For his latest book, design and architecture journalist Dominic Bradbury dove deep into interior design history—steeping himself in the storied work of Tony Duquette, Elsie de Wolfe, and beyond.
As told to Kathrn O'Shea-Evans
It's no easy task compiling some of the most groundbreaking interiors from the past century—including Edith Wharton’s The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts and Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1921 Hollyhock House in Los Angeles—into one unmissable tome.
But when British design and architecture journalist Dominic Bradbury was given the chance to update his book, The Iconic Interior: 1900 to the Present, he leapt at the opportunity—adding George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg’s own Toronto home, Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes’ Marrakech townhouse, and Commune’s revamp of a 1915 craftsman-style home in Berkeley, California. Before the book’s re-release by Thames & Hudson in March, GRAY spoke with Bradbury about his most inspiring finds and what vintage treasures he is always on the hunt for.
"I grew up in a literary household. My father was a novelist, but he also taught at the University of East Anglia, which was designed in the 1960s by Denys Lasdun and has a Norman Foster building as well—the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, completed in 1978. As a child, I’d go see my dad and step from 60s and 70s Brutalism into this high-tech super hanger by Foster. They had Harry Bertoia chairs in my dad’s office! It made a big impression on me, though I didn’t appreciate it for a long time. It all sunk in, but in a rather subliminal way.
What’s most challenging about design writing is also the most enjoyable: I love research, I love finding out more and more about design, architects, and design history. I spend a lot of time in the RIBA Library (British Architectural Library) in London, pouring through books, journals, and magazines. It takes time, but I love it. You stay passionate if you’re always learning something new, so that’s a very positive thing. You just have to know when to stop. Deadlines help with that.
We [once] did a book called Iconic Houses that was more architecturally focused. I was teamed up with photographer Richard Powers by my publisher, Thames & Hudson, and we’re now really good friends. We’ve now done six books for Thames & Hudson together, and Iconic House was the first one. [After that book was released] we wanted to do something in a similar vein but looking at interiors. This [new] release is a revised and updated edition of that. Iconic House was reissued earlier last year and this new edition of Iconic Interior will have a very similar format. They almost work together as companion volumes. Both are very similar with about 100 houses in each, trying to tell the story of, in this case, interior design through one hundred houses around the world, spanning a chronology from the early 20th century to today. Richard shot most of the pictures and it was a very collaborative process.
Selecting houses that would have the resonance and provenance that we needed was very research-intensive—we wanted to include houses and designers that encapsulate a particular time, aesthetic, or innovation, and that would resonate beyond the project itself. We needed that global mix, as well—we wanted a good mix across America and Europe but also Latin America, Scandinavia, and other parts of the world. But there’s a very strong American strand through the book. I think all the way from Edith Warton to Frank Lloyd Wright to the new entries, like Commune and Yabu Pushelberg.
In doing research for this book, I found it interesting to plot [continuous] threads and strands, to see how design moves in waves. Obviously, you’ve got that very exuberant period in the 1920s, and another playful period in the 50s with midcentury design. At the moment, we’re rediscovering that playfulness—things are getting more colorful, more patterned, more textured. Perhaps we’re coming out of that minimalist phase into something more exciting and expressive, which brings warmth and character with it.
In my own home, I’ve been picking up quite a few midcentury pieces from the 50s and 60s—for example, East German ceramics—and then mixing those with a few arts and crafts pieces alongside contemporary ones that we have. We find they work quite well together. I’ve got a soft spot for the midcentury era; it has a texture and warmth to it—warm wood, warm colors, warm textures. I prefer things that are slightly tongue-in-cheek and have a little bit of an edge and humor. I’d probably prefer to live in a Wright house or a midcentury house, rather than a pure 30s modernist home, for instance, because there’s more of that expressive feeling to it. We don’t tend to look for pieces that are necessarily precious, but things that we just love, which was a piece of advice I heard while writing this book. You talk to a lot of designers about their own houses and what they choose, and often you get that same message. It’s not all about the provenance, or about the name, it’s what you really respond to."