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Is there a gender divide in interior design?

  • Ideas & Inspiration
May 24, 2024
Personalised living room design – Beautiful Homes

Nuances of gender are everywhere, and to most people, embracing them provides a sense of comfort. We asked our columnist to explore how far do these stereotypes apply when it comes to interior design

A little less than a year ago, my partner and I decided to buy a home. Since it needed some repairs and was a two-decade old construction, we decided it’d be best if we went in for a total overhaul. Having spent a life living in various kinds of unloved rental homes, my design sensibilities were rather muted. On a friend’s recommendation, we hired the services of an interior design firm. They saw our home, assessed our interests and hobbies and came back with a 3-D mock up. We have a lot of books and they cast our family room as a library and lounge. The walls were brick, the floor was dark wood and the shelves were black. It looked quite nice, but everyone who I showed it to had the same question, “doesn’t it look overtly masculine?” It was stunning to me that a choice of colours and textures could invoke a stereotype none of us had been trained to notice.

 

What then exactly is a masculine room and what makes a space feminine? And how do these aesthetics align at a time when gender itself has been pronounced as non-binary? 

Stereotypes or Preferences?

Conventional practices assumed that in order to project masculinity, the room has to be dark, with an overuse of wood and brass and leather. And if it was a woman, it’d be light and frilly. In thinking about gender and interior design, I was often reminded of the TV show Mad Men, about an advertising executive, set in the 1960s in America. The men’s offices were uniformly brown or olive, contributing to the death knell of several forests, and then they’d go back home to chintz sofas and oatmeal rugs where their wives welcomed them bathed in pink. In many ways, a lot of these rules seem to have been codified into our brains.

Home office design ideas – Beautiful Homes

The grey floor speaks to the masculine side of the colour spectrum and is well balanced by the light wood finish and the colourful knick knacks.

In Goa, 40-year-old Gauri R, has been busy re-decorating her home, which was bought and furnished, primarily, by her father. “The furniture was all very dark and there was so much of it, that I felt claustrophobic,” she told me. “It was all colonial, vintage furniture, and some of the pieces my friends told me I should have kept, but I found them to be too large. I swapped them for modern materials, cane, and even plastic. I added plants, replaced steel with ceramic. A man would have gone for brass because it is more durable. But I finally feel like this place is mine,” she says.

 

Nuances of gender are everywhere, and to most people, embracing them provides a sense of comfort. But it’s all about maintaining a balance, popular culture might go too far. “The candy shop aesthetic is very popular on Instagram. A lot of people who weren’t able to express themselves when they were teenagers tend to infantalise their spaces. I feel these looks may work on Instagram, but it's hard to live with everyday. I can’t imagine coming back home to that,” she says.

Master bedroom design ideas – Beautiful Homes

The master bedroom is a clutter-free minimalist zone with a dark floor that is offset by the off-white walls. Even the accents in the room, the flower vase and the lampshade are in matching light shades.

Study room design ideas – Beautiful Homes

The framed prints in the study/home office were picked up during the owner’s travel to New Zealand.

When photographer Udit Kulshrestha redid his home recently, he brought together his interests in travel and automobiles. “My side tables are rescued felled tree log slices from Arunachal Borders that were cut down when the government was making roads through forest geographies. These were then polished with matte gloss polish and made into side tables. Everything in my place is handmade or picked up from people who handmade them,” he says. “Some of the paraphernalia includes a vintage train engine lantern, wooden toys from Karnataka, Purulia, Bodoland. A rat trap from Bodoland and a bamboo tea holder from Arunachal, Tibetan masks from Darjeeling, an aluminium and brass decor adornments from Moradabad, Wooden boxes from Saharanpur…”

 

Kulshrestha lives alone in his space, while his parents live downstairs. Since he is a photographer, light was of primary importance for him and although he did not think of his decisions through the lens of gender, he is of the belief that women add a sense of warmth to spaces by placing small but significant objects. He does something similar with his collection of knick knacks. “Being a practising colour theorist and photographer, I also needed backgrounds and understood carving out spaces with the colour schemes. For example, my living room has three shades of grey and a distinct textured red feature wall. My studio space has softer but uplifting yellows combined with a pastel light green feature wall. Yellow as a colour brings liveliness and also invokes the vastu science of energy to ensure positivity and improves work productivity. Each of the rooms has a feature wall in a contrasting colour,” he says.

