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Inside Stories

April 06, 2022

New publication Universal Principles of Interior Design by creatives Chris Grimley and Kelly Harris Smith focuses on the fundamentals of interior decoration. Denna Jones traces a path through some of the essential elements

The Hero’s Journey is a universal story structure with clear steps from beginning to end, enabling storytellers to create endless thematic variations. The recently published book Universal Principles of Interior Design schematically and alphabetically guides the reader through ‘100 principles’ that range from Accessibility to Zones. Underlying each of these principles is storytelling: a pertinent concept at a time when people are realising the power of story-led experiential environments and how these spaces can assist positive mental health and happiness at home, worker satisfaction in the office, and enjoyable experiences in retail and hospitality spaces.

Universal Principles of Interior Design

Storytelling is concept 85 in the book. The authors describe this as ‘the creation of a narrative or journey of an environment through careful space and object planning’. Their historical reference for Storytelling is Aristotle’s (4th century BCE) seven-step persuasive rhetorical device. A more relevant analogy—particularly for domestic interior design—is The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell (1904–87). A guide for creators of literary and film narratives, the book is based on Campbell’s deep knowledge of global mythologies. Campbell guides readers through multiple steps and three stages: departure, initiation, return. Discovery underpins his framework, and reflects the aspiration of many 21st-century interior designers to discover and then showcase their discoveries.

Hand-tufted 100% New Zealand wool rug designed by Jaime Hayon in celebration of Nanimarquina’s 30th anniversary, installed in a Paris. Photographer: Teri Bocko

The golden rule of writing —’show, don’t tell’—instructs writers to use sensory stimulation and action to create an immersive experience for the reader. A scroll through interior hashtags on Instagram reveals a desire to show rather than to literally tell the story behind the object and designs we discover and choose for our homes. The ultimate narrative—or path—our design choices create is called ‘The Red Thread’ (concept 74).

Borrowed from the Nordic countries, the metaphor describes the recurrence or repetition of elements throughout an interior—colour, objects, materials, etc.—and how repetition creates a unifying ‘red thread’. Borrowed from Greek mythology, the metaphor refers to the hero’s journey of Theseus who unwinds red thread as a wayfinding device as he navigates the confusing corridors of the labyrinth of the half-man, half-bull Minotaur. Classical visual representations of the Minotaur’s lair are unicursal: a simple ‘folded’ corridor with no dead ends or branches to confuse the hero on his quest for the beast. But the ‘real’ mythological labyrinth was multicursal, with multiple confusing corridors. The lesson of the Red Thread is to avoid multicursal and focus on a unicursal path that will create harmony (concept 40).

Universal Principles of Interior Design – Finishes

The objects that almost effortlessly assist story and Red Thread narratives are handmade rugs and textiles. A literal example is the Red Thread rug collection created in 2014 by interior designer Staffan Tollgård, whose ethos is ‘finding the red thread in life’. A non-literal example is the mid-century Hollywood Hills home of a young American actress. Each room in her home (kitchen and walk-in closets too) is anchored (concept 6) by antique and semi-antique hand-knotted rugs. The rich materiality (concept 54) of her rug choices— from tribal to Persian—is amplified by design and colour. As an ensemble they create a cohesive story and a compelling Red Thread.

Universal Principles of Interior Design – Color Theory

Combining Campbell’s journey, Story, and Red Thread with other concepts found in this book—everything from layering (concept 51) to colour (multiple entries)—is an achievable way to become the design hero of your own home. The world outside our front doors is challengingly multicursal; our homes need to be safe havens. When we refer to the linked concepts presented in this book to design our interiors, we will be well on the path to achieving harmony, which alongside love is at the heart of a happy home. 

Universal Principles of Interior Design by Chris Grimley and Kelly Harris Smith. Rockport Publishers Inc., £28 www.kellyharrissmith.com

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