• Alexis Nicolaidis

What has travel done for design?

As life starts to return to something like normal and the possibilities of travel become an option again it raises the question, what does travel mean to you?


If you are not planning on a summer getaway abroad and are thinking of seeing more of the UK, you may start to notice just how much travel has influenced our buildings and landscapes. Travel meant a great deal and it still does.


One of the main influences on design and architecture over the years is the Grand Tour. Its influence can be seen in the architecture and landscapes of British country houses and public buildings throughout Britain. The country house was built by the aristocracy and moneyed to self-promote their wealth and to demonstrate the extent of their knowledge about the world, whilst displaying their collections of art and sculpture. They were built on large estates with landscaped gardens and parklands designed to leave visitors impressed and wanting. Many of these stunning buildings form part of the National Trust and privately-run estates which are starting to reopen again to the public so now is a great opportunity to visit them.


The Grand Tour rose in popularity from the late 17th century onwards. Principal towns and cities in predominately France, Italy and Germany were visited with less focus on the countryside. Italy was the jewel in the crown for those who journeyed south beyond Paris which only served to increase the influence that Italian history and culture had on Britain. Reports indicate that by 1818, 2,000 British tourists had visited Rome. Spain was not deemed an interesting place to visit and wars and distance put travellers off continuing on to Greece. I am sure modern travellers would disagree with this view on Spain and luckily the time to get to Greece is significantly less and wars are hopefully a thing of the past.


Ruined ancient architecture

Visitors on the Grand Tour arriving in Italy often went with two perceptions of the Italian past. The first being the rational and ordered world of the classical ancient times and the second which reflected their interest in Gothic novels as these were often set in Italy.


During its heyday the Grand Tour could last anywhere from several months to several years. The Grand Tourists of the 18th Century included aristocrats, the wealthy amateur and those training to be architects. In the main their intensions were to view, and purchase, art and antiquities or to sketch, paint and record architectural elements. The Grand Tour was viewed as an educational, social and cultural experience whereby much of the knowledge and ideas were bought back to England to be used within the fields of architecture and interior design.


The knowledge gained by those who undertook a Grand Tour can be seen in the architectural detailing applied to buildings throughout Britain. Proportion, order and symmetry were essential and can be directly attributed to its influence. It was the knowledge that was gained from travelling to other countries which led directly to the incorporation of Palladian and Classical Revival forms within buildings, furniture and decorative art.


Whilst the Grand Tour continued until the mid 18th Century and was seen as something of a rite of passage for the aristocracy and those from higher nobility, it started to decline in popularity as the passion for neo-classical culture waned. This was further compounded by the arrival of accessible rail and steamship travel opening up these countries to anyone who could afford the fare and was something of a precursor for early mass tourism. Even back then when things started to feel less exclusive interest waned and you could argue nothing has changed in attitudes.


The influences of the Grand Tour do not just stop at architecture and literature. It has influenced the destinations tourists continue to choose to visit and has helped shape ideas on culture, sophistication and decor. Our homes are filled with the designs brought back from the Grand Tour and continue to include Classical pieces such as these at the Spring Fair 2020 in Birmingham.

Grand Tour inspired statues

So, whilst the formal Grand Tour may have ceased, our love of travel has created our own versions of the Grand Tour where we are exposed to other cultures and expressions of design which find their way back into our homes.


Hopefully this has inspired you to see your home and buildings around you differently. Embrace the past and its influences on our designs and blend them with your own personal style and create something uniquely different. If you feel like you would like some guidance through the process, then I would love to hear from you. Email me at studio@vaheritage.co.uk and we can kick start your design journey.

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