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History of Interior Design & Furniture: From Ancient Egypt to Nineteenth-Century Europe / Edition 2

History of Interior Design & Furniture: From Ancient Egypt to Nineteenth-Century Europe / Edition 2

by Robbie G. Blakemore


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780471464334
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 11/29/2005
Edition description: REV
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 8.82(w) x 11.08(h) x 1.15(d)

About the Author

ROBBIE G. BLAKEMORE, PhD, is Professor Emeritus of The University of Tennessee at Knoxville. A nationally known scholar of interior design, she is a two-time winner of the Outstanding Educator Award in Interior Design at The University of Tennessee, as well as numerous other grants and awards. She is also a member of the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC). She has taught interior design at The Ohio State University, Florida State University, University of Illinois, and Michigan State University.

Read an Excerpt

History of Interior Design & Furniture

By Robbie G. Blakemore

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-46433-3

Chapter One

Egypt c. 3200-341 B.C., Dynasties I-XXX


The Nile River was the life-giving geographic feature that allowed ancient Egypt to attain its height of artistic development in the dynastic periods from around 3200 B.C. to 341 B.C.; the river flows north about 900 kilometers from Upper Egypt to Lower Egypt, where it empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

This artery of fertile land in the Nile River Valley is bounded on the east by the Arabian Desert and the Red Sea and on the west by the Libyan Desert. Although it is an arid country with little rainfall, the fertility of the land is replenished regularly each year by silt deposits resulting from annual summer floods (July to September) due to the spring rains in the uplands of Ethiopia. In addition to the benefits for agricultural production, the river was critical in ancient times for transportation of indigenous building materials, communication, and trade with other regions. Timber suitable for furniture production and building construction was not widely available in ancient Egypt; what was available was small and importation was essential. Due to the limited local supply Egyptians became proficient in using short lengths of wood as extensions. Imported timbers used in building construction included cedar, pine, fir, and cypress. Information on the Palermo Stone of around 2613 B.C. reveals that in the reign of Sneferu, 60 ships were constructed and sent to the Syrian coast for cedar. Structurally, the Egyptians needed large timbers to construct their large-scale buildings; consequently, they cut trees in Lebanon and transported the logs to Egypt. Imported woods that figured prominently in furniture construction or decoration included ash, yew, ebony, elm, boxwood, and linden. Although small in dimension, acacia, palm, and sycamore were available locally and were used for house construction; when a palm tree was past fruit-bearing age, it was used for beams of houses. Local vegetation served as a source of inspiration for decorative schemes for both architecture and furniture design, often with symbolic connotations.

The most prevalent building material for small-scale structures (as houses and palaces) was the mud of the Nile, since it was economical and easy to use without advanced tools. Frequently mud was the covering for the pliable reeds and rushes that were interwoven and plastered to form wattle-and-daub construction. Other uses of the mud were to form solid mud walls or bricks. Brick made from the clay was sun-dried, although the Egyptians had the technical knowledge to produce glazed tile as early as the First Dynasty (3200-2980 B.C.). Monumental architecture (temples, funerary structures, military installations) was the product of stone, which was abundant.

The enormous scale of the monuments was due to the nature of the material and the methods of excavating the stone blocks, transporting them, and lifting the blocks into position. The quantity and variety of stone available in Egypt meant that granite, sandstone, limestone, and alabaster were preferred over basalt, quartzite, and schist. Both wood and stone were used in trabeated construction (synonymously termed post-and-beam or post-and-lintel construction), in which uprights (posts) support horizontal members (beams or lintels). The proximity of the posts is related to the tensile and compressive strength of the spanning material. For example, stone is high in compressive strength but limited in tensile strength; and to span great distances without intermediate vertical support a material must have high tensile strength; therefore, to compensate for the limited tensile strength of this spanning material, stone posts need to be placed close together, although some authorities believe that the Egyptians overcompensated in this regard. The forest of columns that characterizes the interiors of monumental architecture is a function of the strengths and limitations of the building material. The same interruptions of interior space by columns also characterized wood structures, although this depended on the size of the spaces to be spanned.

The character of ancient Egyptian exterior and interior architecture was also influenced by a climate in which there was minimal rainfall, intense sunlight, and little variation in temperature. These conditions led to architectural features that fostered indoor-outdoor relationships, including flat roofs, porticoes and loggias, windows placed high in the wall and roof ventilators to direct air to the innermost rooms, and open interior courts. The Egyptians of the period believed in life after death and placed objects of daily use in tombs for use in the hereafter. This aspect of culture, together with the arid climate, is largely responsible for our knowledge about and the preservation of ancient Egyptian art and architecture.

