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Rococo Interior Design: Style & Elements

Instructor
Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Expert Contributor
Sasha Blakeley

Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for six years.

Many interior design styles are reflections of the exterior architecture, but the Rococo flipped this. Architecture reflected interior design, and in this lesson we'll see what those interiors looked like.

The Rococo and Interior Design

If you were an architect, how would you design a building? Most people would probably start on the outside, and work their way into the interiors. That's pretty common; most architecture is defined by the façade and exterior more than the interior.

There's one notable exception. The Rococo was an 18th-century style that brought all the focus inside. While the Rococo style grew to influence architecture, painting, sculpture, and music, it originated first and foremost as a form of interior design. So, to understand Rococo design we can't start with grand facades of buildings; instead we have to look within.

A Rococo room in France
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History of Rococo Design

The history of the Rococo style dates back to roughly the 1730s. French political life had changed since the death of the Louis XIV in 1715. Louis was a powerful monarch who kept the nobles and aristocrats constantly occupied in courtly life and displayed his regal power through dark, dramatic, and ornate palaces like Versailles. His son, Louis XV, was only five when he inherited the throne, so France was ruled by a regent and the nobles were able to focus more on their private affairs.

This was the world that the Rococo was born into. French aristocrats, freed from courtly solemnity, spent more time in their private estates, hosting lavish parties and generally enjoying life. Since they were entertaining guests frequently, interior design was a top priority, but this wasn't the regal, Baroque design of Versailles. What emerged was something just as opulent and lavish, but with none of the solemnity.

Aristocrats hired skilled designers and craftspeople to fill their homes with lavish, handmade designs that were light, airy, and whimsical. In most cases, they simply had the interiors of existing buildings redesigned, without building entirely new homes. This is one reason why the Rococo is not strongly associated with architecture, but is associated with interior design. Among the most notable designers and artisans to build up this emerging Rococo style were engraver Pierre Le Pautre, goldsmith/designer Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier, carver Nicolas Pineau, architect Jean Aubert, and designer Germain Boffrand.

The Rococo Aesthetic

So, what exactly was this Rococo style of interior design like? Let's start with the overall aesthetic. Rococo interiors were light and airy. They felt free, unencumbered, and rejected the confining solemnity of Louis XIV's Baroque style. However, at the same time Rococo interiors were unavoidably opulent. Everything about them was ornate, shiny, elegant, and delicate.

Le Salon Blanc, a Rococo room decorated entirely in ivory-colored stucco
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This aesthetic was achieved through the use of light pastel colors, paired with ivory whites, polished marble, gold, and silver. Every material or color in a Rococo room had to be visually light as well as opulent, creating an overall sense of floating through a gilded cloud. This aesthetic was maintained not only in the walls and ceilings of the room, but in the furniture, flatware, silverware, paintings, and decorations. Everything had to match, and everything had to be lavish and handmade by skilled craftspeople. After all, French aristocrats of the 18th century were not ones to skimp.

Decorations and Motifs

With such a focus on handcrafted arts and decorations, as well as lavish ornamentation, it really should be no surprise that Rococo interiors were incredibly detailed. In fact, it's the attention to detail that really defines the Rococo. The style's name comes from the French word rocaille, which is a decorative seashell or stone motif.

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Additional Activities

Rococo Research

In this lesson, you learned the major elements of rococo as an interior design aesthetic in France. Now, it's time for you to expand your knowledge. Choose one of the prompts below and explore further. Follow your interests! If there is something else in this lesson that is not mentioned here but that you are curious about, write down a list of questions you want to answer, start researching, and write up your findings in a paragraph or essay.

Schools of Interior Design

Rococo is considered more of an interior design aesthetic than an architectural one. It is one of the most famous kinds of interior design, though it is not produced anymore. Compare rococo style to other major schools of interior design, like art deco, bauhaus, Italian rococo, gothic, and brutalism. What elements do these styles have in common? What do they say about the people who choose to decorate their homes this way? What is the basis for each style, and what does it aim to convey?

Rococo Art

Rococo was a type of interior design, but it was also an artistic movement. Look up famous examples like The Swing by Jean-Honore Fragonard. How does rococo painting compare to its interior design counterpart? What is the significance of the connection between the two? What was rococo art intended to represent? How did the advent of the French Revolution change rococo painting and interior design? What styles came after them?

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