UNTIL December 18, Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts will be home to one of the season’s most sumptuous displays: the second annual Rooms With A View installation.
The two-week long exhibition (presented by the Telfair Academy Guild) is an interior design showhouse built inside the Jepson Center’s Eckburg Atrium. Six rooms have been created and designed by local interior designers and the internationally acclaimed designer Mary McDonald.
Given the rare opportunity to create whatever they wanted, the designers were also invited to pull inspiration from the Jepson Center’s Monet and American Impressionism exhibit.
Local designers were handpicked to participate by the Rooms With A View committee and the exhibit co-chairs, Gail Lawrence and Judith Crawford. Returning designers from last year’s event include Anne Hagerty and Leah Bailey of LGB Interiors.
Also on the interior designer roster are Lukejohn Dickson, Deborah Morcott, Narissa West Brown, Lynn Rahn, Brook Thomas, and Peter E. Roberts.
Rooms With A View is a unique chance for museum-goers to get a taste of interior design as a labor of art which has been carefully considered and created with specific intention. Lawrence, a participating designer as well as event co-chair, calls it an “exhibit within an exhibit”.
“People ask how interior design has anything to do with art and I tell them it’s a wonderful dovetailing of two experiences,” she tells me.
“Every home has art, whether it’s an expensive poster or your own children’s drawings, or very, very expensive art from the international market – every home has art. It’s people’s reactions to that art that sometimes drives how a room is going to be decorated.”
Interior design is unfortunately one of the more easily dismissed kinds of art experiences, perhaps because we encounter it frequently enough to take it for granted. After all, purposefully designed spaces – the experience of which has been manipulated through the use of spatial volume and decoration – are the first form of installation art any of us encounter.
Those who would dismiss the medium as a bourgeoisie diversion should recall not just its aesthetic value, but its practical values as well: interior design is used to influence everything from the healing atmosphere of healthcare facilities to the efficiency of industrial spaces.
Color, texture, and spatial arrangement can all be carefully manipulated to produce different emotional responses; if an interior designer has done their job well you probably won’t notice their hand at all, but you’ll certainly feel the results.
Rooms With A View gives attendees the chance to appreciate interior design with the same attention they might give to the American Impressionism exhibition in the upstairs galleries. It’s also an opportunity for local designers to show off their skills.
“It gives [them] the chance to do something they’d maybe love to do for a client, but would perhaps never have the opportunity to do,” Lawrence explains. “Whether that’s a color, creating something fantasy-based, or doing something totally new.”
The rooms constructed in the Jepson Center’s impressive, airy atrium are the product of a community effort—sponsors like Martin & Zittrouer Construction, AWD Woodcrafters, and Savannah Kitchen and Bath worked alongside the designers to build a space that feels real and grounded.
The open floor plan allows the 8’x8’ rooms to flow into one another, giving viewers a blend of the gallery and showhouse experience as they immerse themselves in furnishings and textiles from around the world. All of the items displayed in the individual rooms are available for purchase, with 20 percent of the proceeds going back to support Telfair Museums.
Five of the rooms focus strictly on the individual designer’s vision, but one room is devoted to a version of the classic Parisian “artist’s salon.”
The salon room, designed by Peter E. Roberts, features artwork from five local, award-winning artists. At the time of publication the artists’ names have not been revealed, but I’m assured their work is worthy of celebration.
The inclusion of a salon room is interesting when considered as part of a conversation with the Monet and American Impressionism exhibition on simultaneous display.
The Salon is a famous bit of art history —it was the official art exhibition of the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris during the 18th and 19th centuries. Notoriously dedicated to the display of academic (or “traditional”) painting, its juries rejected the avant-garde and Impressionism with such fervor that Napoleon III was forced to create the Salon des Refuses, or the “exhibition of rejects”.
The Salon des Refuses heralded in the age of the avant-garde with its inclusion of works by Whistler, Manet, and Pissarro. Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), debuted there to shockwaves of scandal that would fuel the moral outrage of art critics for a century to come. The works of Monet would follow with similar critical confusion a few years later.
Though the spaces of Rooms With A View may not feature literal translations of Impressionistic artworks, they undoubtedly exist in the same spirit, as part of the same tradition of broken art world boundaries. How often is it that we see interior design celebrated as high art? Maybe the art world has been missing out.