Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Art History

First Advisor

Dr. Robert Hobbs


During the first decades of the twentieth century, Americans grappled with the idea of what it meant to be a modern society. As in other periods and places, arts, architecture and design played a significant role in expressing and exploring the issues and concerns of the day. In the period 1930 to 1965, and emerging practice called "interior design," in particular, became a potent medium for this purpose.Like modern art and modern architecture, the key to the practice of interior design was its basis in ideas. As curator Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., pointed out in his 1950 explanatory booklet "What is Modern Interior Design?" published by the Museum of Modern Art, interior design's foundation, in contrast to interior decorating, was in "principles rather than effects." To use the word "design" instead of "decoration," in relation to the creation of interiors implied the use of systematic and rational approach based in ideas not personal preferences. By the late 1930s both the discourse and practice of interior design as an alternative to interior decoration had begun to emerge in the United States.This study will explore how the emerging practice of interior design between 1930 and 1965, developed through the efforts of designers from various fields who all embraced this systematic and rational approach to creating interiors based in "principles and not effects." It will discuss how designers such as Ray and Charles Eames, George Nelson, Richard Neutra, Florence Knoll, and Russel and Mary Wright, whose work is highlighted in this study, used interior design as a way to explore and express theoretical considerations that could be learned, understood and disseminated by the designed interior. By doing so it exposes the ideas at work behind the interior designs of this period, which for the most part have not been fully considered by current histories, and presents a richer, more complete and more accurate account of this moment in design history and interior design's contribution to it.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008