Development in today’s world has taken on an impersonal context. Take any housing project at almost any economic strata and the sameness of what is created for each strata is evident very quickly. There is an assumed universality of need or want which belies individual preferences or taste. Individual taste, good or bad, is discouraged because it restricts the market. At the higher economic levels, the goal of the developer tends towards the absence of anything that might be personally evocative. Such emotions might win one client but lose ten. So it is best to build expensively and antiseptically.
England’s great country houses just reek of individual sensibility. A Gothick library here, a Jean Tijou wrought iron gate there, a Grinling Gibbons carved swag or a Joseph Rose plastered room are all manifestations of home owners proving themselves through their taste. The inevitable rise of the bar of sublime decoration (and conspicuous consumption) was a constant through the 18th century with very little of it failing to achieve something extraordinary. The competition to design something new and unique and then create it at the highest levels of craftsmanship bespeak of an era so unlike our own that it is hard to imagine this was only 2-300 years ago.
As much as this sounds as if it either distresses or depresses me, it doesn’t in the slightest. If ever there was a better reason for buying antiques, or anything atypical for that matter, it is this choice that one can make between the personal and impersonal. Impersonal is not wrong for many people, something that it took a long time for me to understand. But the personal, and the very best example of this highly individualistic sense of taste I can think of was in the houses and rooms shown in the first issue of the magazine of what was then just known as “Interiors”–they were just magical. They are worthwhile looking at if only to see what we have wrought in the last twenty-five years.