High style and society : class, taste and modernity in British interwar decorating

Wheaton, Pat (2011) High style and society : class, taste and modernity in British interwar decorating. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis explores the way in which interior decorating developed as a practice during the interwar period in Britain and seeks to address broader contexts of gender, class, taste and styles. While traditional design histories have tracked the development of the interior design model through a direct sequence of movements and ideologies through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this thesis addresses issues which have been problematic within the context of art and design history. It acknowledges the more linear dimension of the original strand and seeks to offer a complementary appraisal which considers and appreciates the role of class, wealth and privilege and deconstructs boundaries which have marginalized gender and obscured certain important influences. The study examines the way in which decorators, many of whom were female, negotiated a design agenda which engaged with modernity without fully renouncing hard-fought signifiers of their class, taste and individuality. It argues that in the development of its practices, significant alliances were formed with fashion and that the vital role performed by media representation and social commentary underpinned its commercial profile and provided the public locus of its discourse. The nature of professional decorating is explored against a background of emerging practices in the first decades of the twentieth-century which included the antiques trade; grand scale establishments such as Lenygon & Morant, White Allom, Thornton-Smith and Keebles; department-store studios including those at Heal’s, Waring & Gillow and Fortnum & Mason; and individual practitioners and designers including Syrie Maugham, Sibyl Colefax, Dolly Mann and Ronald Fleming. In a period rife with social and political upheavals and conflicting ideologies as well as technological advancement and life-style changes, the study’s analysis aims to provide a broader understanding of the way in which decorators proactively negotiated such conditions and presented a cultural and aesthetic response to modernity through the diversity of their styles.

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