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The history of design in India goes beyond its architecture. Traces have been found in age-old heritage buildings, beaming palaces, and even modest homes, where design has transitioned from sheer utility to interior decor. The exterior has shaped the startling history and the interior has filled the gaps, creating a holistic environment of experiencing space.
Interior design in India has played a crucial role in defining its history although its recognition as a field is recent. With each passing, the magnitude of this field keeps growing, bringing new typologies, textures, patterns, products, furnishings, and much more.
Let's dive into the glorious journey of interior design, right from the start till now.
The earliest record of human civilization began at the Bhimbetka Shelters. These are a series of cave and rock shelters that run throughout the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. The interiors of these caves were a canvas for several paintings and illustrations that showcased day-to-day activities like hunting, dancing, and horse riding in a simple stick form manner. The basis for interior design can be said to have started here.
Progressing from the Bhimbetka caves, Mehrgarh culture becomes the oldest site that depicts the initial phases of farming and herding. The homes of this civilization were simple with crafts and collectibles holding space in their interior. Evidence shows the presence of goddess sculptures and pottery as a part of the room decor. These items served their purpose of worship and storage while adding character to the interior space.
The Vedic age started slowly with the development of the Indus Valley civilization and ended at a stage where the Aryans gained prominence. Compared to the simplistic decor items in Mehrgarh culture, the Vedic era saw the introduction of natural and contextual materials like wood and bamboo. The interior walls were simple and textured to create an unkempt look.
Rise of Jainism & Buddhism
The rise in Buddhism and Jainism brought about the making of expansive structures dedicated to the practice of the religion. The best example is the Ajanta and Ellora Caves featuring intricate interior carvings. The interiors feature patterned ceilings, metal artwork, sculptures, motifs etched into rocks, and much more, adorned with an untapped acoustical quality at that age. This depicts the slow transition of plain interiors from the Vedic age to a more carefully detailed interior.
With the invasion of Islamic and Portuguese powers, Indian interiors saw a combination of their signature styles with the existing ones. The interiors of temple complexes were a sight to behold, showcasing the intricate detailing of epic stories and mythologies. Palaces saw the influence of repetitive patterns across interior surfaces, depicting the influence of Islamic style. Church interiors were influenced by the Portuguese style of simple western furniture in wood or rattan. With time Indo-Islamic interior styles gained prominence as more Islamic rulers came into the picture.
The Post-Medieval era saw a major influence on the Indo-Islamic style of aesthetics. Symmetric patterns covered the interior surfaces including walls, floors, and domes. It displayed geometric forms, floral patterns, and inscriptions of various styles. This era also saw the use of inlay on marble, sandstone, quartzite, and buff, which defined the heritage structure of the capital.
Before we knew it, the British had invaded the Indian subcontinent bringing in a simple and functional interior decor that was heavy on the use of wood. Interiors were now decorated with hunting equipment such as muskets and wins like deer heads. Elements from colonial interiors became a part of the royal interiors. They presented themselves as a combination of rich textures and fabrics.
The 1930s also saw the inclusion of Art Deco as a trending style of interior design. It included a combination of modern elements and unique designs that included a wide range of colors and patterns.
Free from the reigns of the British, the post-Independence era brought in an atmosphere of confusion. Should we embrace the colonial style of interiors or dissolve it to adopt more traditional methods?
The preference for better and easier lives paved the way for modernization and the adaptation of modern interiors was the newfound solution. Architects like Charles Correa, Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, and many more shaped the landscape of architecture and interiors of the era.
The contemporary style of interiors rose as a part of the 1950s and 1960s as well. It was defined by a sleek yet opulent approach to finishes, textures, and colors.
Minimalism and Maximalism
With time India is being introduced to various design styles, two of which have stayed profoundly seen across the years— Minimalism and Maximalism.
The former arrived during the early 20th century, exploring a clean, simple, and functional approach, emerging from the school of thought “less is more”. On the contrary, Maximalism ideats “more is more” by combining various textures, patterns, colors, and decor elements to give a rich and bold character to the space.
The new age of Metaverse is also seeing thoughtful incorporation of sustainable measures. These measures induce happier environments increasing liveability.
The inclusion of interior design has been in Indian architecture since its birth. The Indian mythological Architect Vishwakarma marked the start of this. References found in several scriptures, place him in a similar position. His works consist of Indian homes in the 17th century, palaces, events, and sculptures adorned with ancient texts.
A name attached to one of the seven wonders of the world —Taj Mahal. Ustad Ahmad Lahori was a key designer who explored the Indo-Islamic interior realm. He used a combination of Indo-Islamic and Persian styles of design that is celebrated even today. Built between 1632 and 1648 the Taj Mahal became a key parameter for measuring the intricacies of interior design over the years.
Gajanan B. is a key designer from colonial India, who paved way for Art Deco in the interior designing landscape of India. Interior designs by him became a staple reference for studying the growth and development of Art Deco. He was a key architect who crafted the ‘Bombay Deco’ and shaped the interior and architecture of the city of Bombay (Mumbai).
Having apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright, Raja Aederi was a part of the making of a few prominent buildings in the USA and Britain. His designs are a combination of engineering and flamboyant elements. Projects like Head Quarters of the Ministry of External Affairs, Mahindra Towers, and Pereira House, bring in a fresh approach that transforms the work culture of a space.
Spearheading India’s first lifestyle and furniture store is Pinakin Patel. He stands out for blending modern accents and traditional aesthetics when it comes to interior design. His firm also holds an extensive portfolio of projects that range from residential and commercial typologies that are spread across the world.
A conservation architect by profession Abha Narain Lambah is a well-known face when it comes to restoring traditional and heritage interiors and structures. The range of her projects includes heritage sites like Ajanta Caves, Mahabodhi Temple, Victorian Buildings of Mumbai, and other significant buildings. She is at the forefront of maintaining the cultural heritage of India by restoring and protecting the traditional interiors and structures of the past.
A typical Indian interior design includes the use of natural materials for furniture, sculptures, and idols. hangings, embroidered rugs, and many more cultural decor elements. The colors used are rich and made of traditional crafts and prints.
Interior design as a separate field was first practiced and invented by Elsie de Wolfe in the early 1900s. She started practicing by decorating a home, for which she had received commission thus, making her the first to practice in the field.
Throughout history, one can notice its inclusion with the architecture. As time passed the intricacy of interior design increased and evolved to be a separate field. Interiors throughout history have paved a path of evolution. This gives interior designers today a base on which they can develop and evolve designs.
Vishwakarma, the architect from Hindu Mythology was the first to establish Indian Interior design.
An Architect turned Writer, Saili has worked as an Architectural Writer, Marketer, & Curator. For the past 3 years, she has collaborated with multimedia publication houses, firms, studios, organisations, luxury brands, & educational inst ... itutions; both national and international to communicate and market the AEC industry as an Architect in Marketing. She is a commentator on the design industry’s upkeep through her social handles while also being an avid reader and traveller.
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