Any intricately decorated item produced more than a century ago is likely to be relegated to a museum as an object of curiosity, however mundane its actual nature. Whereas nowadays the ornamental is seen as superfluous and sentimental, manufacturers and designers used to give their products a decorative dimension, bringing subtle beauty to people’s everyday life, with a sense of worth and dignity emanating from every object.
The 20th century’s utilitarian approach, reinforced by a disposable mentality, swept away the act of creating, banishing those little treasures from our daily lives, as though modernity demanded that we be insensitive to beauty. The cold, cheap but not so cheerful, style of mass production culminated with a taste for the industrial, with designers anticipating the year 2000 with a sci-fi obsession, sterilising our homes and urban landscapes with ubiquitous slabs of grey stone, stainless steel and almost Gigeresque atmospheres.
This trend has since softened in favour of warmer materials and colours, although the ornamental has not quite re-entered our day-to-day surroundings yet. If we can dismiss the impression of frivolity often attributed to decorated objects, we can start to appreciate again an old form of applied art that has the power to brighten up our dull modern existence.