Comfort or Fashion – can you have both?

Prompted by the media, the average household now gives more attention to the principles of interior design than ever before and we have a flourishing profession to implement the styles and fashions that the media endorse.

Is there maybe a chance that we now put style before comfort? Or indeed that we do not understand the real principles of comfort?

In cultural terms, there is no doubt that the amateur decorator will copy the professionals, relying on symmetry rather than inspiration and reproducing schemes that look smart and shiny in the magazine but do not necessarily translate into a comfortable living space. And of course, living spaces should be about comfort primarily; the elegance of the glossy magazine should provide inspiration rather than offering a blueprint.

Here is an interesting litmus test – when you walk into a strange room, is it not true that you automatically scan the space, partly out of curiosity but it is also a desire to establish what you will do, where in this new experience will you sit? Or read – or talk – or drink? These are decisions that, for your psychological comfort, should be dictated by the overall design, the arrangement of furniture and the control of lighting whether it be natural or artificial. So here I am discussing, not the deep comfort of the armchair, but the mental reassurance that can familiarise you spontaneously with an unfamiliar area.

Such reassurance is part of the brief of which any designer should be aware and indeed capable of encompassing. With the acceptance of his brief, the designer takes on a role similar to that of a film ‘director’ and his decisions will dictate how the room will be used. Design solutions should be comforting, rather than challenging.

The first experience of space may surprise and fascinate but if you hesitate in the doorway wondering what to do or where to sit, then the designer has failed in his role as interior director because he has not resolved the spatial problem for the users of the space.

Thus the fundamental issues to be addressed in a living area are spatial considerations and furniture layout; these issues are supported, but supported only, by lighting choices, colour distribution and textural interest. An individual chair, however comfortable, still requires a flat surface in reaching distance for a book, or a glass and in turn it requires an efficient light source if the purpose is for reading.

Two large low sofas with a coffee table between them will involve the discomfort of leaning awkwardly forward if you wish to use the table. Generous sofas look splendid but how practical in daily terms? One sofa is better balanced by chairs – people like to face one another when they converse. The requirements in any room must accommodate psychological as well as personal comfort. These are considerations that come as a priority and they are the challenges that must be met in the manipulation of space for the ultimate comfort of those who occupy it.

This analysis of the design process inevitably dictates that style follows practicality – if the basics are right, if the space answers the demands of use and comfort, then the choice of style becomes a final decision, serving to enhance the scheme in its finality.

Comfort and style, then, are compatible companions, but in a successful design comfort comes first and must be addressed from the psychological as well as the physical viewpoint. The addition of style to comfort translates practicality into the arena of culture and glamour so beloved by the media.

Fashion in itself is a much less serious consideration; fashion is fun; fashion is transitory; fashion is the twist in the cocktail!

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