Freya Van Saun
Freya Van Saun has been teaching design history at NYSID since 2007. She teaches Historical Styles I and II and Design Theory, and has taught elective courses on Great Women Designers, Technology in Design, and The Habsburg Empire. Van Saun received a BA in Restoration and Connoisseurship of the Decorative Arts from the Fashion Institute of Technology and an MA from Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts
Please tell us about the Historical Styles courses you teach?
Historical Styles I surveys design from the beginning of recorded history up to 1820. It’s a nice broad overview of the social, cultural, and political forces that helped shape those styles. I feel it’s important to include a lot of contextualization so that the styles make sense, and it’s not just an exercise in memorizing slides.
In Historical Styles II, we look at the Industrial Revolution and the influence it had on the U.S. and England, and then cover the broader European picture and the evolution of 20th-century design, including designs that came out of Scandinavia, France, Germany, and Italy. We briefly touch upon 21st-century design, mentioning some of the trends of the last decade and putting them in some perspective.
Students get the opportunity to understand the vocabulary of design and to see how styles change as circumstances change. It’s a great tool for them and shows them how designers respond to their context. Designers today are always referencing styles from the past; no one is working in a void. Even if you choose to reject past styles, you need to understand what you are rejecting.
What about the new online version of the courses? How do they differ from the in-person classes?
The content of the lectures is essentially the same. The difference is that they are cut up into 20-minute segments, so students can choose to watch the segments over time and can watch them repeatedly. And, of course, the interaction with students is different. There is a threaded discussion that students respond to. It’s actually an interesting dialog because they can interact with me but also hear what fellow students are thinking about the material. And there are brief quizzes at the end of each lecture to help them absorb the information. It was an interesting process and I’m really happy with the results.
What’s special about the BA program?
It’s the degree I wish I could have done; if only it had been offered when I was an undergraduate student! As far as I know, NYSID is the only college that offers a bachelor’s degree in the history of the interior and the decorative arts. I also think the hands-on studio component is so important for truly understanding the history of interiors. I was an artist and designer first, which deeply enriched my understanding of the profession. It’s a wonderful way to understand history.
And anyone who is studying at NYSID has the most tremendous resources at their fingertips. It’s an amazing city to immerse oneself in culture. Many classes are taught at great institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick Collection, which adds so much to the program.