What is this new millennial world? It is a way of looking at life with a fresh perspective, unfettered and uncluttered. Ironically, the same attitude prevailed 100 years ago among artists and scholars who, like us today, found themselves caught up in a world of too much materialism.
Just as during the Victorian era, we have witnessed an excess of everything in the past decade or two. There are so many products from which to choose in every single aspect of our lives that it can become overwhelming. Too many things; too much stuff; too much information; too many choices—in retrospect, these might be considered the hallmarks of the late 20th century era we have just left. We likely will look back and realize that all the materialism combined to become tiresome, trite, without meaning and void of real beauty.
In my introductory interior design class at Brigham Young University, we discuss storage as a part of space planning. There are always more than 100 students per class and I ask them, "How many of you are savers of stuff? How many of you are throwers-away of stuff?" It is interesting to take this little straw poll, as I have seen a genuine shift in numbers over the years.
This past semester, only about five or six students raised their hands to say they were "savers of stuff." The vast majority has decided de-cluttering is a far better approach. Whereas those who survived the Great Depression often became adamant savers of everything, today we have middle-aged and younger consumers who have never wanted for the basic necessities of life and have never worried they may not be able to buy something tomorrow. The new attitude is not a condemnation of the "waste not, want not" philosophy, rather many of us are not wasting by not wanting in the first place. This does not mean we don't desire things of beauty, only that we are beginning to want less stuff.
Here's another historical perspective: 100 years ago, there was a prevailing philosophy, Victorian in origin, that if a little is good, a lot must be better. Thus we find no surface was left undecorated. Walls were patterned with large, ostentatious patterns that contrasted unpleasantly with large-patterned carpeting, sometimes overlaid with Oriental or bear skin rugs. Bric-a-brac or small accessories adorned what-not cabinets, and lace was overlaid with fringed velvet or printed cottons.
It was an age of accumulation. The nouveau riche felt that showing off was surely the way to show their wealth. In more recent eras our lives have paralleled this approach—more decoration is better.
I warn my bright and affluent students to realize there is much more to furnishing a room that adding ornamentation. They probably don't need to be told this, as only a few are enamored with the Victorian approach. Rather, their tastes fall into three general categories: good traditional with an eclectic twist (Queen Anne is out; New Neoclassic is in); contemporary versions of Arts & Crafts furnishings; and clean contemporary.
Here we will focus on the last trend, certainly one of the most exciting because it is the most revolutionary.
Contemporary in interior design does not necessarily mean Modern in style. Rather it means what is being done today. While there are contemporary versions of every existing style (such as contemporary traditional, contemporary Country French, contemporary ethnic and so on), this look focuses on contemporary cleanliness. And yes, this is closely aligned to the sleekness of mid-century Modern design.
First, a look at why the customer will want the clean contemporary style, as understanding a mindset is an important key to effective sales.
• The role of the computer and technology is the prime reason for a cleaner environment. It is not that we are looking for a cold environment to match the coldness of technology. Rather it is that the over-stimulation available with a click of the mouse on a personal computer must be balanced with an environment that is tactile, peaceful and comfortable.
• Our lives have become too busy and too demanding to do the physical work housekeeping ornate objects require. We also are too busy to use the fine silver and crystal except on very special occasions.
• Even among those with the money to do so, hired help has its disadvantages. While paying for the floors to be cleaned and the furniture dusted makes sense because it frees us from these rote tasks, having someone in your home too often is a burden in itself. Worry about security, theft and lack of privacy are overriding reasons to cut back on hiring help by cutting back on things that require manual upkeep.
• As a culture, we have been saturated for well over 100 years with the idea that consumption equals quality lifestyle to the point of being brainwashed. As we simplify our lives and free ourselves from the ball-and-chain of that philosophy, we will find beauty in the built environment far less restrictive.
• The "less is more" philosophy, also nearly 100 years old now, is finally sinking in. Fewer material possessions bring greater freedom to explore, to shut the door and leave on vacation or to escape, to let the mind soar, to enjoy the empty space. It also puts greater emphasis on the few items of furnishings we have, and this purity of focus is refreshing and undemanding.
• Simply put, we want quality, not quantity. As the home becomes more and more a place of work, rest, interaction with people and the Internet, it also becomes a place of sanctuary, peace, spirituality and enlightenment. For the first time we can custom-tailor our work spaces to be exactly what we want them to be, and the barriers between the home and the office can be as high, low or nonexistent as we desire. (More on this subject in D&WC's February 2000 issue.)
GETTING THE LOOK RIGHT
While there is no exact, right look for a clean contemporary interior, there are guidelines that will help us to create a final product that looks right. Use the following suggestions:
• Start with simple backgrounds. Use floors, walls and ceilings as backgrounds much as an artist begins with an empty canvas. We no longer are afraid of emptiness as a background. Smooth walls, subtly textured flooring, sleek alternative window treatments—hard or soft—are a must.
• Select items that are no-nonsense. There is simplicity of line plus an inherent quality of authenticity in each piece. If the item is wood, steel or textile, it is frankly exposed and utilized. Nothing is imitation; all is real.
• Few is better, but few must be quality. It is far more difficult to create an interior that is simple because each item must stand on its own, be scrutinized and pass the mark of great design and quality craftsmanship.
• Although smooth contrived lines of furniture and alternative window treatments form a background, there is much variety seen in the personalization of these clean contemporary interiors. Art forms will take the medium of sculpture and two-dimensional art, but also be seen in wall coverings, creative window treatments and the personalization of accessories.
• Colors will be either true neutrals or neutralized color (vastly stress-reducing), or we will see punches of vibrant color that is stimulating and exciting—perhaps matching the vivid color palette of the computer screen. However, the first approach is more livable for those who spend a lot of time on the Internet because our eyes and brains need a rest after peering intently at a complex screen with its often in-your-face approach.
• Overall, required upkeep will be minimal. Less to dust, less to store, less to worry about. Clean contemporary is liberating!
• Clean contemporary is creative. Both furniture and accessories can be selected for their unique lines, forms, comfort and textures. It is graphic yet simple; dynamic yet peaceful; clean yet fulfilling.
RETHINK, RETHINK, RETHINK
The clean contemporary look may be hard to accept for many clients who are over 40. We have been so brainwashed by the Victorian more-is-better philosophy, that our minds are set seriously to oppose this look. Many Baby Boomers remember the coldness of the mid-century Modern style and have vowed never to go there again.
If that is you, then to you I say, "Rethink this." Our younger clients love this look with its unrestricted interpretations. And perhaps at the top of your Millennial New Year's Resolution List, consider this one: "Computer technology is creating a brave new world. Be open-minded about its resulting impact on the styles of the new millennium."
Enjoy the journey!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.