Painting & Decorating Through the Ages in London

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Painting & decorating association mark of quality

Painting & decorating association mark of quality

Commercial painting and decoration (as well as normal painting and decorating) can be traced back to the 13th Century. It was during this time that guilds were formed in an effort of standardising the craft while at the same time acting as a protector of trade secrets. The most well-known was the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers which was granted a protective bill by Parliament, preventing competition from other trades. The Bill also legislated for a seven-year apprenticeship for painters. This continued until the early 19th century before the bill’s powers were reduced.

The Invisible Painter’s renovation of a London pub

It was during this time that design services began to boom, particularly in London. The growth of the middle-class population brought with it an increased demand for the display of domestic trappings as a means of reflecting social status. As requirements became more complex, London commercial decorator companies and residential firms in London began to expand by employing a variety of tradesman including furniture designers, builders, joiners and plasterers. Their marketing efforts were assisted by the emergence of department stores during this period, which allowed interior designers to advertise examples of their work.

1800s & Crystal Palace 

One of the most influential figures in office fit out and refurbishment scene was the architect, Owen Jones who decorated Paxton’s Crystal Palace building, which was part of the Great Exhibition in 1851. Despite initial criticism, Jones went on to receive much acclaim for his imaginative designs. He also wrote the seminal work, The Grammar of Ornament, in which he laid down his key principles of interior design.

By 1882, there were over 80 companies of painters and decorators in London, including esteemed names such as Crace, Waring & Gillow and Holland & Sons. Some of these respected firms started to provide consultancy services to middle-class customers, advising them on the styles and trends of the day. They soon began to take out contracts to design and furnish the interiors of many iconic buildings in London.

1900s Onwards

However, by the turn of the century, the burgeoning demand for interior design was exploited by amateur designers who were keen on breaking the monopoly enjoyed by the larger companies. This was curtailed by the formation of the Institute of British Decorators in 1889 which recognised decoration as an artistic profession.  And as the industry continued to boom, talented designers began to emerge like Syrie Maugham. Beginning her career in the early 20th century, Maugham attracted international attention by being the first to design an all-white room. As a Victorian child, Maugham sort to rebel against the dark colours and enclosed spaces that pervaded that era, by creating rooms that featured varying shades of white and which also allowed natural light in.

Following WWII, interior design became more established as money started becoming available for décor. Whereas previously, interior design was viewed as secondary to architecture, the profession was now seen as a profession all its own. The establishment of the Interior Decorators and Designers Association in 1966 was a key event, cementing what is essentially, a highly-skilled trade.


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