In Defense of Ornament

Michael Diaz-Griffith Opinion

From Rococo splendor and Victorian gingerbread, to arts and crafts design reform and modernist austerity—ornament and ornamentation has been the subject of much dispute throughout the history of the decorative arts. Is less more? Or is too much never enough?

On February 1, four panelists came together during the Winter Show at the Park Avenue Armory to consider these questions and others as they examined ornament, past and future.


Glenn Adamson, senior scholar, Yale Center for British Art and columnist for The Magazine ANTIQUES

Martin Levy, principal, H. Blairman & Sons, London

Adam Charlap Hyman, principal, Charlap Hyman & Herrero, architects

Moderated by Michael Diaz-Griffith, strategic and creative consultant, Material Cult

  • “Chippendale” chair in in Grandmother pattern, designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, 1978–1984, manufactured by Knoll Associates. Photograph by Sailko on Wikimedia Commons.

  • Wallpaper illustrating the Crystal Palace, probably produced by Heywood, Higginbottom, and Smith, c. 1853–1855, Manchester, UK. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection; photograph ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

  • Wallpaper with design of formalized foliage, designed by Owen Jones, mid-1800s. Victoria and Albert Museum; photograph ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

  • Window from the J. C. Cross House, Minneapolis, Minnesota, designed by George Grant Elmslie, manufactured by Purcell, Feick, and Elmslie, 1911. Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Roger G. Kennedy.

  • Seagram Building, designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, 1958. Photograph by dandeluca on Wikimedia Commons.

  • Ewer from the workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, c. 1520–1525. Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of V. Everit Macy, in memory of his wife, Edith Carpenter Macy.

  • Pair of E. W. Pugin Granville chairs, c. 1870. Photograph courtesy of Christie’s.

  • Loos Haus in Vienna, designed by Adolf Loos, 1911. Photograph by Memorino on Wikimedia Commons.

  • Convolvulus gas fitting. Photograph courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.