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Her-Story: Design*Sponge’s Amy Azzarito Explains the History Behind the Trends

April 21, 2014


Design*Sponges’ Amy Azzarito Explains the History Behind the Trends

Text by Bill Indursky
PHOTOS COURTESY OF Abrams Books & Bill Indursky
APRIL 21, 2014

D  I Y blogger, Amy Azzarito wants people to be inspired by history.  The 36-year old Managing Editor of the popular design blog, Design*Sponge, is so passionate about the past that she has a dedicated column on the blog called Past & Present.  Past & Present explains the history of a design trend and she even collaborates with a designer to create a special DIY project based on the trend.

In Azzarito’s new book, 24 Favorite Moments in Decorative Arts History, and 24 Modern DIY Projects Inspired by Them, she presents 24 pairs of essays and craft projects that explore the connection between decorative arts history and present-day design trends. From a Wedgwood-inspired headboard made using molding from the hardware store to an art nouveau– style tree-branch chandelier, the projects celebrate their roots yet fit perfectly into our contemporary living spaces. The projects have been contributed by some of today’s best-known arbiters of design, such as Todd Oldham, Jonathan Adler, and Grace Bonney, adding extra allure to an already fascinating topic.

Graduating from Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt with a Master’s in the History of Decorative Arts and Design, Amy held a variety of jobs including Librarian.  But, it was after Amy won a contest on the design blog Apartment Therapy; a chance to write several posts for a whopping $11 each, that she landed Managing Editor of the blog Design*Sponge.

Azzarito recently spoke at the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) to a crowd of students, interior professionals, and general public.  She shared some of her top design trends as well as her suggestion when contacting Design*Sponge.

The first trend covered, a personal favorite of hers, is INDIGO.  Dating back to ancient Egypt, indigo was used by the Pharaohs to color royal clothing.  Clothing that she added, that did not include any fasteners but relied on gathering and tucking.  The dark blue is believed to have originated from what is now modern day Pakistan and be extracted from a tropical plant in a process that includes fermentation and drying.  A process, she adds that reportedly “smelled really bad.”  Using the rich color today, Azzarito’s top choice is Brooklyn based designer and artist Rebecca Atwood.  Atwood is known for her original collection of home textiles and pillows that focuses on the artistic process.

Amy’s next trend was the WINDSOR CHAIR.  The chair’s origins began in England at Windsor Castle.  Originally used as a garden chair, the design was to protect the sitter against the element of wind.  The chair, made from three different woods: hardwood legs for strength, round spindles from Hickory, and the seat of soft carved wood for comfort; holds an important place within American history.  It is notably the chair of choice for our founding fathers including the sacred seat where the Declaration of independance was penned and the first flag was stitched.  The main difference, she added between the English and American version of the chair is a small curvilinear piece that wraps around the spindles in the American version.

WALLPAPER was the third major trend identified by Azzarito.  Although she acknowledged that the trend began several years ago, she felt it important enough to include.  Her own fascination leaned toward Flocked Wallpaper.  Flocking she revealed to the audience,  was a process by which wool wadding was adhered to paper backing in designs laid in with adhesive.  Dating the decorative paper from the 1600s, Amy said that like all things decorative, it came from Europe especially France, where it was Marie Antoinette popularized it.  It remained popular until the Victorian era when the need for easy cleaning of walls (thanks to the blacked soot from oil and charcoal burning) made it out of fashion.

BLACK was the fourth major trend identified.  Amy talked about the dual nature of black throughout history – what she referred to as “good” black and “bad” black.  “Good” black referred to strength and vitality while the “bad” black referred to all things evil and demonic which dated as early as the Greeks and Romans.  It was in 14th-century Italy that black started to be used for clothing for the new rising merchant class—restricted by the law as to the colors allowed to be worn by various classes.  It became so popular that eventually black clothing was associated with all upper class individuals and royalty.

The fifth trend was the influence of NATIVE AMERICAN PATTERN.  Particularly focused on Native American patterns from blankets, Azzarito discussed the process where early settlers traded with the Native American Indians, English blankets with colorful stripes, in exchange for fur pelts.  Interestingly she notes, that while we associate the Native American “Navajo Patterns” with something indigenous to that people, it was actually the white man who taught the Indians to weave these patterns which were based on Far East examples that were simplified.

After presenting the five trends, Azzarito said that she hopes everyone will “look back in history to go forward.”  Her book contains even more of her trend insights as well as projects inspired by each trend or design era.


Amy Azzarito: The History Behind the Trends

Wednesday, April 16, 6:30pm

New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) Auditorium
170 East 70th Street, NY, NY.

$12 General Admission
$10 Seniors and Non-NYSID Students (general public welcome)
NYSID Students are Free.



24 Favorite Moments in Decorative Arts History, and 24 Modern DIY Projects Inspired by Them, she presents 24 pairs of essays and craft projects that explore the connection between decorative arts history and present-day design trends.

24 Favorite Moments in Decorative Arts History, and 24 Modern DIY Projects Inspired by Themshe presents 24 pairs of essays and craft projects that explore the connection between decorative arts history and present-day design trends.




New York School of Interior Design

Rebecca Atwood

Abrams Books

Apartment Therapy


About the author: Bill Indursky
Bill Indursky is an architect, trend expert, and digital entrepreneur. He is the former founder of V&M (Vintage & Modern (2006-2013)) and the current founder of Design Life Network (DLN). DLN is a MAGAZINE + DESIGN AGENCY + MARKETPLACE + TV CHANNEL promoting inspiring design of all eras online and on TV.

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