This thesis attempts to enhance the connection between interior design and ancient Roman domestic space by establishing a continuous, reflective and reciprocal relationship, through which their similarities might be strengthened and incongruities mutually illuminating. Though the topics of contemporary interior design and ancient Roman domestic decoration may seem disparate, the information presented throughout this thesis indicates they are, in fact, contingent. What is more, exploring them simultaneously is imperative to enriching, not only the history and theory of interior design but also augmenting the knowledge concerning ancient Roman domestic space as a holistic environment. When experiencing an ancient Roman domestic interior, it becomes very apparent that all aspects of decoration, including walls, floors, ceilings and even furniture, coalesce to evoke the sense of a ‘coordinated interior’, or a space in which all design elements work in harmony and correspondence with one another.
Though an abundance of literature and research exists concerning ancient Rome and its domestic interiors, it is often segmented according to scholarly discipline, like architecture, art history or archaeology, as well as fragmented by decorative elements, such as wall paintings or floor mosaics. Such disparate research results in the divorce of decoration from context, which eliminates the possibility of understanding how it may have fit into an organized scheme or even how it functioned within the space. Thus, it is difficult to discuss or study a holistic ancient Roman interior environment when, conceptually, the scholarship does not acknowledge its existence. What is more, such elements have occasionally also been physically removed from their context and intended viewing position to be framed and displayed as components of museum exhibits where they are viewed or studied as such. Regrettably, in my opinion, this has led to numerous history of interior design courses that introduce the mere aesthetic qualities of ancient spaces rather than reasons why such spaces were decorated, who designed them, or how they were implemented.
In an effort to remedy these difficulties, my lens as an educated and practiced interior designer combined with related methodologies, ancient Roman domestic space and decoration is to be explored through literature and field research. Next, because decoration is influenced, and sometimes determined, by the space within which it is created, ancient Roman domestic decoration is considered relative to a broader organizing system progressively involving: the layout of a house, the situation of a house within a city block, the block as formed by planning of city streets and finally, the organization of streets according to the city’s site and orientation. Ideal prescriptions of ancient authors, like Vitruvius, compared to the real manifestations visible in the cities like Pompeii and Herculaneum, discovered through this systematic study, converge in a discussion of domestic decoration expressed by the House of the Ceii in Pompeii. Lastly, because interior design is a practice characterized by its process, rather than focus solely on completed decoration, the implementation of the ancient Roman domestic interiors will be considered alongside a design methodology utilized in contemporary interior deign practice and education.