Inspired by the bright, fluid figuration and sharp abstraction of Post-Impressionists including Gauguin and Matisse, who led the way to High Modernism after World War I, the visual artists of the Bloomsbury Group ran wild at Charleston, the Sussex, England, farmhouse where the married painters Vanessa and Clive Bell and Vanessa’s lover Duncan Grant lived for decades. Virtually every surface in the house, a way station for intellectual bohemians including Vanessa Bell’s sister, the novelist Virginia Woolf, is covered in joyous drawings. In the living room, barely clad classical figures dance across the hearth, and books spill out from shelves. The house, preserved after Grant’s death in 1978, is the embodiment of the revolution that shook the art and design world, its handcrafted ethos driven by the class-driven conflict that took root in England between the wars.
SS: The Bloomsbury rooms combined all the arts together, and this was both unique and very influential. They also represent a coming together of all the arts in a place and time that, although it has passed, is very current in terms of how people engage with design.
KS: And the craft of it all, too, the idea that [the Bloomsbury-adjacent guild known as] the Omega Workshops seems so visually relevant now.
SS: Exactly. I think that’s something people are talking about now. [A few decades ago,] I remember knowing about this and thinking, “Oh, it doesn’t suit my Modernist sensibility. It’s cluttered.” But now I’m looking at it very differently, and I think it’s both charming and bohemian, which is very attractive.
DR: Why did that change?
SS: Well, things happen in life. Some of the things that you like 30 or 40 years ago, you’re less interested in, or you get bored with them. Even well-known designers, like you, Daniel, your style changes. It depends on your clients, but also the way you feel.
DR: Yeah. What persists for you?
DR: Do you think the Modernists’ influence is waning? You know, 30 years ago, when I was in architecture school, that’s all we talked about.
TD: Since I started working at magazines [in the early 2000s], Modernism has basically been watered down. It’s sort of softer; it’s not about an absence of decoration, or anything similarly social or political. It’s just about simplicity.
SW: It’s become more cushy and comfortable.
DR: But don’t you think it’s also, like, a status symbol? A buzzword?
SW: Yes, in every single place in the world.
DR: And you just think, “Oh, I know about Modernism. I’m going to do that even though everything about this room has nothing to do with it.”