Interior design: Theory and process


Interior designer and writer Anthony Sully introduces his new book Interior Design: Theory and Process.


I have to acknowledge, as I do in the book, how good my education was right through to leaving the Royal College of Art in 1965. I had inspiring tutors who not only taught me the mechanics of the job but also taught me how to think. I must emphasise that I attended higher education five days a week for seven years, with constant access to tutors; all on a student grant! Contrast that with the average attendance of today's design students of the equivalent of two days a week, with only 2.5 hours per week contact teaching time - and paying exorbitant fees! The rest of the week students find jobs to help pay these fees which means that there is no such thing as a full-time degree course, yet universities continue to market them as such.

I have been responsible for managing five interior design degree courses in the UK at different stages of my career, as well as practising as an interior designer. This book is the culmination of my teaching and practice, which has involved constant research and debate, ultimately leading to eternal frustration with the state of interior design in both education and practice.

I decided to teach interior design because I could see the potential for improving design education from the standpoint of a designer. There are many books written on the subject by non-designers, but although these are excellent in many ways, they sometimes fall short on certain aspects of the design process which can only be explained by someone who has been through that creative process. I hope to redress that balance in this book, and with the help of experience, hindsight and assistance from colleagues, provide guidance as to the real potential of a much maligned area of design. I aim to present ways, processes and methods of approaching interior design in a refreshing and illuminating light that will help students, teachers and practitioners alike. I have distilled information to suit my purposes from a variety of scholarly sources rather than regurgitating what has already been written. I would like the book to be a constant companion, almost like a toolkit necessary to be able to do the job. I make no apology if I generalise on certain social issues for the sake of clarity, as I am well aware that the world contains many varied cultures and rituals that demand different design solutions.

Why did I write this book? I have always felt that while there are many books on architectural theory, with historical perspectives as well expressing current ideologies, there has been a distinct lack of a body of theory that belongs to the interior design discipline. I would hope that, having read this book, designers and students can feel that they really are specialists in a field that has substance and credibility. I also wish to promote and emphasise the art of interior design, which is about being able to interpret people's needs and produce visionary solutions that work as well as lift up the soul. My final aim is to break the conventional mould of building and indicate new conceptual approaches to the shaping of interior space.

The common products that are specified for and installed in interiors need to be challenged and comprehensively reviewed in order for radical change to take place. Manufacturers are guilty of following trends and sales charts, and many designers are guilty of paying lip service to their clients. I wish to clarify, at this stage, that an interior decorator is usually responsible for the detailed furnishing of interiors; an interior designer performs the more architectural functions required for dealing with buildings.

Some readers will have noticed that in certain higher and further educational institutions there are courses described as 'Interior Architecture' or 'Spatial Design' rather than the more common 'Interior Design'. This has come about due to a change in thinking by some educationalists rather than a change in the professional discipline. When a building is viewed from the outside, glimpses of the interior can be seen as was the intention of the architect, but when a person is inside the building, the external appearance of the building is not seen (there are exceptions, I know) as a whole entity. Therefore it is right to assume that the term 'interior architect' is a weaker definition than the term 'interior designer'. The term interior architect implies that it is a branch of architecture, whereas interior design rightly sits within the design industry of fashion, product, furniture and so on. Also nobody 'architects' interiors; they 'design' interiors - hence using an action word in the title is preferable. There is no such person as an interior architect in the UK. The name may have changed, but the game is the same.

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