Interior design is the result of a range of designed elements being brought together to produce an orchestrated space. Just as the interior spaces that accommodate much of our lives are designed, so the sensory experiences we have in those spaces are also designed, whether by professionals or by householders. Some interiors are put together with all of the senses in mind, while others prioritise one sense over the rest, for example in appealing to the eye. This presentation will examine a variety of ways in which interior designers, mediators and consumers accommodate and stimulate the sense of touch.
Landmark examples of designers’ appeal to the hand range from Adolf Loos’ furry bedroom for Lina Loos, to the smooth plastic curves favoured by Charles and Ray Eames, Verner Panton and, latterly, Karim Rashid, and are demonstrated too in the ubiquitous Monobloc chair.
Design mediators such as retailers, curators and journalists are well aware of the importance of touch in both promoting and understanding designed objects and interiors. For instance, a 2019 retrospective exhibition of Charlotte Perriand’s work encouraged visitors to sit on her furniture to experience of its ergonomic excellence, while texture has been emphasised by writers and editors such as Ilse Crawford and Michelle Ogundehin, as an antidote to the visuality of the interior design press.
Users/consumers identify affordances unanticipated by designers; we use tables as chairs, benches as tables, chairs as ladders. We fondly use familiar furnishings long after their ostensible lifespans have expired. The habitation practices of visually impaired people demonstrate how we learn to inhabit our interiors using touch sense-memory, reaching out for the expected door knob, stair rail, drawer and light pull, and the soft cushion, flock wallpaper, leather seat.
By foregrounding touch in design ideation or production, mediation and consumption, this presentation offers an alternative to interior design histories which focus exclusively on eye appeal.