Thinning out luxury design

 As a historian, staying apprised of the most current scholarship in your field allows you keep on top of new arguments, paradigm shifts, and up and coming scholars. For interior designers, it is much the same thing, but only prettier. History journals are not the most colorful and switching to interior design has definitely improved reading esthetics.

In the past few months, I’ve subscribed to several design magazines that display the best in luxury design. They are design porn of sorts with their glossy images of furniture and décor placed in stunning configurations that evoke sensuality and a level of lust.

Most of the images are devoid of humans because the visual design takes center stage. When models are included, there is an overwhelming whiteness, but that is a topic for a different time. No, today I want to focus on what caught my eye on the May cover of Elle Décor. There are specific taglines that give readers a hint to what to expect when they leaf through the pages. For May, Elle Décor used “Design for Your Waistline,” as a tagline, but when I search through to find a corresponding article, I found nothing. It seems like an odd line to use because how does one design an interior for the waistline?

While we might assume the editors did not have weight in mind, Elle Décor is own by Hearst Publishers, which also publishes Elle, a lifestyle magazine that focuses on a variety of topics, including fashion and celebrity gossip. Like most lifestyle magazines, a beautiful and privileged life is on display, which is colorful, perfect, and svelte.

According to its website, Elle Décor “open[s] the doors to the world’s most stylish places. We showcase insights, ideas, and innovations by today’s preeminent tastemakers, even as we seek out the talents who will shape tomorrow. ELLE DECOR’s affluent audience looks to it as they chart their own path to the good life. They know that inspiration is the ultimate luxury.” So it unsurprising that there is some crossover in ideals from Elle to Elle Décor.

The influence of fashion’s ideal body on interior design might be seem like a stretch, but the artistic and museum-like quality of luxury residential design incorporates furniture, space planning, and color that echoes popular fashion magazines. The furniture is sexy and in “correct” proportion to its size. The decor is glamorous and effortless. Weight and perfect bodies are not usually the main topic of interior design magazines, but one cannot ignore that perfection in all things is a key goal in luxury living.

 We have grown very use to fashion magazines celebrating perfect (photoshopped) bodies, and since the 1970s interior design magazines have increasingly followed in the same path, where flawless, sexy, and slimmed down decor takes center stage. One such example is Architectural Digest (AD). Beginning in 1925, in its early years, the magazine provided interior architectural drawings of homes, featuring the interiors. By the 1970s, articles, photographs, and advertisements replaced floor plans. There was more emphasis on the role of designers, the best of interior design, and ads for all sorts of interior goodies. AD also began showcasing more celebrity homes as the pinnacle of design.

Throughout the twentieth century, the wealthy have been portrayed as fat cats with larger than life personalities and many images in AD highlighted that representation. Yet, the stereotype of the wealthy did not always match the reality.

Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and much of the 1990s, there was an emphasis on antiques from notable periods and interiors that incorporated overstuffed and oversized furniture. Rich and warm hues matched the numerous home accessories that were on display. Even minimalist luxury design relied on larger pieces. For the wealthy, bigger was better.

Yet, as the articles and ads in AD showed, high-class interiors did not include rotund figures. Luxury lifestyles at the beginning of the 21st century whittled down interior clutter. Less accessories, cleaner lines, and brighter colors signified that the affluent had shed the overbearing and larger than life décor of the past. Clunky antiques were passé and wealthy furniture and décor, while not losing its ostentatiousness, transformed into sleeker, sexy representations of a high-class desire to remain young, trendy, and healthy/slim.

The larger influence of luxury design can be seen within middle-class homes, but as we consider the increase popularity of celebrity and HGTV design, how does the representation of these residential spaces reflect a society that still celebrates slim and youthful bodies as the norm, where other types of bodies, i.e. overweight and disable, remain unwelcome. Elle Décor may believe that inspiration is the ultimate luxury, but whose waistline is consider important in interior design?


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