by Patricia Cove

With the start of the new decade, there is no shortage of prognostication about where the future of design is headed. Much of it has been focused on the technological aspects of design and how it has allowed, and even encouraged,  a new and different approach to the design processes: The Do It Yourself method, commonly known as “DIY”.

The recession of 2008 caused a seismic shift in the way people approached design projects. That financial crisis made people realize that the funds they thought they had could easily disappear. Prior to this, studied interior design projects were not so much an extravagance but a formula to creating an interior that was personal and reflective of the owner’s tastes and passions. Following the crisis, specific design elements, coordinated upholstery and window treatments, in natural fabrics in complementary colors, seemed frivolous at best and foolish at worst.

Companies like Restoration Hardware capitalized on this direction, revved up their “barn style” décor and sent the message that anyone could have the look of the moment by simply buying their furniture, ditching their window treatments, and painting their walls gray. Best of all, their living room could look just like their neighbor’s. Yay!

Along with the appearance of web sites like Houzz and Pinterest, the die had been cast. Anyone could do it all on their own. In the years following, software was developed that allowed anyone to layout their own rooms digitally, as well as giving professional design firms the ability to spend much more time on room layouts and much less time on operations, communications and other “business” activities. According to the prognosticators, this trend is not going anywhere any time soon, but will advance even further.

Anyone can now download a “visualization” app where a room can be designed using virtual reality, as you “communicate” with your “virtual” designer, who may or may not be a real person, sitting in their pajamas somewhere in Las Vegas. According to one article, this will become the only way design will happen in the decade ahead. (Here is where I would place the cringing face emoji.)

Nearly 30 years of running an interior design firm make me wonder about the prudence of this direction. Technology focused design may certainly be beneficial to firms specializing in commercial projects, or lay persons who are more “end product” focused. But, truthfully, technology-based design simply cannot address the essential elements that are required for a successful design project for clients who truly want their surroundings to be reflective of their individual tastes and style, and one that speaks to them personally, rather than the cookie cutter design computer programs or specialty stores provide.

These sources can certainly convey a “concept,” but eliminating real communication, management and oversight by a professional is a recipe for disaster. It is the talking with the client, the management of the project and the oversight of every design elemen, that guarantees the money spent will result in the project imagined.

On the bright side, there are many positives ahead. Forecasters predict the return of much more comfortable rooms with warmer colors, window treatments that not only coordinate with the interior but complement the exterior views and patterns reminiscent of “old world” locations. Antiques, those once sought-after pieces that often make the room with their distinct patina, craftsmanship and individuality, are due for a comeback. Don’t sell that piece on eBay yet!

Customer service, a feature barely recognizable in the world of on-line shopping, may get better, with the operative word being “may.” And deliveries will become more streamlined. Yes, one forecaster sees your sofa being delivered by a drone. Try getting that one through your doorway!

Overall, I am cautiously optimistic. Technology is not going away. It can help visualize what a room could look like, but it cannot take the place of a professional who understands your love of mid-century modern, or the oversized armoire passed down from your great-grandmother, or why that color gray may end up looking yellow after the entire room is painted.

Happy New Year, and as Mario Buatta once said, “Let’s consider cabbage roses!”

Patricia Cove is Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill, and can be reached through her web site: Patricia@patriciacove.com.

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