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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Postmodern Interior Design

Red? In a bedroom? In a bordello maybe. Postmodern daring with floating Modern furnishings and design simplicity.
As the final installment in a series dealing with the historical development of interior design in the United States (but not necessarily the rest of the world) we've arrived at our present era--Postmodernism. Before going further it would be best to suggest some definition as to what Postmodernism is...and perhaps more importantly, what it is not. Let me start with the latter. It is not eclecticism. That would be a gross oversimplification, although it does allow a limited reference to styles from the past. It is not a logical progression from Modernism. Quite the contrary, Postmodernism rejects any such attitude, not just shying away from such thinking but running like hell in the opposite direction. In short, Postmodernism rejects the idea that in art, "one thing leads to another." It rejects both the linear (one damned thing after another) and the circular (the same damned thing over and over again) aspects of art in favor of what one might call an "OMG" mindset. Postmodernism rejects any surrender to "there's nothing new under the sun" in favor of a more demanding, "Where the hell did that come from?" It might even be safe to say that Postmodernism is diametrically opposed to the long-established dogmas of Modernism such as "form follows function" or "less is more", not necessarily in terms of style, but in thinking. Postmodernism aims to put the element of "fun" and surprise (even humor) back into design--to do the unexpected rather than relying on the safety of "conventional wisdom."
The Postmodern "what'll they think of next?"
The sleeping pallet is lowered at night, raised during the day.

Let me make the point at this point, that many people, accustomed to the neat, clean, no-nonsense look of Modernism, will not like Postmodernism. Postmodernism does not strive for perfection. It is not fussy but a bit on the "messy" side adjusting to lifestyles over Architectural Digest ideals of beauty. Postmodernism accepts the fact that most people live in housing built during a different eras. In terms of interior design, rather than fight this fact of life, Postmodernism adjusts to it. Postmodern designer update when possible, camouflaging the outdated when necessary, but contend with it when costs or construction factors prohibit other alternatives. In doing so, Postmodernism designers employ their most powerful tool--ingenuity (above).

The first Postmodern house in the U.S., designed by
Robert Venturi for his mother, 1962-64
Postmodernism is fond of the practical, the structural (often downright industrial), the natural, the recycled, and the repurposed. Sturdy textures and bold colors are its friend. The Bauhaus is seen as an old school in Germany. Frank Lloyd Wright is seen by Postmodern designers as an academician while Frank Gehry is their god. Abstract Expressionism is little more than dried pigments while giant photo-murals are windows to the world. The old is refurbished to appear new again. Postmodernism embraces cross-cultural influences so but stops short of obsessions. Modernism is to be studied in books, not as precedent, but as design history. Postmodernism is a potent creative spirit distilled from all the random access memory (RAM) the mind can process.

Postmodern design--when it's good, it's good,
when it's bad, it's godawful.

Postmodern de-
signers dare what
most of us would
not even think of
doing, often with a
strange sense of
It almost goes without saying that Postmodern design is at its best when designers are daring. However, it's at its worst when it ventures past humorous into the realm of the ridiculous. Humor as it applies to Postmodern design is something of a caution zone between the good and the godawful (above). Just as in stand-up comedy, when comic goes too far, the result is offensive bad taste. For those intent upon a Postmodern interior, one of the most common errors is to think that doing so requires a whole houseful of new, trendy furniture. Make no mistake, there is a difference between the Modern and the Postmodern insofar as home furnishings are concerned, but traditional pieces, refur-bished in an innovative manner are often quite preferable to the brainstorms of cutting edge designers. The items at left are all starkly Postmodern. Yet their presence in a room does not always preclude the limited use of older pieces from the recent past. Very often that which makes a room Postmodern has more to do with the tasteful choice of decorating details than a sofa or rocking chair.

Where is it engraved in stone that a
fireplace must burn wood, or that clothes
must be hidden away in closets when
not being worn?

The postmodern decorator cares little that the starkly cantilevered fireplace (above, right) burns only gas, or that it is mostly made of insulated steel faced with a thin veneer of cut stone. And why not move the laundry into the same area as the clothes? Very often too, Postmodern designers go to what would once have been considered extreme lengths to reflect the personality of their clients, as seen in the starkly male bedroom (below) occupied by a single airline pilot on the rare occasions he's in town. One client is always easier to accommodate than two.

