Have you ever wondered who created the very first sofa? Or what Victorians brought home from vacations as souvenirs? Design*Sponge managing editor and self-described bibliophile Amy Azzarito tackles the history behind household objects (everything from curtains to chandeliers to cast iron) and how those stories intersect with modern life in her Past and Present column.
Amy’s new book by the same name is full of dinner party-worthy facts — things you might not know now, but will be glad you learned. For example, sofas and armchairs just didn’t exist until the early 18th century, when Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour began to popularize private spaces made for comfort, not just display. Watching a movie just wouldn’t be the same curled up on a straight-backed wooden chair, right?
Part history lesson and part DIY manual, she pairs 24 essays about interesting moments in decorative arts history with thoroughly modern projects developed alongside design trendsetters like Todd Oldham, David Stark and ConfettiSystem.
I especially love this black-and-white headboard project designed by Eddie Ross: It’s inspired by the iconic jasperware pottery created by Josiah Wedgwood, which features white relief designs on a matte black surface. This modern version is made from a hollow-core door, white PVC trim and decorative moldings.
I chatted with Amy about the collaborations and her personal style. Plus, try one of the book’s DIY projects!
On the Collaborations: “Every single one of the artists I collaborated with in this book is a working designer, and it was fun to challenge them to be inspired by a particular period: ‘If I say Rococo, you say…’,” Amy says. “Some designers were drawn to certain periods, while others I had something in mind for them from the beginning. With ConfettiSystem, I knew I wanted to work with them on an art deco-inspired piece, so I showed up at their New York office with 10 huge art books and said, “Let’s look at art deco and see what you make.”
For others, Amy had an idea of what the collaboration might be: Emerson Made is known for her beautiful fabric flowers, which fit in perfectly with the bold florals so common in the Rococo period.
On How to Use This Book: “What I tried to do when I was writing was choose the cool moments in design history. I really worked hard to find little facts and nuggets about how we ended up with the parts and pieces of our home, like the sofa,” Amy says. “I hope the projects can help people get that grain of inspiration, and that will inspire them to bring a little history into their home.”
This exquisite jewelry box channels the creative Victorians, who carefully decorated their garden grottos with found treasures. Here, painted seashells and plastic insects transform a repurposed suitcase or lunchbox. See How To Make This Project >>
On How Her Love of History Affects Her Own Design Style:“I’ve always been inspired by vintage pieces and I grew up going to auctions with my mom in Arkansas,” Amy says. “In my personal style, I’ve been inspired by the spare look of Gustavian style and also the feminine but a little bit more reserved French neoclassical style. My house is a bit of a mish-mash.”
On Her Favorite and Least Favorite Parts of Her Apartment: “One of my favorite things in my apartment is a huge neoclassical wall clock that was part of a Boston theater. It’s next to a vintage machinist bar cart. It’s all from the Brimfield Antique Market up in Massachusetts. Martha Stewart shops there! It’s a pretty phenomenal place to shop. Above my sofa is a whole collection of seascapes,” Amy says. “My least favorite is that I live in a Brooklyn apartment, so storage is an issue. I have a vast amount of books!”
Pre-order a copy of Past & Present now to learn more about design history’s best moments and add lots of projects to your to-make list (including this coffee table terrarium made from salvaged windows!). It officially hits bookstores on March 5.