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Exploring the Future of Interiors: Where Splashy Gadgets Meet Tradition and Timeless Meets Modern

Welcome to Thinking Big, wherein journalist Bridget Moriarity (whose work has been published in Travel + Leisure, Art + Auction, and Time Out New York, among others) joins Curbed to explore large-scale trends and topics within the design and architecture community. Have a pressing issue worth discussing? Drop a note to the tipline.

2013 already has a futuristic ring to it, as industry players predicted it might, but imagine the year 2113. What will interiors of the next century—or next season, for that matter—look like? If the design experts polled here are accurate, rooms of the future will look a lot like those of the past—just imagine some fancy gadgets from brands like Apple thrown in.

A return to the past, with a customized, modern twist

The Manhattan-based interior decorator Alex Papachristidis has chronicled his fondness for grand, traditional decorating—lots of velvets, wallpaperings, and rich wood— in the Rizzoli monograph The Age of Elegance, and that's a fairly apt title for what Papachristidis believes lies ahead. He holds that furniture won't change much in the coming decades, pointing out, "We are the sizes we are, and we like the comfort that we like. Furniture has to remain the same, because it has to keep with the proportions of human beings," he reasons.

And while decor will always bend to a client's location and tastes, Papachristidis finds staying power in neoclassical shapes that have been pared down and modernized. And, of course, anything from the 18th century: "The juxtaposition of a Rothko painting with a great 18th-century chair is sort of iconic and beautiful," he points out, much the way as the Julian Schnabel works beside the formal interiors in his own living room (below). The point, in other words: there's no one size fits all. "I'm going through a phase right now where I'm having artists, like [contemporary painter] Nancy Lorenz and [contemporary sculptor] Eve Kaplan, make tabletops and sconces and mirrors. So that's how I see the future—a very custom interior."

A "post-minimalist" era that's not overdone

Ryan Korban, who was honored in Trad Home's inaugural class of emergent designers to watch two years ago, is famous for outfitting his pal Alexander Wang's store in downtown Manhattan with a fox-fur hammock. Aiming to fuse "sex, romance, and fantasy" in all of his projects, Korban doesn't shy away from Italianate '70s décor—think shiny metals and lacquered finishes; 18th-century European touches; and, lastly, animal skins and taxidermy. The New York-based designer, who is primarily focused on retail projects at the moment, views this era as "post-minimalist." "The minimalistic look was a really big thing," he says, "especially in the Manhattan retail landscape, but now I see a push back. I see warming spaces up becoming a bigger theme—using carpeting and luxury materials like chrome and brass and stone," he says.

Korban strives to create a sense of permanence in a retail scene filled with pop-up shops and fleeting sample sales: "That's why we chose to do the entire Alexander Wang store in white marble. It's not a store that's very overdone. It does feel modern, but all this stone gives it a classic feel, a feeling that it's not going anywhere." In Fivestory New York, a boutique on Manhattan's Upper East Side, Korban sought the same effect by using mosaic tiles for the flooring.

Splashy new gadgets figure out their place

As someone who is always referencing the past, Korban admits that he's not one to project too far ahead, but he still can't ignore the rising presence of technology in store interior design. Retailers are deftly incorporating the Apple iPad, for example, into their floorplans, using it to display their lookbooks and to complete purchases. "The integration of technology into design is definitely something we are seeing more and more. My hope is the word 'integration' will be a big part of it, so technology won't take over design," he says.

Indeed, people are no longer in the phase—whether in their homes or shops—where they are sheepish about tech. "When I first started this business, everyone was looking for antique armoires and cupboards to hide their big old TVs," recalls Los Angeles-based designer Nathan Turner, who describes his aesthetic as the "undecorated collected look" and whose first book, Nathan Turner's American Style: Classic Design and Effortless Entertaining (Abrams, New York), was published last year. Today, Turner thinks the contrast of the latest technology—"TVs the size of a piece of paper"—with beautiful old furniture works effortlessly.

Non-tech-y as it may sound, though, books are among Turner's favorite accessories to decorate with, and he hopes that the Kindle won't put them out of business. "I stack them on consoles or coffee tables, and I love them stacked in between two chairs as a little side table." Antiques are his other go-to, comprising an estimated 80 percent of his interiors. "I predominantly use antiques, but, when I don't, I buy from smaller manufacturers and people that really make great-quality furniture. I like to imagine that those pieces are the antiques of the future." He adds: "I hope and pray that antiques will last well into the future. They give rooms their soul. I could not work without antiques or books, which are already on their way out."

Lori Gee, vice president of applied insight for the storied furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, agrees, arguing the period of positioning fancy new technology as a design "centerpiece," of sorts, is a thing of the past. "The trend of splashy technology—kind of wearing it on your sleeve as a badge of honor—will fade out," she says. "We're going to see more thoughtful integration of technology and display. It will be more 'people-first technology.'" One of the brand's new ergonomically souped-up office chairs (below), for example, will help solve the modern-day problem of sitting all day.

Where "modern" and "timeless" intersect

"We're probably never going to live like The Jetsons, or Lost in Space, or any of those early sci-fi programs that I grew up with," says Newell Turner, editor in chief of the Hearst Design Group, which includes Elle Decor, Veranda, and House Beautiful. But he does acknowledge that forward-looking tech has a big presence in the design world in both expected and subtle ways. "Technology is not just the obvious things like LED lighting or security systems or cooking technologies. It's also the technologies in weaving, which have transformed the industry and given it such exciting new materials to work with," he says, before elaborating that the microfiber category, for example, has exploded in recent years. The fabric is no longer exclusively for the outdoors; in fact, it's starting to rival the softness of organic fabrics like cotton and linen. Plus, he points out, it's indestructible—perfect for homes with kids and pets.

While modern technologies will continue to be vital to architecture and design, so, too, will ancient philosophy. "I've always been obsessed with sacred geometry, because they're formulas that appear all over nature and they influenced early classical architecture," says Turner. He recalls a residence in Texas that was based on the proportions and dimensions of the golden mean: "You walked into the house and it resonated. It had this vibration that was so calming and peaceful."

When asked if there's such a thing as a new aesthetic or whether the past is constantly reinvented, Turner replies thoughtfully: there may not be anything truly novel in decorating. "But you're always going to have people putting things together in new ways," he says. "Pretty," he says, used to be a bad word, but now it's back in vogue—whether as a color, like a soft lavender, or as, say, a chintz fabric.

Los Angeles-based interior designer Barbara Barry chimes in on this idea of "pretty": "environments will be very high-tech and centered around wellness," she says. "I see hanging beds, heated flooring, soothing ethereal lighting seeping through the walls. Very modern 'womb.'" Are "modern" and "timeless" contradictory terms, then? "The definition of 'modern' is looking at everything that has come before and seeing the connection in what has lasted," she says. "When I do that I see [the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea] Palladio as very modern and [the famed Bauhaus architect Ludwig] Mies van der Rohe as ancient."

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