interior design

Looking back at British interior design through the ages

The history and influence of British interior design – read all about the changing face of home decor

Interior design is in a constant state of flux. Melanie Adams, Retails Development Manager at Wallpaper Direct tells us why not only are home design choices defined by the culture of the time, but also the technologies available to both manufacturers and homeowners

While some trends are best kept in the past, others have rightfully earned their title as timeless classics. To inspire your next interiors project, Wallpaper Direct has scoured the history books and put together an essential guide to British interior design through the ages from the gothic Tudors to the eclectic 21st Century.

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Tudor Design Period (1485 – 1603)


With a growing economy from expanding trade, individuals were becoming wealthier and starting to build luxury houses with lavish interiors. Home owners would demonstrate their wealth with fine oak panelled walls, decorative plasterwork and elaborate fireplaces. The European Renaissance started to influence the gothic British style. Walls and windows would be covered in styles and patterns based on classical illustrations.

Georgian Design Period (1714 – 1830)


Georgian interiors were known for their elegance and lightness of touch. Completing a ‘Grand Tour’ around Europe, particularly Italy, for two or three years, was fashionable amongst the upper classes. This meant that lots of foreign influences found their way into British interiors. The design reflected this neo-classical movement, with Palladian styles, seen today in cities such as Venice.

Victorian Design Period (1837 – 1901)


This era was typified by an eclectic mix of styles. The design reflected the expansion of world trade and growing global influences being found in Britain. Mass production and affordable products allowed homeowners to fill their rooms with textiles and furniture. However, a reaction to mass-production led to the ‘Arts and Crafts Movement’, championed by designers such as William Morris.

1920s Design Period (1920 – 1929)


The excitement of the Hollywood silver screen filtered through to design. Rooms were glamourous and sophisticated with geometric and angular shapes. People would dream of fantasy rooms for hosting lavish cocktail parties and royal patrons. Moreover, travel, especially African safaris, was especially popular, so exotic touches such as animal skins, ivory, mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell were all the rage.


1930s/40s Design Period (1930 – 1949)


There were several different looks for the home. Firstly, there was Art Deco and modernism or ‘Moderne’ styles. These were typified by clean streamlined shapes and lack of ornamentation. Buildings looked like ocean liners with curved sun-trap windows edged with blue railings and portholes. There were also lots of pseudo-historical styles, from mock-Tudor houses with half-timbering to neo-Georgian styles.

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1950s Design Period (1950 – 1959)


The 1950s was the age of the consumer. The post-war boom led to a culture of materialism and a desire for the latest home furnishings. There were several styles to choose from: an American diner style with bubble-gum colours, neon and kitsch, or a designer style with furniture and textiles decorated with geometric patterns. These have subsequently become design classics.

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1960s Design Period (1960 – 1969)


The previous decade’s love of American design was replaced by a more British-focused style. Interiors had creative twists on Victorian and Edwardian styles, the ‘20s and art nouveau. Groovy pop art and opt-art inspired patterns and styles were often used. The space age had a big influence with capsule and pod-shaped furniture. Hippie pilgrimages also brought oriental ornaments and rugs to homes.

1970s Design Period (1970 – 1979)


The early part of the decade was a ‘hangover’ from the ‘60s, dominated by pop art, vibrant colours and newly available plastic furniture. However, recession and high unemployment led to a less flamboyant period of design. A ‘back-to-nature’ movement arose with a homespun ethos creating Victorian-style florals and hand-me-downs, lots of wood, rattan and rustic kitchenalia, and handicrafts such as macramé.


1980s Design Period (1980 – 1989)


During this period, an Art Deco revival occurred in the realm of design. Clean-lined shapes with modern curves were prominent, but angles and ’30s-inspired arches also infiltrated the home in a style known as ’80s Deco. Art Moderne-style artwork, ceramic curves on modern vases, and rounded furniture were all popular. This decade also saw a twee floral overload.

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1990s Design Period (1990 – 1999)


After the maximalism and opulence of the ‘80s, typical early ‘90s design was focused on simplicity of form. Funky clashes and bright colours were seen as dated whereas white and beige were considered as contemporary and trendy. Blonde wood and Scandinavian inspired design was very popular, giving interior spaces a bright, fresh and roomy atmosphere.

 2010s Design Period (2010 – present)


There has been a very eclectic style so far in this decade. We are seeing global influences in design but also a retro revival harkening back to the ’60s and ’70s. Social media, especially Pinterest, is giving people greater access to widespread design inspiration. Self-expression has come to define the approach to interior design in this period.