Three designers share how religion influences their decor

In the house where I grew up, just about every room has a religious icon hanging on its walls. In Greek we call these images εικόνα (where the word “icon” comes from) and we see these works as a form of protection and security in our culture. Many icons used by Greek Orthodox Christians are made in Greece and passed down from generation to generation, and they often display portraits of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, the two figures, or saints. The one in my bedroom – a handmade sterling silver creation – was a christening gift from my aunt and uncle, brought back from Greece.

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Of course, Orthodox Christians are not the only ones turning to tangible representations of their religion to decorate their homes. .

Religious iconography is not a new element in the world of design, of course. In fact, it is one of the oldest: the phenomenon dates back more than 1,600 years, in the 4th century, when churches were decorated with icons to illustrate the religious beliefs of the faithful and to honor the characters to whom they prayed. Since then, iconography has become a recurring spectacle in the world of architecture and design.

Take a trip to sites like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you’re bound to stumble upon religious iconography in a number of galleries (not to mention the exhibits, like the Costume Institute’s Spring 2018 exhibit, Celestial bodies: fashion and the Catholic imagination, which highlighted the effect of Catholicism on designer fashion). Many items in the Met’s permanent collection echo religious influences, such as an 11-foot height Mihrab, or a Muslim prayer niche, made in Iran in the 1350s and made up of mosaic tiles (think turquoise, lapis lazuli, etc.).

Although many centuries have passed since religious iconography first adorned the walls of churches around the world, these objects are still common elements to this day, beyond places of worship.

Jeffrey Quartius

New York-based designer Jeffrey Quartius is currently working with a client of mid-Asian and mid-European descent who sought to incorporate heirlooms into his home in the form of crosses, bibles, Buddha sculptures and jade, the latter “representing strength, luck and invites good health. “and is one of East Asia’s most precious stones, says Quaritius. This eclectic mix of decor” really speaks of the melting pot that is America, which I love, “he adds. -he.

In addition to incorporating elements of religious decoration when designing spaces for clients, Quaritius also led the creation of meditation rooms and prayer rooms. Needless to say, the influence of religion on our homes goes beyond the simple tangible and wearable type.

Manhattan interior designer Rosie Cohen has also seen the impact of religion on interior design when conserving spaces for his own clientele, many of whom practice Orthodox Judaism. In order to “meet a client’s religious needs without compromising on style,” Cohen has previously had a custom shelving and workspace created – by Joseph’s Custom Furniture – to serve as a place for Hebrew scripture display and use. for daily learning.

rosie cohen interiors

Carol sabbagh

Another element of religious design in the same house is “a washing sink installed in the kitchen island for ritual washing of hands before meals”. As Cohen explains, “The kitchen is often the center of the home. Mothers work to prepare elaborate customary dishes for the Sabbath which is held from Friday evening to Saturday. Having two kitchen sinks also helps separate meat and dairy when preparing meals, as these two types of food cannot be eaten together in Orthodox Judaism.

In terms of Islamic decoration, Mai Hussein, an interior designer based in Fairfax, Va., recounts Beautiful house, “Muslims cannot display faces or paintings of people, hence Islamic calligraphy – which usually consists of quotes from the Quran – and Islamic architecture.” She adds: “In a way, for me, it’s a bit rebellious [to incorporate Islamic decor] because we often appropriate without credit, unlike the European decor. In an English room, for example, there are usually so many Islamic elements that aren’t labeled as such – think Persian rugs and repeated lattice patterns.

One religious design element that Hussein often incorporates into his own home is a prayer rug. She says these items are usually “placed on the floor, to ensure that the devotee prays on a clean surface” because, “in most Muslim homes, shoes are taken off at the door to ensure clean floors throughout. time, but that is not a requirement as long as you pray on a clean surface. Most prayer rugs feature what is called a niche design, which depicts the mihrab, a semicircular part of a mosque wall where Muslims pray. Hussein adds that each prayer rug must face the direction of the prayer (also known as “qibla”), which simply means it must face Masjid al-Haram, the Great Mosque of Mecca. .

a design by may hussein, which includes islamic artwork that features a verse from the quran
A design by May Hussein, which includes Islamic artwork featuring a verse from the Quran.

Mai Hussein

As many interior designers often do, Hussein tends to like it. Instagram to showcase the spaces she decorates, but she found that the public forum resulted in unfortunate reactions to the religious elements of her designs. After losing many followers following an article on prayer rugs, Hussein took Instagram to share his disappointment at the response.

Hussein then pointed out the irony of such a reaction when, she said, many beloved design elements in Western interiors are drawn from Islamic and other non-Western traditions. In light of this, Hussein advises his supporters to “please realize that ownership is deeply rooted in colonialism“, a fitting reminder to always seek to recognize the true origins of the decorative items and themes you wish to incorporate, and be sure to do so with respect.

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