Does AI have a place in the interior design world? LA designer Patrick Ediger has some thoughts (and a major concern).
An Image I created using Midjourney AI with the prompt: "Grand staircase in a Parisian mansion with a blend of Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern styles".
There’s been A LOT of chatter about AI recently. From the months long actors’ and writers’ strikes to high-paying job losses across industries due to ChatGPT, AI developments are definitely commanding the spotlight. (And ruffling some feathers.)
But, despite widespread advancements of AI technology in architecture and interior design, I haven’t seen enough discussions in our corner of the world. So, I wanted to have a broader conversation here.
First of all, I have to admit: I have big feelings about artificial intelligence in interior design. And, confusingly enough, these feelings are rather inconsistent.
Some days I think: this is ruinous! And I worry that AI will have drastic negative implications for my industry. Other days, I just roll my eyes at the whole conversation.
Which highlights a key point:
Discussions around AI aren’t necessarily black or white. It’s more complicated than that.
(Which is why we should be talking about it more.)
I’ve had conversations with other interior designers about the use of AI in our work, and there’s a lot of nuance at play. And truthfully, the technology is new enough that I’m not sure we can have fully formed opinions yet when it comes to using artificial intelligence in the interior design industry.
My attempt of creating inspiration images for a new design project using Midjourney. Even though I was using the same descriptor prompts for all images and just changing the room names, the spaces never quite feel like they're totally in sync with one another.
In that spirit, I’m going to do my best to give a fair take on a couple rather big questions:
First, how can we leverage visual AI software in our design businesses? And, second, how do we ensure we’re using AI ethically and responsibly?
The more AI-generated spaces I initially saw popping up in the world, the more curious I became. And I wanted to have a better understanding of it before I formed strong opinions. So, I created a Midjourney account and tinkered with it a bit.
Almost immediately, I saw both the limitations and the expanse of that world.
After trying rendering software myself, I quickly realized a key truth: While AI can do incredible things, there are some shortcomings we need to be aware of.
First, you have to be specific but not too wordy with prompts to create the output that you want. And even then, it’s not possible to recreate an image of something that already exists.
As a test, I described spaces I *knew* existed — spaces I knew in extreme detail — because I’d designed them myself. And try as I might, I couldn't get AI software to spit out a rendering that looked exactly like actual space — and I get that's not really the point, it was just a fun test to see the limits of the tool.
The image on the left is a real project of mine (Photography by Meghan Beierle-O’Brien). The image on the right is AI-generated using Midjourney with prompts describing the image on the left. This is as close as I got after several attempts - and to it's credit Midjourney got the gist. It does have many of the same elements it's just nowhere close to a replica of the actual space.
So if my goals for the end product are specific — if I have something in mind — it’s all but incapable of achieving that. I’m much better off using 3D photorealistic renderings to get a space out of my head and into the world. (More on this topic soon!)
One potential benefit of AI renderings for designers and architects: closing communication gaps with clients.
Just because AI design tools feel incomplete doesn’t mean they’re without utility. In fact, I think there are a few key ways designers can leverage AI in their businesses.
First, AI renderings can help bring visual clarity to sometimes ambiguous descriptors.
In today’s design world, the lines between eras and styles are often pretty blurred. We’re mashing up design styles that haven’t been put together before. So there aren’t words for it, and we end up making up some ridiculous non-name that might be technically correct, but doesn’t actually mean anything to anyone.
For example, a client might come to me asking for “Contemporary Danish Eclecticism,” but the images that come to mind for me might be very different from what they’re trying to convey. So it’s helpful to create some quick, clear physical images — concrete examples that we can look at and highlight what clients love and what they don’t. This way, I’m not trying to play a game of telephone with largely made up words.
Conversely, my dear friend and designer Chelsea Sachs, with whom I collaborated on an incredible project a few years ago, floated the idea of using ChatGPT to help define these otherwise-unnamed styles. Using this idea I asked ChatGPT to analyze and name the style of the images headlining this article. Here was its response:
Variations of the headline image created using Midjourney AI with the prompt: "Grand staircase in a Parisian mansion using a blend of Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern styles".
ChatGPT: The interior design style shown in these images combines elements of Art Deco geometry and opulence with Mid-Century modernist simplicity and a touch of futurism. If I were to name this style, considering its roots in classical design and its modern execution, I might call it "Neo Deco Futurism." This name acknowledges the Art Deco inspiration while also suggesting a forward-looking design ethos that blends past and future.
