Looking-beyond-seeing : imagining the interior designs of Oliver Hill

Vanden Berghe, Vanessa (2021) Looking-beyond-seeing : imagining the interior designs of Oliver Hill. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


During the interwar period in Britain, a variety of journals and magazines – such as The Architectural Review, Ideal Home, Country Life, Vogue and The Studio – rapidly increased the dissemination of well-photographed, seductive images of newly-built architecture and newly-designed interiors. These mediated images remain largely undervalued in the study of the modern interior. Looking-beyond-Seeing: Imagining the interior designs of Oliver Hill (1886–1968) starts from the premise that these interior designs, although no longer available to us in any physical form, can, with validity, be assessed through their representation in the contemporary press. As the first in-depth study assessing the interiors of Hill, this thesis creates a paradigm for the analysis of his material and immaterial design strategies which can be used much more widely to study the mediated modern interior. This thesis uses an analysis of the interactions between the interior-as-space and the interior-as-staged, as observed in the published image, to expand our understanding of the way in which the interior was consumed during the 1920s and 1930s. This approach seeks to offer an extended view of what contemporary British audiences saw, and how they were invited to see and experience those interiors. This research also seeks to move beyond our understanding of the image as a two-dimensional representation. By combining our reading of the two-dimensional image with knowledge obtained from archival study, secondary literature and the contemporary press, we can add layers of knowledge to the mediated image. Emphasising the surface of the photograph as a boundary which can be crossed allows this research to engage with concepts of interiority and atmosphere. Indeed, these methods of Looking-beyond-Seeing allow for an analysis beyond the issue of style, and permit an examination of the immaterial qualities of the space in which the iv objects and furnishings occur. It also, as will be argued, help the viewer to get a closer understanding of Hill’s multi-sensory design approach, even when it is no longer physically feasible to enter the space. Looking-beyond-Seeing allows for an active engagement with the interior in which the connections between what is visible and what is not are developed to provide a more complete experience of the space.

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