Why automobile-inspired interiors are creeping into the family home

Furniture designers still have much to learn from the automotive industry – as shown in the new interiors of the Bentley EXP 100 GT concept car.

The news that Bentley recently commissioned Gainsborough, the historic Suffolk silk-weaving company, to create a bespoke damask for its EXP 100 GT concept car is yet another a sign that the lines between automotive and interior design are increasingly fuzzy.

The interior of a luxury car is one of its key selling points, particularly for those who can’t tell a camshaft from a crankshaft, and, in many respects, it’s an area in which car manufacturers have left furniture designers idling at the lights.

One can only assume that the owners of a Bentley have to exert massive self will to drag themselves from the car’s cosseting embrace and into the relative discomfort of their homes. However much you splash out on a sofa, it’s unlikely that it will be as comfortable as the back of a limo – or that it can be adjusted in 12 different settings or that the stitching is the work of Hand & Lock, the company that has made royal and military dress uniforms since the late 18th century.

Bentley car bench interior

Gainsborough has a similarly impressive pedigree, having been in business for much more than 100 years, with a client list that includes Morris & Co and Henry Ford and archives dating back to the 15th century.

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The root of the problem is that, in the design of classic chairs and sofas, comfort is often constrained by convention. Given the emphasis that Modernist designers place on function, it would be tempting to think that they might have provided the answer. Yet other than an impressive attempt by Charles and Ray Eames (their Lounge Chair is the closest you’ll get to the club-class experience without leaving the ground), much contemporary furniture is a triumph of style (and the designer’s ego) over comfort.

‘The designs, launched to mark Bentley’s centenary, also include sofas, chairs, tables and lighting, most with a discreetly Art Deco feel’

The same could never be the case at the top end of the car industry and there’s no doubt that car designers significantly raise the bar. When you’re building a twin turbocharged V8 engine, you can’t cut any corners and car designers tend to take the same approach to a passenger’s comfort.

Fortunately for Bentley owners, there’s no need to slum it away from the cosseting embrace of a Mulsanne Speed, Bentayga or Flying Spur. Last year, the company unveiled new additions to its furniture range – a desk, armchair and matching footstool – at the Milan Furniture Fair that ooze with the sotto voce sophistication of the brand. The designs, launched to mark Bentley’s centenary, also include sofas, chairs, tables and lighting, most with a discreetly Art Deco feel. There might not be Bentley-style extras, such as fridge set into the back or a desk that folds into your lap, but the pieces are, nevertheless, suitably swish.