The Art of Setting the Stage: Designing the Familiar and the Uncanny
Featured Image: The set design model for David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs tour. Photo: courtesy The Victoria & Albert Museum.
A quick Google of the term ‘home interiors and design’ will bring about an overwhelming number of results. From courses – certificates, online courses, BA, Master’s – to amateur and professional advice on best practices. Before unpacking this, let’s take a look at the definitions of interior and stage design.
Interior design is the art of creating a visually – and hopefully physically – enjoyable environment for those designated to use the space. The interior designer has a multifaceted role, as they are in charge of the entire concept, mood planning, furniture selection and space allocation, accessories, wall colours and more. They’re also in charge of liaising with the builders and construction team to help them refine and execute their design.
Stage design, also sometimes referred to as scenic design or scenography, is the creation of a film, television or theatrical set where the actors or artists perform. Stage or set design play a crucial role in giving the production the desired atmosphere, setting the tone, and driving the artistic direction.
However, designing a space isn’t solely limited to theatrical productions, film, or your home. Virtually any space, from commercial to residential, can benefit from the use of a designer.
Museums, for example, hire exhibition designers, hospitals call upon space designers that carefully strategise the ergonomics of the space, even sports facilities and stadium or concert halls, train stations and airports — the vast majority of these spaces are built with design and functionality in mind. Each space tends to have its very own particularity, codes and intent.
So, when did interior and stage design start, and who was the very first designer to work their magic? To find the roots of this wonderful practice, we’ll have to go back all the way to ancient India, where the architect took on the role of interior design. Indian mythology has a God that is referred to as the divine architect, Vishwakarma. Similarly, Egyptians had “soul houses” placed in their tombs — they would make offerings for the soul in the afterlife. The columns, doors, and window styles would evolve from one dynasty to another, not only from an architectural perspective but also from a stylistic one. The first documented interior wall painting dates back to Scotland, 5,000 years ago. Of course, ancient Rome, too, dabbled in interior design, bringing furniture and fabrics to the forefront of creating interior spaces.
In the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, we see a real shift toward the design of the home and the creation of professions such as upholsterers, (commercial) painters, and other craftsmen that helped execute and uphold a designer’s creative vision.
The key goal for the designer is to set a mood for the room(s) and the environment they are creating. It is all about the ambience, the style, picking the right colour, the perfect furniture, the complementary accessories that will create a balance and enhance the overall architecture.
Certainly, this subject hasn’t evaded TV shows. Virtually every country has their own version of ‘Homes Under the Hammer’, or whatever home makeover show you can think of — Million Dollar Decorators, Martha Stewart Living, Fixer Upper, Hidden Potential, Design Star and Marie Kondo Tidying Up, to name a few. Thus, it is fair to say that you’ll probably find a show out there that suits you and your needs for interior inspiration. If makeover TV shows aren’t your cup of tea, fear not! There’s always coffee table books, historic and technical books, and a vast array of beautiful and glossy interior magazines that will help you. After all, the global interior design service industry is predicted to reach an eye-popping 7 billion dollars of revenue by 2027.
The key things that one shouldn’t underestimate when it comes to set and interior design are trends – a general direction or current (and past) fashion, as well as the importance of colour. Trends are relatively straightforward – these are things that used to be or are currently “en vogue”. When it comes to colour, it is vital to understand its impact in all its ways (psychologically and visually). Colours can positively or negatively affect a person, creating a calm, cheerful, dramatic, or energising effect. They are also an integral part of various trends. A combination of colours can have a huge impact on the perception of a room, making it look bigger to make it feel claustrophobic. On that note – are you familiar with the Pantone colour of the year? In 2021, not one but two colours have been chosen: PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray + PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating.
The way people interact with spaces is another crucial component for designers to keep in mind. Human behaviour needs to be understood in order to create a functional space. It is also key in set design where lighting and camera, as well as the crew, need to be taken into account. From the aesthetics to the requirements around health and safety – designers are skilled at understanding much more than how to make a space look pretty. They must be well-versed in collaborating with others, as they work alongside an array of other professionals, from architects to structural engineers and contractors.
Interior and set design are both art forms as complex as many others, which help keep us on our toes and awe us perpetually. We appreciate the challenging work and artisanship that goes into this popular, ever-present form of art, and we can only hope to see and marvel at more remarkable works.
Of course, setting the stage is deeply important, and this is why we thought of introducing you to some of our community members that are well versed in this art, from designing interior to a freaky haunted house!
Mohammed Al-Buraiki has several tricks up his sleeve: he’s a polyglot and an interior architect who has worked in the design field since 2016. What Mohammed appreciates most about the process of designing is the fact that he is constantly learning and bettering himself. He has the soul of a traveller, which helps keep him endlessly inspired.
Based in rural Alaska, Zoe Ellis is a multimedia artist. She has been drawing since her childhood and now specialises in scenic artistry and digital painting. Specialising in fine art, character portraits and theatre paintings, Zoe is an artist with an impressive portfolio and wide-ranging skills, which she’s always looking to improve.
Experimental installation and theatrical scenic artist Sam Huff currently works as the Lead Artist for Keen Designs Inc. She has worked for several institutions across the US, such as Six Flags Atlanta Over Georgia and Lowry Park Zoo. Her installations and art experiences explore space in innovative ways and create a deep and dynamic relationship between the spectator and the artwork.
Latvian artist Ilze Krastina is not only an interior design enthusiast, but she is also a fan of wall and canvas painting. With a keen interest in colours and textures, Ilze knows how to create a cosy and sensual atmosphere, whether it be for barbershops, cafe gardens or family houses. Full of colours and shapes, her art is related to nature, sensuality, and dreams in all forms.
Mariana Nelson Mariana Nelson is a TV set designer. Among her wide-ranging skills, Mariana practices 3D sketches, scenography and disassembly control and even scenography construction plans. Since 2008, she has been teaching scenography subjects as a University Professor. Her portfolio includes incredible TV set design for TV channels like Utilisima, Gourmet and Panamericana TV Perú.
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