The Devil Designs Interiors
How Interior Design Trends Originate and Affect Us All
Last night was movie night in my house, and I got to select the film. We gathered on the sofa. I fluffed my favorite emerald green and rose throw pillows and edged closer to the rounded arm for easy access to my end table, where an etched brass coaster was waiting to receive my turmeric latte. As the TV screen lit up, a cool glow was cast, exaggerating the relief detailing of the paneling in my family room, which I recently upgraded from a simple white to Setting Plaster Pink by Farrow & Ball. The title screen announced the film – The Devil Wears Prada.
Why Every Designer Needs to Watch The Devil Wears Prada
By now, most of us have seen this iconic 2006 film starring the undeniable Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, the powerful editor of the country’s most popular fashion magazine, and Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs, the frumpy and sanctimonious college grad trying to navigate the complicated workings of the design world she thought was just silly “stuff.”
In one unforgettable scene, Andy scoffs at the work the designers and editors are doing, dismissing two belts as “looking exactly the same” and demeaning the importance of what she considers a frivolous decision. Miranda quickly steps in to reveal how Andy herself is a product of designers’ decisions that occur in processes just like this. She explains how trends trickle down from revolutionary couture breakthroughs to upscale reinterpretations to mall bargain bin sales available to the masses who “think such things have nothing to do with them.” This scene clearly depicts the impact the design world has on all of us, whether we realize it or not. Still, a few of us recognize the cultural importance of a cerulean blue sweater.
Miranda Priestly: Something funny?
Andy Sachs: No, no, nothing. You know, it’s just that both of those belts look exactly the same to me. I’m still learning about this stuff.
Miranda Priestly: This “stuff”? Oh, okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you.
You go to your closet, and you select, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But, what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue. It’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean.
You’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then, I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then, cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs. It’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room, from a pile of “stuff.”
It was during this scene that it hit me. The Devil doesn’t just wear Prada. She also designs interiors.
The Devil Wears Prada, Designs Interiors, and Knows Her Design History
Just like the fashion industry, the world of interior design is filled with Mirandas, who occasionally receive ill-considered criticism from an Andy who thinks the job is just selecting from a pretty and frivolous pile of “stuff.” In reality, interior designers’ decisions, especially leaders in the field, affect the daily lives of millions of households. When we stop to trace the trends and reflect on the “why,” we can learn to appreciate the good design around us or recognize the lack thereof. Interior design influences the function of our homes, our moods, and our quality of life. We are all participating in interior design. Some of us are just mastering the art.
“All right, everyone. Gird your barn doors!”
As Miranda Priestly beautifully and pointedly explains, an interior design trend typically starts after a reputable designer has applied a color, material, or solution to a home. From there, it gets noticed by the industry, then other high-end clients, then the general public, until it trickles down the ranks and ends up mass-produced and on the shelves of a big box store. This trend lifecycle can take years. Word to the wise: once a trend hits the mainstream and like-items are found in popular stores such as Pottery Barn, West Elm, and Target, it is typically at the end of its lifespan.
Let’s look at the barn door fad that came and went in the last decade. (Sorry to all the Chip and Joanna fans out there, but like Andy’s lumpy sweater, this trend has officially come to a close.) Most likely, a designer came up with a clever solution to fit a door and some rustic charm into a tight space without taking up too much valuable floor space with a traditional hinged door. The barn door then got married to the farmhouse design fad taking place, made a few HGTV appearances, and went on to grace every suburban renovation project. Not to say a barn door will never work, but it should be suited to the room’s layout, style, and function.
“White? For the entire house? Groundbreaking.”
Whatever room you are reading this in, there is a great possibility that it is painted white. You may think that white is just the color walls should be, that it is the design default, or perhaps that walls have been white through the ages.
Actually, we are all engaged in a trend set by interior decorator Syrie Maugham in 1927. She was the first designer to create an all-white room. Her design became the talk of the socialite set, and Vogue editors celebrated “the sweet uses of light and white.” From there, top designers of the day, including Elsie de Wolfe, Jean-Michel Frank, and Frances Elkins, started embracing white in their room designs. Decades later, contractors continue to slap white paint on every suburban interior in America to appeal to the broadest possible audience of homebuyers. You may think that unadorned white walls exempt you from the interior design process, but the color was, in fact, selected for you by one interior designer’s decision. Sound familiar?
“Ok, can you please spell Millennial Pink?”
Let’s look at the trendiest trend possible – Millennial Pink. Millennial Pink came onto the scene around 2012, peaked in 2016, and still, it is apparent that Millennial Pink refuses to go away anytime soon. This color represents cultural changes centered around the millennial demographic – embracing androgyny, exploring free gender expression, and peppering throughout curated social media influencer imagery. This trend was attributed to Insta-savvy millennials, but alas, this shade of pink was carefully curated for us almost a century ago.
In the 1930s, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, and designers responded with the Art Deco movement. Art Deco design employed a glamorous and escapist approach in an attempt to whisk individuals out of one of the darkest decades in history. One of the most popular colors used in these designs was, you may have caught on by now, pink. The millennial generation similarly came out of the Great Recession, so it only makes sense for this shade of pink to make a resurgence. Who doesn’t like some cheery color every now and again?
“Everybody wants to be a designer.”
The interior designers who have influenced the design world, material choices, and flow of our homes have come from all sorts of different backgrounds, including art, performance, and film. The key attribute they share is the way they look at things differently, break traditional ideas, and defy conformity. Interior design is so much more than having great taste and shopping, even though that’s what some of the stores and television programs out there will tell you. For example, anyone can load their home with an ostentatious collection of expensive decor. Still, only Mario Buatta can execute a glamorous, over-the-top design that sparks imagination, joy, and luxury. Of course, everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be a designer because we all live in and are affected by the design around us. Why shouldn’t it be beautiful?
As an interior designer in a trend-loving town like Austin, Texas, it’s often helpful to bring a design history perspective into conversations with clients about colors and furnishings. Connecting the past to today is eminently satisfying.
Now, I think I will retreat to my den of trends, curl up next to my Millennial Pink pillows, admire my subtle nods to glamour, and make this a double feature.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.