A modern take on the Gustavian clock designed by Kate Pruitt is among the… (Ellen Silverman )
You can learn a lot about history by studying the objects in our home, said Amy Azzarito, author of the new book “Past & Present: 24 Favorite Moments in Decorative Arts History and 24 Modern DIY Projects Inspired by Them” ($27.50; Abrams).
Designer Kate Pruitt’s do-it-yourself modern Gustavian clock, for example, is based on the 18th century designs of Swedish farmers who built them for extra income. More than a century later, the restrained style influenced a revival of Gustavian furniture by Ikea.
History, Azzarito said, is a source for creativity.
"We’re all on Pinterest. We're all looking at images," Azzarito said in an interview. "But there is an untapped source for inspiration -- the things that came before."
PHOTOS: "Past & Present" DIY projects
Azzarito's interest in history is not surprising given that she earned a master’s in the history of decorative arts and design through a program run by Parsons the New School of Design and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. She also worked as a librarian at the New York Public Library. At one point, she thought she wanted to be an interior decorator.
“I loved part of it until I realized you spend half the day arguing with people about paint colors," she said. "I was more interested in where paint came from."
Azzarito's curiosity and passion for details eventually resulted in the Past & Present column for Design Sponge, where she is managing editor. In the feature, Azzarito offers lively insights into the history behind a particular design trend and then pairs it with a modern DIY project.
Azzarito expands on her column in the book, adding colorful and informative essays on a range of subjects, be it Rococo style or 18th century obelisks. "I tried really hard to make it personable and more like a conversation," Azzarito said. The related DIY projects are by artists such as Todd Oldham, Studio Choo and Eddie Ross, and they come with templates, a bibliography of references for further research and lists of resources.
Asked why she thinks handmade items found on Etsy and at local craft fairs have become so popular, Azzarito pointed to their personal nature.
“Our homes are such personal spaces," she said. "People want to find a way to express their personality and uniqueness through the things they make. I think it is inspiring and empowering for people to know that maybe they can come up with something too. It’s not over.”