Motivation for most architectural monuments (as tombs and temples) was rooted in religious belief. Religion was, however, highly complex, since the system of belief was not uniform. In practice, Egyptian religion was polytheistic. Gods were associated with specific towns or regions. When one town perceived the greater power of another town's deity, its residents sometimes combined its attributes with those of one of their own gods. Thus a single religious tenet could be embodied in several deities with disparate external appearance. New deities emerged when the attributes of existing ones were combined. Gods might represent celestial bodies, depict human or animal forms, or portray a combination of human and animal features. Gods were the focus of specific temples, represented through reliefs and paintings in all types of architecture, and delineated in furniture design and other decorative arts.

Badawy draws a parallel between the tripartite spatial arrangement of the cult temple with that of domestic architecture. Sequentially, from the entrance, the temple characteristically comprised the following spaces: (1) the pylon and courtyard, often with a portico, (2) a hall in which the ceiling or roof was supported by columns, termed hypostyle, and (3) the naos, or sanctuary, which contained the statue of the god. Correspondingly, the house spaces included: (1) the reception vestibule, (2) a columned central living hall, and (3) bedroom. From the entrance to the rear, spaces became accessible to fewer people, and more private. In the case of the temple, only the priest responsible for the cult ritual could enter the naos. For commemorative purposes, household stelae were often erected in honor of the popular household god Bes, who was depicted as a dwarf with features that are part human and part animal (tail, mane, and ears of a lion).

Egyptian society was highly stratified. At the top of the hierarchal scale was the pharaoh, or king, whose powers were divine and who represented god on earth. Along with the king, princes and those who could trace their origins to the royal family wielded political power at this level. From his position of wealth and power the pharaoh was committed to such undertakings as promoting trade, protecting his country, and supporting crafts and encouraging the arts. Judging by the depictions of crafts activities in wall paintings and sculptures, handicrafts were highly esteemed by the ancient Egyptians, who were skilled in many media including metal, fiber, glass, and clay. However, these craftsmen, along with the peasants, were at the lower echelon of society. The middle class comprised priests, mayors, provincial governors, administrators, and high executive officials. These class distinctions were reflected in the decor and the size of a house, its number of rooms, the materials used, and the density of structures in cities. The residences of richer citizens were at times in walled enclosures with specialized outbuildings.

It is evident that a number of factors influenced design in this ancient setting. These included the Nile River and its vegetation, technology (materials and construction techniques), climate, religion, and social hierarchy. During the dynastic periods of ancient Egypt one or a combination of the foregoing factors affected spatial relationships, interior architecture, and furniture design.


From pictorial evidence, excavations, and models of houses placed in tombs it is possible to ascertain the evolution of typical space configurations of the dynastic periods. Pictorial documentation (as paintings on tomb walls) gives information as to the number of stories in structures, the functional use of spaces, and interior architectural features, while excavations attest to the size of spaces and room relationships and illustrate the differences among various classes of citizens. The pottery models furnish more information about exterior architectural features; their significance is especially important in illustrating those characteristics that influenced the interior. Termed soul houses, the clay models were placed in tombs as receptacles for food offerings. From these it is possible to discern details about ventilation, porticoes, columns, loggias, windows, and doors.

Spatial Features of the Floor Plan and Three-Dimensional Spatial Characteristics

These documentary sources largely confirm that stylistic features characterizing domestic architecture throughout the dynastic periods were established during the Old Kingdom (c. 3200-2270 B.C.). Variations occurred according to the economic and social status of the owner, but there seem to be underlying principles of organization resulting from the influence of climate, religion, and the functional uses and adjacencies of spaces. The similarities and differences can be observed in: (1) a craftsman's house (Figure 1-1) at Deir el Medina built during the Eighteenth Dynasty (1580-1314 B.C.) for the men working on the Necropolis, (2) a country villa (Figure 1-2) at Tell el-Amarna constructed in the New Kingdom (1580-1085 B.C.), and (3) a large urban mansion for a high official (Figure 1-3) in El Lahun (or Kahun), a temporary town for workmen and officials who were building the pyramid for a pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom (2131-1785 B.C.).

Bright sunshine, intense heat, little rainfall, and prevailing breezes were climatic factors responsible for features in each of the aforementioned residences. These factors are reflected in stylistic characteristics that were conducive to indoor-outdoor activities-the flat roof, portico, loggia, and open forecourt, and the fact that there were few windows. Since a pitched roof was unnecessary to repel rain and, therefore, not essential for the arid climate of Egypt, flat roofs were appropriately used for cooking, storage, and relaxation; the country villa incorporates a loggia, a roofed gallery (here at the upper level overlooking an open court) which functioned as another space for relaxation (see Figure 1-2). Originating near the central hall of the villa, a stair with landings ascends to the roof, while a single flight from the kitchen is used in the craftsman's house. Not only were the portico and its associated court conducive to indoor-outdoor endeavors but also the orientation toward the north or northwest took advantage of the prevailing breeze. A portico, a roofed porch upheld by columns, became a widespread, distinctive feature of affluent, middle-class houses by the Middle Kingdom, having been a royal symbol during the Old Kingdom (Figure 1-4).

