior design information accessible and free to all! Get our introductory interior design e-book absolutely free when you sign up for our newsletter.

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