Either way, letting AI create a starting point with concrete visual or verbal examples could provide a shared foundation for designers and clients to start from.
Another way artificial intelligence could benefit the interior design and architecture world: digital mood boards.
Another design colleague mentioned the idea of using AI for mood boards, which is intriguing to me. Potentially, AI-generated mood boards could provide an efficient way to convey and communicate visual language — showing materials like wood finishes, stone, wallcoverings, etc. in a single place — easily emailed or pulled up on a screen at a client meeting. In theory, this approach could help streamline communications, which is something designers are always trying to do more successfully.
Admittedly, all of these AI ideas remain hypothetical to me. I have not yet used them in my actual design practice, as it’s just not precise or consistent enough yet.
A pair of moodboards I created using Midjourney. Both used the same prompt perimeters, except for the left moodboard I requested a photorealistic image, and for the right I asked for hand sketched style.
So what are the drawbacks of AI in the architecture and design world?
An immediate issue I see with AI images of interior spaces: there is always an inherent “fakeness” about them. It just looks like fantasyland to me. Granted, I spend much more time analyzing images than the average person, so I’m sure my eye is more critical. Still, the lack of reality causes some problems for me.
For starters, these images aren’t bound by the laws of gravity, architecture, and engineering. Again, as someone who looks at images day in and day out, I think I have a pretty clear sense of what’s real and what’s not in these images. But for the layman, it’s really hard to know. And I think that’s where it’s dangerous.
At the very least, AI images set unrealistic expectations for what’s possible. These images can cause clients to dissociate from reality a little bit.
As a designer, I’m absolutely trying to expand my clients’ horizons of what’s possible; to get them to imagine something they hadn’t considered before. AND YET… it does both of us a huge disservice if they start imagining outcomes that aren’t possible within the laws of physics or engineering.
Fantasy "hyper contemporary steel and glass resorts in the Utah dessert" I created using Midjourney.
Take it a step further, the use of artificial intelligence in the design world can be really manipulative. It’s creating fiction, and oftentimes creators are letting the vast majority of people assume it’s fact.
I started noticing some leading designers and architects — two big names in particular come to mind, both accounts with a 250,000+ followers — posting images that, from my vantage point, were clearly AI generated. But as I read the captions and scanned the hashtags, I wasn’t seeing any reference to AI anywhere.
And then, these posts started getting comments like “Oh my gosh, this is amazing! Where is this?” Questions rolled in about the property: people asking for details, for sources for the products and fixtures within the space — questions that showed the majority of viewers clearly didn’t understand that these weren’t true, physical spaces.
And — even in the comments — the author never acknowled that these are AI generated images. Never explaining that, not only is it not their work, it’s not even real.
In the image below, the original caption does have a nod to a “visual artist”, but that doesn’t feel transparent or specific enough. Is a photographer a visual artist? An interior stylist? “Visual artist” feels like a deliberately fuzzy term here, especially when there’s no other mention of AI — and the author tells a commenter that the flooring is paint instead of tile…rather than simply a fantasy world conjured out of thin air.
An AI-generated space shared on Instagram with clear misunderstandings in the comments. Screenshots from Instagram.
Watching that unfold, I had an immediate reaction of, “Ok, this is just straight up misinformation. You can’t do that.” I just really, really, really had a problem with it.
Especially when we’ve all just been through a season of such political and social misinformation and gaslighting, now we have to do this with visual images? We have to question literally everything we see? It’s just too much.
Ethical dilemmas with artificial intelligence in the design world
Truly, I want to be charitable here. I want to assume that maybe this design expert knew it was AI, and assumed everyone else would be able to tell, too. That would be lovely if it was true.
But the next account took it further — not only withholding information, but actively creating confusion and spreading misinformation.
On a recent Sunday, I woke up to an instagram post with the caption “Look at this amazing penthouse of the Woolworth Building in NYC.” The image has these breathtaking, expansive Gothic windows. It’s absolutely stunning.
AI-generated images masquerading as reality on social media. Screenshots from Instagram.
And I’m thinking to myself: Wait…this building was completed in 1913. There is no way this is real. No way that is the actual architecture of this 100+ year old space.” And all the responses I see are, “Oh, I’d love to live there!” “What a view!” It’s so clear that the vast majority of people seeing this image don’t understand that it’s not real.
One commenter even alludes to the fantasy element at play here — the “too good to be true” feeling they have looking at these images.
To which the author replies: It is very much real.
Except…here’s an actual image of the Woolworth Building’s exterior and recent penthouse interior renovation.