A commonality among houses of all classes was the use of the tripartite plan, which included reception rooms, a central hall or living room, and the private area. Of these functional areas, the ceiling of the central hall was typically higher than that of adjacent rooms. This allowed the incorporation of windows placed high in the wall, termed clerestory windows; since the roof level of this central hall rose above contiguous roof surfaces, the relative position of a clerestory window was between two roof levels (see Figures 1-1 and 1-2). This allowed light to penetrate the innermost spaces and provided ventilation to counter the intensity of heat from the very brilliant sun. Directed to capture the prevailing breeze, ventilators placed on the roof were another means by which light and air could enter the house.

The craftsman's residence, a one-story structure of 75 square meters, was organized on a longitudinal axis wherein each room opened directly from the preceding space. The bedroom was flanked by one small corridor leading from the central hall to the kitchen (see Figure 1-1). Beginning with the reception room, which was below street level, each rectangular space was ascended by one or two steps; therefore, the rooms with the lowest ceilings were the bedroom and kitchen. Based on an analysis of ruins, as well as other documentary evidence, it has been concluded that changes in both floor and ceiling levels were typical. The ceiling of the central hall rose above adjacent rooms. In this plan, starting with the reception room, each room is raised by one or two steps.

Rooms of small dwellings had more functional demands than larger residences and typically were more economical in terms of space and materials. While the craftsman's residence may be representative of spatial arrangements for this type of house, the activities which took place in each space would have varied from house to house. The reception room sometimes housed animals, served as a work room for craft activities, or functioned as a food preparation area. This room also at times contained a platform used as an altar to the god Bes. In the adjacent central or main hall, primary living activities of the household took place. This main hall was usually the loftiest space in a dwelling and, depending on its size, had one or more columns. A built-in dais was often used as a divan on which mats or rugs were placed. The part religion played in the lives of Egyptians in this period is attested to by the fact that, here too, a stela served as a commemorative shrine in the false door. The kitchen at the rear of the house was provided with an oven and other food preparation equipment. Leading from here were stairways giving access to a cellar for storage and to the roof for outdoor activities or for storage; in some small residences the stairway originated in the reception room.

Outside of the towns, where land was not at a premium, more space could be devoted to the country villa, with its walled enclosure and dependencies; chapel, granaries, kitchens, storerooms, chariot house, servants' quarters, and stables are examples of typical dependencies within the walled enclosure but which were not necessarily under the roof of the residence (see Figure 1-2). The wealth and social position of the owner are reflected in the spatial arrangement of the villa with its ancillary units. Compared to residences of owners lower on the socioeconomic scale, greater complexity is evident not only in the floor plan but also in three-dimensional spatial features.

The sequencing of rooms followed the norm in which a tripartite arrangement begins with the reception spaces and is followed by the great hall or living room and private section. Two reception rooms served as a transition to the living room from the porch; however, as was often the case, another reception room was included on the west side of the house. The central hall, square in plan, was a large space of approximately 169 square meters, with four columns to support the ceiling structure; the usual built-in furnishings were included in the form of a lustration slab, low dais, and a sunken brazier. It is surmised that the dais was used for family meals and for sitting during the day.

The master's private suite consisted of its own reception area accompanied by the master bedroom, other bedrooms (some used for the harem), a bathroom (equipped with a closestool), and an anointing room. At one end of the master bedroom the room narrowed to form an alcove for the bed, set on a dais. Comparatively isolated, other bedrooms for guests were accessed from the two-columned reception room.


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Table of Contents


1. Egypt, c. 3200–341 B.C.

2. Greece, 500–30 B.C.

3. Rome, 509 B.C.–A.D. 476.

4. Middle Ages, 1150–1550.

5. Italian Renaissance, 1460–1600.

6. French Renaissance, 1450–1600.

7. English Renaissance, 1500–1660.

8. Italian Baroque, 1600–1700.

9. French Baroque, 1600–1715.

10. English Baroque, 1660–1702.

11. French Rococo, 1700–1760.

12. Early Georgian, England, 1715–1760.

13. Early French Neoclassic, 1760–1789.

14. Early English Neoclassic, 1770–1810.

15. Late French Neoclassic, 1789–1820.

16. Late English Neoclassic, 1810–1830.

17. Nineteenth-Century French Revival Styles, 1815–1870.

18. Nineteenth-Century English Revival Styles, 1830–1901.


Visual Glossary.

Selected Bibliography.


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