Part man cave, part bedroom, and totally high-tech.
So what if the bed doesn't always get made up?
Bedrooms are relatively easy for a Postmodern designer, even if there's more than one individual to satisfy. Living rooms are much more difficult. It is the one room in the house most likely to be saddled with furnishing from another period which must be skillfully and tastefully blended together and made to look and feel comfortable in an environment very often older than the client and the designer combined. Tearing down walls, integrating living spaces, introducing new textures and deep, bold colors all help, but there's no disguising an old-fashioned piano that's been in the family since 1887. Paint it white to blend with the walls? Such a suggestion might get the designer fired on the spot. With Postmodern design, compromise is often the name of the game.

Notice how skillfully the designer has blended the
old with the new in the living room just above.

Bark and stone, not usually found
in the kitchen, and the mark of an
ingenious designer and a tolerant
Another room in many homes where designers often have to struggle is the kitchen. Let's face it, kitchen appli-ances come in only one style, and it's not Postmodern. Designers have much the same problem in creating period kitchens as well. Often the answer is to choose black, or brushed chrome then blend them with stone or unfinished woods. The brave designer for the kitchen below (bottom-right) has even gone so far as to leave the bark exposed, perhaps to remind his clients of how many trees had to die to afford them a Postmodern kitchen.

Dining rooms are somewhat simpler. There are no damned appliance with hard edges and sharp corners to deal with. Nor do separate dining rooms have sinks, dishwashers, exhaust fans, ungainly refrigerators and acres upon acres of granite countertops. In fact, dining room furniture is more likely to be purchased new and more likely to bear at least some traits of Postmodern design. The problem is that separate dining rooms are now becoming nearly extinct in the context of Postmodern architecture. Postmod-ern architects love to blend living spaces, which very often puts the dining area either in or directly adjacent to the kitchen, once more imposing upon the quiet sanctity of the family dining time the hectic hubbub of food preparation and all the aforementioned robotic kitchen aides so deficient in anything other than Bauhaus modernism. The Postmod-ern kitchen designers at right have employed a number of tactics in breaking free of the sterile, white or white, ambience so common in kit-chens during the height of Mod-ernism. Ceiling beams are left open; bright colors run rampant; framed family photos adorn the walls; straight edges are jettisoned in favor of curves; comfort co-ops style; and everywhere the practical takes pre-cedence over the pretty.

Dining lends itself to styles
as diverse as Quaker and
Minimalism yet all within the
context of Postmodernism.

Unlike past decorating eras, no room in today's modern home gets more attention or lends itself more easily to Postmodern design than the bathroom. Unlike kitchen appliance designers, those involved in designing plumbing fixtures seem to be on a roll. Commodes have become sleeker, showers larger and more transparent, while bathtubs are becoming downright decadent in terms of size and shape. You can actually buy transparent Lucite bathtubs, though I'm not sure exactly why you'd want to. Statistics tend to indicate Americans are spending more and more time in areas associated with bathing, dressing, and physical exercise which, given the Postmodern tendency to combine various functional living spaces, it's only natural that bathrooms should become more spacious, more luxurious, and more beautiful. Architects are now designing bathtubs and spas set before windows affording bathers broad, unobstructed, scenic views while beside them, a fire crackles in the bathroom fireplace (probably burning natural gas).

With bathrooms like this, who needs the rest of the house?
Last, but not least, the architect's favorite plaything, the stairway, has come in for various postmodern designer treatments. For the most part they're not getting fancier or more decorative but instead, more practical as they share that trait with many other Postmodern domestic elements. Very often Postmodern designers are simply painting their stairs, modifying them at times, and adding innovative storage spaces beneath them. Kids will like one of the newest trends, the rapid descent feature--a sliding board built in next to the steps (below). Their parents will just have to be cautious going up and down on dark or stormy nights.

Putting Postmodern fun into home stairways.
A catwalk (literally)--fun and games for your family's
Postmodern feline. After all, cats are people too.

There's even a Postmodern version
of the ubiquitous electrical outlet. It
eliminates the need for a power strip. 



  1. Most interior design first-professional degree programs are at the bachelor’s level which is not sufficient qualification for a faculty position in interior design. pantone color guide

  2. I love some of the ideas, but some of those pictures just feel a little bit too... space-ish, I guess? ;)
    I've done my interiors with some help from I went for scandinavian style, looks amazing.

  3. Megan--

    The pictures I posted of Postmodern interiors ae intended to excite the imagination. It would be highly unlikely for anyone to like them all. I tried to include a broad range of styles from relatively conservative to...well, "spaceish" as you put it. Even within a given period or style, interior design choices are so much a part of the client's lifestyle and his or her personal tastes to expect one size (style)to fit all.