If we could open doors between times and places--as in C.S. Lewis' novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe or 2011 film The Adjustment Bureau--I imagine this is what it would be like. An unheated portrait gallery with dark walnut panelling typical of the Zurich Baroque period connects to an all-purpose living room--or Stube--from the late 16th century, complete with bed, kitchenette and desk. Beyond yet another door is a richly-decorated room from the Fraumunster Convent in Zurich, lined with a beautiful low-relief frieze design.
"The Swiss National Museum collected rooms from [period] houses that were demolished," explains Christina Sonderegger, curator of the Swiss homes and furnishings exhibition at the Landesmuseum Zurich. The rooms were carefully fitted into a purpose-built wing in the museum and house an exhibition that chronicles Swiss homes since the 15th century. It is an ideal place to answer my question about what a Swiss interior looks like.
In some, furniture has been added to recreate how the room may have looked at the time. Others are left bare. One feature the period rooms all have in common, however, is wood panelling. Sonderegger explains that wood was popular as a wall covering, because it provided insulation, created a cosy ambience and looked impressive. One room, taken from the 17th-century Alter Seidenhof in Zurich, has intricately-carved panelling veneered with layers of precious woods to impress guests of the wealthy silk merchant family who lived there.
The rooms all belonged to the upper class, who were the so-called 'trendsetters' at the time, and influences came from travels, pattern books and major, international design centres. "[Nevertheless,] Switzerland has always been a little behind the latest trends," smiles Sonderegger, "perhaps because there was no court, which inspired interiors in other countries."
While in the pre-Industrial age the range of woods available inspired furniture making in Switzerland, the development of new substances--in particular the invention of plastic, which gave rise to the advent of mass production expanded options for interiors that were appropriate for modern lifestyles.
"In the 20th century, when fewer people owned properties and the properties they lived in were smaller, furniture needed to be space-saving, adjustable, mobile and multifunctional," explains Sonderegger. Built-in wooden furniture gave way to portable models--the...