Book review: Creating The Artful Home – The Aesthetic Movement



The greatest achievement of the Aesthetic Movement in America was the home, especially the middle class home.

from: Creating The Artful Home: The Aesthteic Movement (p. 155)

As the overwhelmed owner of an old house, I often wonder how I am supposed to decorate my house in the era of glossy shelter magazines and designer house shows. All the images I see compel me to keep up with the latest trends, but I also want to be true to my old house’s identity – and my own artistic whims.

My house was built in sometime between 1874-1882. That places it squarely in the time period of the Aesthetic Movement.

What is the Aesthetic Movement?

I had heard of it before, but never really knew much about it until I read Karen Zukowski’s book: Creating The Artful Home: The Aesthetic Movement. (2006 – Gibbs Smith, Publisher)

One of the most influential decorating, design and artistic movements in history was the Aesthetic Movement. Creating The Artful Home takes the reader on a comprehensive tour of the Aesthetic Movement from its early roots in the 1850’s to its applications for modern home design and decor.

For people who love researching and looking at authentic historic interiors from the late 1800’s, this is a ‘must read’ and a ‘must-keep-on-your-bookshelf-for-future-reference’ book.

Creating The Artful Home – the Aesthetic Movement is of the highest quality in design, production, writing and photography.

The author is clearly fluent in and passionate about her subject matter. Karen Zukowski is literally an expert on the Aesthetic Movement; she is a faculty member in the Museum Studies Department of New York University and in the Cooper Hewit/Parsons MA program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design. She is also a consultant for several historic house museums.

This book is no light summer read-at-the-beach. Rather, it is a meticulous study of the Aesthetic Movement from its evolution to its decline and how we can see modern interpretations in today’s art and architecture.

I found reading this book was like taking a university course on the Aesthetic Movement. As a reader, I became extremely focused and immersed in the minutia, the language of art history, and the design intricacies of the Aesthetic Movement – a decadent era when it was believed that “beauty could elevate the soul” (p. 20)

I stayed up late at night reading this book; I took notes, I looked up words, I studied the pictures very carefully. Apart from enjoying the book and it’s subject matter of “art for art’s sake” I also feel I learned a few things about history, art and architecture – my three favorite topics.

A few things about this book that stood out to me:

1) The author explores how women, in particular, were involved in the Aesthetic Movement and also, how social class standing played into the movement.

2) The author emphasizes the Aesthetic Movement’s interconnectedness and interdependence with architecture and the decorative arts.

3) And lest the reader should become overwhelmed by the scholarly language or historical references, the author makes the book more accessible by introducing an imaginary every-woman character, “Mrs. Kenner”, who walks with us through her 1880’s life experiencing, learning about, and living the Aesthetic Movement.

Much to my delight, we even go house-hunting for a Queen Anne with Mrs. Kenner!

The book goes into great detail about period glasswork, textile design, furniture, millwork, tilework, etc. Almost every page in the book features some type of visual aid including photographs, historic paintings, trade cards, wallpaper samples and photos from the author’s own impressive personal collection of Aesthetic Movement items.

More than just a guide book or a photo book, Creating The Artful Home – The Aesthetic Movement is impeccably researched and will appeal to readers who have a serious thirst for knowledge about the design period of the late 1800’s (otherwise known as the Victorian era).

You can purchase your copy of Creating The Artful Home – The Aesthetic Movement here.


Architect-designed houses were set out in the landscape like a smorgasbord from which others could nibble.

– Author Karen Zukowski on the homes of the Aesthetic Movement (p. 136)


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