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Interior Design: What is luxury?

In March, we had an Interior Design Social event where the topic of discussion was ‘What is luxury?’. 

Within interior design, there are definitely certain connotations when it comes to the idea of luxury. The most often association of luxury within interior design is expense. This can be realised in a variety of ways, such as the glitz and glamour of traditional palaces or in the solitary minimalism of contemporary spaces. But I wanted to recap and expand upon some of the ideas of luxury that were discussed by the group. Luxury can mean so many things to different perspectives. 

Fig. 2 Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Luxury is quality. 

Embedded in the initial discussions was that inherently, the perception of quality impacted the feeling of luxury or the absence of luxury. There’s a reason both the most ornamental of spaces and the most minimal of spaces can convey luxury. Materials and craftsmanship were considered one of the biggest factors in using quality to convey luxury. 

Natural stones, natural metals, and natural textiles were largely deemed to be quality materials that could help evoke an idea of luxury. Additionally, materials and craftsmanship that were easily damaged and inauthentic would diminish any sense of luxury otherwise. 

Take for example, this sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons. The forms depicted in the sculpture itself are detailed, alive with movement, and at a fairly grand scale. 

The original sculpture has ancient origins, excavated in Rome in the 1500s, and now on display within the Vatican Museums. It has been claimed as being one of, if not the, greatest works of art. 

A slightly stylised copy of the sculpture now exists within Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. The replicated version is in fact more complete as it is not missing the arms of the original antiquity. 

Yet there is no doubt a difference in perceived quality and luxury in the two pieces. 

Fig 3. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Fig 4. Berlinuno, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Luxury is experience. 

One of the most dominant opinions within the group discussion was that the feeling of luxury was very depending on the experience provided. 

It was agreed by students that if the experience made an end user feel like just a number, like they were just another one of the crowd, this did not inspire a feeling of luxury. On the other hand, feeling like an individual, like the experience was unique and tailored, this did inspire a feeling of luxury. 

One group started using commercial brands as examples of this idea of luxury quite brilliantly. Fast food restaurants that focus on efficiency and quantity quite literally will call their consumers as a number. Also, there is a uniformity within the interior design that certainly doesn’t suggest uniqueness or being tailored, even if it does create feelings of familiarity and comfort. 

More luxury brands on the other hand will invest in interiors that are unique and tailored to both their end users and the context of the space. There are certainly elements pushed to encourage branding consistency, but there is an individuality to the experience that quite effectively communicates luxury.   

Luxury is space and time.

Probably now more than ever, we can view luxury as the availability of space and time. Spaces that feel cramped are almost never perceived as luxurious. Even the psychological perception of space to move, breathe, and exist can inspire the feeling of luxury. 

Relatedly, there is time. In the group discussion, we looked at the simple example of a well-designed kitchen. A poorly designed kitchen will make someone’s life more difficult, make tasks take longer, and generally be inefficient in a variety of ways. The cost of time and energy subtracts any luxury within the kitchen design, even if it has the most expensive worktops and cabinets and the latest appliances. 

An interior designer can provide luxury in a way that doesn’t depend on the final finishes and the magazine-ready look. Instead, an interior designer can provide luxury through the careful thought and consideration of how their end user exists within the space. Design thinking in this way can provide time, comfort, and more that equates to an idea of luxury that moves far beyond those initial ideas of expense. 

This conversation led us to one of my favourite conclusions. 

Interior design requires empathy. Luxury can obviously be considered in a load of different ways. Ultimately though, understanding those different ways is how an interior designer can evoke luxury. Essentially, it will always be a matter of thinking about your end users empathetically. Considering their experience and how design can improve it can create luxury, no matter the space, place, etc. 

What have I missed? This is definitely not the longest blog post to get into the big topic of luxury within interior design. So what did I miss? What evokes luxury to you?

And what comes next? There are more Interior Design Social events planned; at the next ones we will be asking What is Comfort? and What is Stylish? Come along and join in, meet some of your fellow Interior Design students and talk about what Comfort and Style mean to you! Details can be found in the Group Work section of the Interior Design Department’s area on the OCA Learn site. Look forward to seeing you all there!

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Fig. 1 Photo by Sophie Louisnard on Unsplash

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Posted by author: Audrey Bardwell
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One thought on “Interior Design: What is luxury?

  • It’s so important to discuss our ideas and realise that different words have different meaning to each individual; as Interior Designers we need to be empathetic to others views – so determining what we ‘mean’ by certain ‘big’ words is a really important place to start. Thanks Audrey!

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