Harsh and Anjana’s home in Coimbatore – Beautiful Homes

Harsha and Anjana took nearly four years to build their dream home.

Finding the Balance

In Coimbatore, Harsha Vardhan, 39, and his wife, Anjana, took nearly four years to build their dream home. Right from the layout stage, the two of them knew what they wanted. Harsha wanted a large living space, since he loves to entertain, opening up to a deck and a small garden. Anjana was thinking about the flow of life inside the house, the dining room to be close to the kitchen so that a piping hot dosa can be taken from the tawa to the plate. She is an artist and wanted beautiful paintings, he wanted posters of his favourite sports teams and players. The process was one of give and take. He prevailed on some of the decisions and she did on others. “There were lots of arguments, but eventually we made it,” he says. Harsha speaks very lovingly of his home and the process that it took to build it was challenging but worthwhile.

Harsha wanted leather furniture in the living room, but Anjana thought fabric will best bring their theme alive. “In retrospect, hers was the right decision. People who have visited the home have remarked upon it,” Harsha concedes. The third wheel in this project was the architect, (male, specifying considering the purpose of this discussion) who had a more monochromatic vision for the house. But Anjana made up for it by introducing elements of colour through the art and artefacts. She commissioned a local artist to create a beautiful wall piece. She also made a collage of paintings they had picked up from places they had travelled to. These influences helped make the space theirs. They also allowed each other their indulgences based on gender as well as interests.

“The kind of involvement that men and women demonstrate when it comes to interior design preferences is quite different,” says Vinithra Amarnathan, who is the founder of Weespaces, a Bengaluru-based interior décor studio. “More often than not, men are into functionality and the look and feel they gravitate towards is dark and more rugged—the use of metals, stone, dark colours etc. Things that are heavier, in general. Whereas women are more feelings driven. They say, ‘I want to feel this way’ in this space as opposed to ‘I want it to look this way’”. Once the designer gets the brief, it is then their job to balance these two aspects, Amarnathan says, so that every space will have both of these elements. In her experience, it is not just gender, even in the case of same-sex couples, she has seen this pattern of one person seeking ruggedness and functionality and the other looking for a softer aesthetic. “It is what makes the space complete, this yin and yang.”

Dining Table design ideas – Beautiful Homes

The dining table has a small brass inlay detail paired with a cane back and black upholstered seating with brass studs. The table, chairs and sideboard are all in reclaimed teak and were made to order in Pondicherry.

Usually, if there is an additional room in the house it becomes the man’s—a study or a gaming room, or a “man cave” as it were. “It is a bit tragic that even now, no space in the house is truly designed exclusively for the woman other than the kitchen,” she says.

 

Like life, a home is what you make of it. It is a statement of who you are and what you love. Whether you call it gender preferences or an extension of your personality, what really matters is only that it’s a space you are always looking forward to coming back to. As for us, we dialed back on the dark tone of the room, retaining the brick effect on one wall and lightening the rest by going with a neutral white. The bookshelves wrap around the television and rise to the ceiling on both sides. We bought a new sofa but also placed our old, comfy armchair in the room. It is, without exaggeration, the best room in the house. A bit new, a bit old, a bit male, a bit female, a perfect embodiment of ourselves and our lives.

 

 

All images by Syam Sreesylaam

Personalised living room design – Beautiful Homes
The living room is a place to showcase the personality of the residents. It has a mix of things picked up by the couple during their travel, as well as some art that Anjana created. A thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle completed and framed is a source of pride as well as a conversation starter.
Living room design ideas – Beautiful Homes
This painting was custom made for the house by a local artist, who used banana paper as the medium. The wave pendant light was the architect's choice of lighting for the space.
Modular kitchen design ideas – Beautiful Homes
The modular kitchen is in a light shade of grey with a dark wood tone, merging both gender preferences of colour.
Kitchen design ideas – Beautiful Homes
The green cupboards are part of the dry kitchen and add a dash of colour. The cabinets are fitted with brass handles and knobs.
Pooja room design ideas – Beautiful Homes
The colour of the Puja room door ties the green from the kitchen and the brass accents in the dining room.

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