22 January, 2014

Monthly Column: "0-100. (Made to measure)": DAS HAUS imm Cologne 2014 - Reproducing Gender Stereotypes in Interior Design

After a troubled column-less December, we start the year with a review of Louise Campbell's Contriburion to the Cologne Furniture Fair imm 2014: 

"0-100. (Made to measure)": DAS HAUS - Reproducing Gender Stereotypes in Interior Design

The binarity of the exterior: grey texiles and wooden shindels

The Danish designer Louise Campbell is guest of honour at this year's international furniture fair "imm" in Cologne. Campbell designed a simulated home on 240m2 in the middle of hall 2.2. "The walk-in 'Das Haus – Interiors on Stage' installation follows the format’s successful premiere with London design studio Doshi Levien in 2012 and Venetian designer Luca Nichetto’s elegant interpretation at the imm cologne 2013."  It gives away her idea of scaling: an open room without fixed walls, instead there are textile hangings with an overly large bed – or rather a sleeping stage -– and minimized things like small desk. But it's not only the striking mixture of ‘small’ and ‘big’ nor the reference to Scandinavian formal structuralism: it is the division of the room into ‘male’ and ‘female’ that makes the visitor wonder about Campbell's intention behind her interpretation of a home. It was about time for the Cologne trade fair to come up with a single female designer for "DAS HAUS". While the publication "DAS HAUS 2014" refers to her female gaze on design (and the publication itself is designed using pale pink and light grey shades), the very first impression of "DAS HAUS" lacks masculinity in general. 

The punching ball is mirrored in the felt crib on the other side of the house.

From the outside, we see a combination of wooden shingles and a light grey textile wall hanging combined with lots of plants and this continues while walking in. Campbell's big space is open and yet divided; the left side is supposed to host masculinity: a desk, a boat, a boxing ball, a fishing rod and Jasper Morrison's Thinking Man's Chair (with it's measures written on it) find their counterparts on the right hand feminine side which is dominated by the big sleeping stage full of soft blankets and cushions in white and pink.  We see a hanging felt crib, paper lamps, hot water bottles in a knitted cover and bags and baskets again in pinkish shades. No boxing, exploring or working, but notions of nourishing and care-giving. All the artifacts imply either going out or staying in. Moreover, Campbell's own design can be found in the wallpapers: Hunting Scene on the left, Pretty on the right. 

Thinking. Man. Figures. Measurements. 

 The publication tells about "props symbolic of masculine logic and feminine philosophy (…) which co-mingle in its design agenda to express a fresh concept of spatial construction that offers insights into how we might live better."

Might we actually live better if designers not only keep on segregating gender but also reproducing a heteronym and dichotomous idea of gender? Wouldn't it have been far more innovative to try and find ways of designing a holistic gender-sensitive interior? Or at least to play with these stereotypes? The opportunity to implement ideas and to provide a space for diverse and multilayered consumers/individuals/inhabitants, who not only use, but also create, diverse and multilayered environments has been missed. Sadly, the installation lacks any kind of protest and thorough reflection.

“Personally I feel very much at home here,” says Louise Campbell of her “Haus”. “So where floral wallpaper in a kitchen would not naturally present itself at the top of my list, plenty of fine tools do. Even so, I’d much rather sleep in an imaginatively decorated space than in a bare white bedroom." The open subjectivity raises the question of whether female designers are doomed to be reduced to the femininity in their design, thus being nothing but "the other" according to Simone de Beauvoir's old but still relevant definition of femininity.

Finally, at the centre of the space, there is a dining table, "where both meet" together with Campbell's statement how "the products may perhaps seem feminine, but given a closer look, they are all based on material and function, reflecting utterly logical decisions." On a theoretical level, the possibility of "utterly logical decision" immediately raises serious questions and would be worth discussing: the concept of "DAS HAUS" does neither.

Not the table, but, at least, the wall in the kitchen-area presents a mix of masculine and feminine tools. It is dominated by a peck-board full of tools for all kinds of purposes and, unlike Bulthaup's B2 kitchen cabinet, the wall does not provide the opportunity to hide anything - a mix of kitchen utensils, textile items such as threads and yarn, with knives, saws and screwdrivers neatly arranged in specific groups. 

On the other hand, it is at least a bit refreshing and motivating to see an awareness of gender subjects emerging in such a commercial and business-related context. Still, the feeling of a missed opportunity due to a hesitation (or lack of ability) to go beyond established Western gender stereotypes lingers on after leaving "DAS HAUS".

Louise Campbell was born in Copenhagen in 1970. Being the daughter of a Danish father and an English mother, she grew up and was educated in both countries. After graduating from the London College of Furniture in 1992, she returned to Denmark and continued her studies in Industrial Design at Denmark’s Design School, from which she graduated in 1995. She set up her own studio in 1996 and has worked independently ever since.


  1. Related to Gender, Segregation and Interior Design Tristan Bridges founded this interesting and interdisciplinary blog: https://inequalitybyinteriordesign.wordpress.com/

  2. Do you have a link to the publication "Das Haus 2014" which you mention in the text? I really need it for my Master thesis about Gender and Interior Design.. thank you very much!!!

    1. Thank you for comment!

      I couldn't find an online source for the publication I am referring to. This here comes close (German only): http://www.imm-cologne.de/media/imm/downloads_25/pdf_26/content_mappen/20_DasHaus_dt.pdf

      Maybe it helps if you can contact the Koelnmesse to get a copy of the booklet: imm@koelnmesse.de