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Interior Design  
 
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Almost since its inception, the career of interior decoration and design has been strongly stereotyped, even caricatured, as "gay." Male interior decorators are often assumed to be gay, and the field of interior design itself is so closely associated with gay men as to encourage straight men and closeted gay men alike to avoid association with it.

Although this stereotype often invites ridicule, and may even arise from prejudice, it also stems from a cultural perception that gay men have special skills in the area of artistic design and fashion trends. As with other such careers, fashion design and hairdressing, for example, there may be some truth to the stereotype, though gay men hardly have a monopoly on "pink collar" professions.

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Less encumbered by the need to prove masculinity, gay men may be more likely to demonstrate interest and talent in the area of interior design than insecure straight men. Interior decoration may also be attractive to because it is one of a handful of occupations that were welcoming to recognizably gay men even during the most repressive eras.

Emergence as an Independent Discipline

Although interior design did not become an independent discipline until the nineteenth century, people's lives have always been lived inside the houses, religious centers, and other buildings that make up their communities, and the design of those interiors has reflected the ways their lives were lived. Throughout the centuries, changes in the design of the interiors of human structures have echoed the changes in daily life in different time periods and cultures.

Interior design emerged as a decorative art form during the late 1800s, when families made newly rich by the Industrial Revolution wanted to design lavish homes without the generations of upper-class training to do it. They began hiring decorators to tell them what was fashionable and pleasing in home décor. Many of these first decorators were members of the social set who had stylish taste but needed to supplement their incomes.

By the end of the nineteenth century, home décor became a regular subject in magazines, especially those aimed at women. But despite the target audience, many of the articles prescribing good taste were written by homosexual men.

Among the shocking affectations of (male) dandies and aesthetes was their unabashed interest in interior decoration and objets d'art. On his tour to North America, for example, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) lectured on "The House Beautiful" and "The Decorative Arts." While a college student, he is reported to have said "I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china." He later became editor of The Woman's World, which included discussions of interior decoration as well as fashion, arts, politics, culture, and parenting.

This concern with an aesthetic ideal that included decorative arts and beautiful surroundings was influenced by the writing of Walter Pater (1839-1894) and came to characterize both the aesthetic and decadent movements. It also helped shape the popular notion of homosexual consciousness as it emerged in the crucial final decades of the nineteenth century.

Relationship to Other Disciplines

Even after interior design emerged as an independent discipline, it remained closely allied with other professions, such as architecture, cabinetry, and furniture making. Hence, it is no accident that some of the earliest individuals who identified as interior designers or decorators were also architects and furniture designers, such as the eighteenth-century French design team and life partners Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre Fontaine (1762-1853).

In fact, many leading architects have been accomplished interior designers, as in the cases of twentieth-century architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson (1906-2005), both of whom designed and decorated many of their signature buildings, envisioning their projects as not merely external structures but also as organic wholes, their interest often extending to the smallest elements of decoration.

Julia Morgan (1872-1957), the architect of William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon, was similarly involved in all aspects of the massive project she oversaw, collaborating with a small army of artisans and decorators. She even purchased art and antiques for the complex.

Conversely, Eileen Gray (1878-1976), Irish-born lesbian, earned fame as a furniture and rug designer before turning to architecture. In 1922, she opened a London furniture gallery, Jean Désert, that also offered decorating services. In 1924, she began designing houses and by 1930 was devoting most of her time to architecture. Her houses are mostly spare and elegant residences in France; they are admired by architectural historians for their purity of design and attention to detail, including their interior decoration.

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Nate Berkus, interior designer and host of The Nate Berkus Show. Photograph by Greg Hernandez.
  
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