Building & Renovating

RL Spotlight: Design Trends from 1800s to Present (Part 1)

Learn more about the history of architecture and interior design to help you style your own home


The evolution of design and architecture is as varied and colorful as our own history. With today’s free-for-all aesthetics, homeowners have a wide range of styles to choose from, to play with, and to fuse together. Knowing how design has grown through the centuries can widen your perspective on what you’d like in your home—take some tips from history, and broaden your design IQ with this primer on centuries of style.

Read the original article in the January 2008 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App now! Log on to for more details.

European Classic (1800s)

Classical-Revival or Romantic-Classical styles profilerated in Europe in the early 1800s as a reaction to the social and political upheaval of the 1700s. Artists and architects took elements of classical architecture (columns, pilasters, domes, pediments, overall symmetry), retained its spirit, and injected it with heavy ornamentation.

Materials: Natural stone, cement, plaster mouldings, hardwood flooring and parquetry, stained glass, wrought iron

Famous building: The Luneta Hotel

See more photos and view the full home here:

Spanish Colonial (1800s to 1920s)

The classic bahay na bato that still stands tall in many places today became popular back in the 19th century. It was considered a townhouse where the hacendors, ilustrados, and the elite lived—much like the home of Kaptian Tiago and Maria Clara in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. The style merges stone and the wood of Philippine ethnic houses, and bears the heat of tropical summers exceptionally well. These homes had well-defined spaces with corresponding functions like the zaguan (entrance hall), caida (upper entrance hall), sala (living room), azotea (open area beside kitchen), and the volada (gallery protecting rooms from sun’s heat).

Defining characteristics: The ground floor is fashioned out of stone, while the second floor is made of wood, and adorned with sliding capiz windows, ventanillas, and intricate wooden fretwork.

Materials: Yakal, narra, capiz, adobe, palochina, stained glass

Famous buildings: Casa Manila, Intramuros 

Philippine Art Deco (1930s to 1950s)

The 1930s ushered in the genesis of modern architecture in the Philippines. Along with the Americans came US-trained Filipino architects who brought home ideas inspired by the neoclassic architecture of the United States. Art Deco was a popular theme at the time—it was a fitting accompaniment to the Jazz Age, buildings and homes that buzzed with the excitement and thrill that came just after the Depression. Art Deco or style moderne was a fusion of everything from Egyptian motifs to Red Indian symbols, Cubism, Futurism, and Expressionism. Two of the most enduring buildings of this time are the Flat Iron and Chrysler Buildings in New York.

Defining characteristics: Art Deco was known for its geometric motifs, straight and angular lines, and streamlined curvilinear shapes.

Materials: Colored terracotta, glazed ceramic tiles, synthetic materials and plastics

Famous buildings: The Metropolitan Theater, Manila

Noted architects: (Filipino) Juan Arellano, Fernando Ocampo

Mid-century Modern (1950s to 60s)

The post-war era ushered in new philosophies in design that sprung from modernists like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe of famed European school, the Bauhaus, and France’s Le Corbusier. Modernists believed in purism—where forms were essentially very basic, and were mass-produced, thanks to advancements in industry. Modernism was founded on the very same principles of classical design—order, rationality, and sophistication; but the products and structures had evolved into more refined forms. Mid-century modern design was spun off from the earlier modernists’ ideals of simplicity, and natural, organic forms. Less is more, a maxim spoken by van der Rohe dominated the look of this era.

See more photos and view the full home here:

Defining characteristics: Many mid-century modern traits are still popular today—open planning, expansive glass windows, and ergonomically sound furniture pieces in aluminum, plastics, and leather that possess a simple, stylish quality.

Materials: Bent wood, aluminum tubing, fiberglass, plastics

Noted designers/architects: (Foreign) Mies van der Rohe, Charles and Ray Eames, Marcel Breuer, George Nelson; (Filipino) Alfredo Luz, Leandro Locsin

American Country (1970s to early 80s)

By the 1970s, most people had grown tired of the straight, hard-edged lines that prevailed in the past decades. Mid-century aesthetics were sparse, clean, and antiseptic; and there was a move towards the ornaments, trimmings, and embellishments that were sorely lacking during the modern period. Aluminum-framed sliding doors were traded in for intricate French doors with fancy wood frames, bare walls and ceilings were trimmed with cornices, and bay windows began to soar in popularity. The sensibilities of American Country centered on warmth, comfort, floral motifs, and everything you would expect from a cozy, classic bed and breakfast.

Defining characteristics: Mouldings of all sorts, from cornices to wainscoting and chair rails were prevalent embellishments during this period. Heavy upholstery in pastel shades of old rose, mint green, and peach were especially popular.

Materials: Marble, Mactan stone, bleached wood, embroidery, silk

Noted designer: Edith Oliveros

See more photos and view the full home here:

Postmodern (Early to late 1980s)

Post-modernism encouraged a return to vernacular styles from different points in history, but taken with a twist, and a playful sense of irony. It was all about taking traditional symbols, and meshing them with modern technology. The great Corinthian columns from the Classical period, for example, were now fashioned out of aluminum instead of marble; the pediments that topped Greek edifices were now highlighted in flashy, neon lights; and plastic decoration was all the rage. While Less is More was the outcry of modernists, Less is a Bore became this era’s maxim, spoken confidently by American architect Robert Venturi.

Defining characteristics: The look of this period rested mainly on themes created during the Greek and Roman times, but broken up, done in wildly flashy colors, or molded in newer materials. Pediments, colonnades, and symmetric forms were extremely popular.

Materials: “Marbelized” wood, colored cement

Noted designer: Michael Graves


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