Home Furnishing Careers Background
The home furnishings industry consists of three general areas: interior design, furniture, and silverware and other craftware items. While most of today’s furnishings are designed to be practical and comfortable, many also achieve a unique level of style and beauty. In general, home furnishings can be seen from four different perspectives: function (the purpose it serves), status (the wealth or class it represents), technology (its quality of construction and innovation), and aesthetics (the statement it makes about the owner’s personality and taste).
People have been beautifying their living areas since the dawn of civilization. Wall paintings created by prehistoric cave dwellers in Lascaux, France, for example, have been traced back to 15000 BC. While their purpose is unknown, the drawings show how early humans integrated the concept of design into their culture. Similarly, furniture design has been common since 3000 BC, when Egyptians, Assyrians, Mesopotamians, and other Mediterranean cultures flourished.
Throughout the centuries, developments made in architecture have been matched by designs in furniture, windows, glassware, and all sorts of other objects commonly found in homes and places of business. Many artisans who designed these furnishings became well known in their day, and some are still held in esteem today. Paul Revere, for example, is highly regarded for the beauty of his designs as a silversmith. Louis Comfort Tiffany, a stained glass designer in the early 1900s, popularized the use of stained glass for lamps, windows, and doors.
Interior design, furniture, and craftware did not formally emerge as modern industries until the great upsurge in advertising at the beginning of the 20th century. Advertising created a need for home furnishings by artisans who could create objects and interior atmospheres that were, at the same time, practical, functional, and beautiful.
Interior Design Careers
Throughout history, individuals have added personal touches of decoration to their homes. Until recently, however, interior design and decoration were the privilege of only the wealthy. Artists like Michelangelo were employed to beautify stately homes and other buildings, and kings sometimes initiated particular decorating trends in their palaces.
By the mid-19th century, many people could afford attractive homes, as well as the furnishings needed to adorn them. Few, however, knew how to achieve the beauty that they desired for their houses. By the late 1800s, specialists, including upholsterers, architects, cabinetmakers, and antiques dealers, emerged to offer expertise on interior decoration. Elsie de Wolfe was the first person to actually practice interior design as a separate profession in 1905. It wasn’t, however, until the 1950s that the design revolution really began.
The growth of modern industry has strongly influenced the interior designer’s profession. In particular, mass production has allowed for the large-scale manufacture of furniture, fabrics, carpeting, and other decorating materials. In addition, the development of computer technologies has made it possible for interior design professionals to create sample designs for their clients to see.
Most interior designers working in the United States today are either self-employed or working at organizations with fewer than five employees. Today’s designers create various atmospheres in homes, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, theaters, stores, offices, and other buildings. Working with architects, general contractors, and a variety of other industry specialists, they help clients select equipment and fixtures, colors, and materials.
The first furniture dates back to the Stone Age, a discovery reflected by the built-in benches and sleeping spaces found in a Neolithic house at Skara Brae, Orkney, off the northwestern coast of Scotland. Furniture pieces were also found among the treasures stored in Egyptian tombs, giving archaeologists great insight into the character of Egyptian culture.
Knowledge of classical Greek furniture was obtained from Greek writings. Although some of these pieces may have been modeled after Egyptian furniture, Greek pieces were consistently lighter and more delicate. Similarly, Roman furniture was first copied from the Greeks, but as the Roman Empire expanded so did the function and decoration of its furniture. Comparatively little is known about the furniture pieces of other civilizations of the past and it was assumed they were probably made of wood, brick, or cloth that deteriorated over time.
Actual specimens from pre-14th century Europe are scarce. The period from about AD 1000 to 1200 was known as Romanesque and was characterized by simplified interpretations of the Greco-Roman designs. Following the Romanesque period, furniture pieces were created to match the various architectural styles of the time. From the 12th century through the 1600s, these styles included Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque.
In America, the Pilgrim style of furniture, which was popular from 1650 to 1690, naturally reflected the style of the immigrants’ English roots. The Pilgrims brought only a few pieces of furniture over to America with them. As a result, furniture making was an early and flourishing industry in the colonies.
Furniture making in America was considered a craft until the late 1700s, since furniture was still being produced in small woodworking shops. During the early part of the Victorian period, however, furniture making gradually shifted from individual craftspeople in small shops to large factories, where steam-powered tools allowed for mass production.
Furniture manufacturing became an important industry. The Midwestern United States served as the chief furniture manufacturing area because the region had an abundant supply of hardwoods and was located near water transportation routes. Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the most famous furniture center in the United States. The first furniture factory in Grand Rapids was opened in 1848 by cabinetmaker William Haldane. Other factories soon opened in that city, and artisans from Europe were drawn there, bringing their ideas and expertise and adding to the quality of the furniture produced.
Mass production greatly influenced the furniture of the early 20th century. The Bauhaus School, founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, set out to unify architecture and furniture and relate them to the techniques of mass production. The Bauhaus perspective, which emphasized functional forms and modern materials, did much to change the focus of American designers.
The Midwest remained the primary furniture manufacturing region in the United States until the end of World War II, when the Southern states took the lead. The Midwest now produces about 20 percent of the American furniture market, while the South manufactures more than 50 percent.
The creation of today’s furniture requires a wide array of materials, including wood, aluminum, chromium, and stainless steel. While furniture manufacturing is highly mechanized, custom-crafted pieces continue to be in demand.
People have used an interesting variety of eating utensils throughout the ages. Dishes, flatware, and cutlery of all kinds have been made of wood, bone, stone, volcanic glass, shell, and a variety of metals, including silver, tin, gold, pewter, and stainless steel.
Shells were probably the first rudimentary spoons. Primitive forks were just sticks with sharpened ends. And the first knives, sharpened with bone, wood, or stone, were used not only for cutting food but for warfare as well. By the Middle Ages, eating utensils became ornately decorated and more functionally developed according to each of their individual uses.
By the mid-18th century, flatware looked roughly as it does now, with matching metal spoons and forks in standard patterns. From about 1750 to 1880, Sheffield plate was a popular kind of metalware. It was used mainly for knife handles and hollowware—hollow vessels, such as bowls, creamers, teapots, pitchers, cups, and trays.
With the invention of electroplating in the mid-18th century, the silverware industry experienced enormous growth in the United States. The process, which involves coating inexpensive metals with silver, gold, or other expensive materials, became a common method for manufacturing attractive flatware and hollowware.
Today, 60 different kinds of workers participate in the manufacture of silverware, transforming a variety of metals into contemporary pieces. Regardless of the metals used, many of the steps in the silverware manufacturing process are basically the same.