restaurant bar

BBC’s  Masters of Interior Design   is yet another  quick fix, staples, glue, centrepiece, wow factor, TV game show.

Anyone watching this show will think interior design is about shoddy craftsmanship, a kaleidoscope of colour and a random mix of cheap materials and garish patterns.  

Too much is not enough!

After all, it’s just a bit of fun. Nobody takes it seriously. 

It’s just interior design. 

This is TV for people to laugh at, criticise and scoff at low quality finishes, way-out solutions and daft ideas. 

This is design at its most basic. Based on a ‘theme’ rather than a concept it is superficial, meaningless and trite.

With a temporary fix and slapdash approach, these ‘ designers’ focus on importing ready-made ideas and decoration without fully understanding the critical spatial issues and user experience.

The elephant in the room ( not sprayed gold, not made of sequins) is that none of the candidates are actually qualified interior designers. NOT ONE.

They are random people who are ready to give it a go… have fun…be on TV.

None of these so-called designers appears to have spent 3+ years  at university on an interior design course. And yet, every year universities produce hundreds of graduates with excellent design skills. These are people who truly understand design in terms of space, human behaviour, function, innovation, materiality and CAD 

The competitors on this show are not required to cultivate and develop a well rounded, creative idea that delivers a long-lasting performance and solution. 

That’s not what this TV programme is about. 

The producers have given the programme the ridiculous title of Interior Design Masters  – and you have to ask why? Because, they are clearly not.

Of course in any field there are always gifted amateurs. People with flair, talent, experience and knowledge.

In Masterchef all the candidates are highly-skilled and experienced amateurs and are expected to perform, and challenge themselves, at that level.  And yet, they consistently produce very high quality food; technically advanced, creative in palette, visually enticing.

 The Apprentice, meanwhile,  is a show only superficially about  business. It sends up the candidates highlighting their brash confidence and blagging rather than the more considered view of entrepreneurship that we see on Dragons Den.

What makes “Good TV” sadly follows the same-old, tired-old format. It must have: ‘interesting characters’, be ‘entertaining’ and have an element of contrived competitive ‘tension’.

Masters of Interior Design has been devised to create  a buzz to catch an audience with a mindless easy-watching concept and the inevitable big visual reveal. 

That’s really all there is to it.

People can dip in and out as they put kids to bed, do the ironing, tidy up. 

You don’t have to think too much, or watch it from the beginning to follow what’s happening. It’s just something going on in the background. 

The problem is: so long as the media persists in portraying interior design as a superficial, cosmetic approach to design it diminishes and harms the profession. 

To the world it sends out a narrow and jaundiced view that interior design is something “just for fun” – not to be taken seriously.  

Sadly, the more this concept is reinforced by the media, the more it becomes what people generally accept to be true.

The assumption is: interior design is purely domestic, purely slapdash and purely decorative. 

And, so as long as that myth persists, it puts trained interior designers forever on the back foot with the need to constantly explain: this is not what interior design is about.

So, what is interior design? 

white rubric cube concept for retail
Photo by Xianjuan HU on Unsplash

The Interior designers’ role/remit/work applies right across every type of building. Any building that has an interior.  

Whether it’s an airport, a hospital, clinic, school, shopping mall, department store, bespoke retail unit, commercial office block (think Google, Linkedin) five star hotel, budget hotel or hospitality venue – that is where you will see the work of an interior designer.

Interior designers work closely with architects to establish the bigger spatial experience; the spatial flow, layout, light, movement and human behaviour. Their roles are different.

They have a specialist knowledge because they understand how people respond to space, and how to create the best result from limited space. They are problem-solvers.

The primary concern for  all interior designers lies with improving people’s experience of space.

This involves  controlling the spatial  layout, spatial flow and the interplay of light, form, colour and materials in response to particular human behaviour and needs.

Every aspect of interior design requires a huge amount of research, design development and many. There will be many, many iterations before a final solution is found.

As innovators, it’s the interior designers’ job to devise new uses for old buildings.

Interior designers envision create and shape the spaces of the future. Trained to deliver new ways of thinking, they work closely with clients to develop opportunities for new types of businesses.  

Interior designers are not the same as interior decorators.

Many of the bigger global architectural firms dealing with hotel design will employ both interior decorators and interior designers. The decorators are largely concerned with detail, finishes, soft furnishings and materials  and the quality, character, style and visual appeal. 

People generally seem surprised  (and somewhat confused) to hear that interior designers are so involved with  architectural projects. The designer’s job is to lead, direct and shape architecture so that it is a better fit with the human experience.  

Interior design –  as distinct from architecture –  emerged because employers need people with the right  skills to do a specific task.  

From start to finish a major construction project requires a very wide range of skillsets.

For employers the specificity and demand for these needs are generally served by university courses. That is why there are so many linked courses: in architecture, interior architecture, interior design and interior decorating. Each discipline serves a particular facet of the construction industry and contributes to the wider reach of business.

modern glass offices and corridor
Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash

Inevitably there is of some blurring of boundaries.  

Architecture may involve interior design, construction management, landscaping, urban planning, quantity surveying and structural engineering. But of course, because these are also specialisms. There are degree courses in each of these areas, as distinct from architecture.

There is some cross over between Interior design, architecture, textile design, graphic design, product design, furniture design, kitchen design and lighting design. On a small job the interior designer make tackle each of these tasks. On bigger jobs it’s time to call in the experts.

And so, in the same way that Marketing has emerged as a distinct discipline from Business, Interior design –   in response to industry needs –  has evolved from architecture.

To say an architect knows more about interior design than an interior designer (because their training is longer)  is a bit like saying a GP knows more about physiotherapy than a physiotherapist.

The problem with Masters in Interior Design is that it is a format that harks back thirty years to the success of Changing Rooms.

But… that was then, and this is now.  

The recent re-make of Changing Rooms was so poorly received it’s a very clear  indication that people’s tastes, knowledge and interests have moved on. Yay!

Interior design deserves recognition that there is much more to it than a slap of paint and a leopard-print cushion!

Maybe soon… maybe sometime… the world will catch on…

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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