No sweeping gothic windows in sight, I’m afraid.
Exterior view of the top of the Woolworth Building. Photo by Williams New York via House Beautiful.
The actual Interior or the five-level Penthouse, know as the Pinnacle, at the top of the Woolworth Building. Notice the lack of sweeping views. Photo by Travis Mark via House Beautiful.
The fact is, the average person would never know what to look for here to discern fiction from reality. And even if they had a feeling something felt ‘off’, there have been so many advances in architecture in the past 25 years, the reality of what’s possible in architecture and engineering has changed quickly.
Artists like Frank Ghery and Zaha Hadid have created structures that seem to defy the laws of physics. So there’s already a bit of wonder there.
*** Sidenote: one of the biggest tells for me when it comes to spotting AI generated images is chairs and chair legs. For some reason, it always feels like there’s one leg that’s never quite at the right angle. In image below - the dining chair on the left, the front leg turns in a way that’s organic, but very structurally unsound. This chair would never have made it off the production line in real life.
The other big tell for me is incomplete elements. Going back to the chairs in this image - there appears to be six chairs around this table. However, when you look under the table you can really only make out the seats for the two chairs in the front and the legs of the chairs in the back. For the chairs on the sides of the table, their seats and legs blend in with the legs of the table. The visual information is incomplete.
An AI-generated rendering of a dining space shows a table with 6 chairs around it. However, the legs and seats appear muddled and incomplete — a pretty consistent tell with AI imagery. Screenshot from Instagram.
But no matter how good the AI generated spaces are, here’s the key problem:
That kind of deliberate manipulation; showing completely made up spaces and pretending they’re real? It’s going to one day create a reckoning. Because as we become more and more steeped in a world of AI-generated images, we’re going to become hyper vigilant and cynical — never knowing if we can trust what we see.
The consequences of that are seriously troubling, and they extend well beyond the design world.
AI interiors imagery as art
I posted a little bit about my AI frustrations on Threads awhile back, and I got a couple of thoughtful comments from AI artists.
While some acknowledged my concerns, many artists largely see their work as fantasy. They’re creating these imaginary worlds the same way a painter would, it’s just a digital medium instead.
And that part I totally get. The storytelling aspect and the creativity behind it is inspiring and really does serve a purpose. I’m just not sure where that line lies.
But it definitely needs to start with clearly labeling your work so people understand what it is they’re looking at.
An example of AI-generated interiors and architecture done right, in my opinion? Digital artist Ben Myhre creates fantastical worlds and mythical spaces using AI software and other digital tools.
Digital artist Ben Myhre reimagines a Lush Industrial House, Inspired by New York Lofts using Midjourney AI, Photoshop and Topaz.
He takes steps — both in his bio and in every image caption — to ensure viewers know what they’re looking at. Taking it one step further, he also asks that his followers label his work accordingly to prevent misconceptions. Love to see it!
AI images and intellectual property issues — aka, is visual AI stealing?
The real question that we should ask ourselves with AI in all forms is: can it ever be truly original, or are their intellectual property issues at play?
With everything thats transpired in LA over the past several months, the writers’ and actors’ strikes and the specific concerns surrounding AI, I started seeing other implications of this. AI is, by its very nature, derivative.
It’s stealing from other people’s artwork and ideas. It is literally amassing our art and plopping it out as its own. Not just stealing from one of us, but stealing from all of us, as an industry. And that’s when the morality issues of it really started to hit me.
As much as I’d love to provide a clear path forward, or put a nice bow on this, I can’t. As I stated above: this technology is too new for any of us to have a fully-formed opinion on. That said, I definitely have concerns.
The bottom line (for now)? I don’t think AI is going to put designers out of work, or create a meaningful loss of income.
While AI is making huge leaps, and has the potential to affect (most likely even improve) our processes on the back end, it’s not yet near the caliber I’d require for client-facing renderings, at this time.
It’s also unable to replicate or replace the most impactful parts of my work.
AI cannot create rapport and loyalty with trades, craftspeople, or contractors. It can’t develop relationships with vendors, accurately source products and fixtures, or negotiate pricing and lead times.
Most importantly, it can't develop the kind of intimate relationships with clients that get to the real root of the work we do. AI cannot understand the emotion behind a client saying, “When I walk in my home I want to feel ”, internalize what it means, and create a whole environment around it. There's a powerful emotional bond that only human to human connection — and well-honed design intuition — can deliver.
Until next time,
P.S. Do you have thoughts or concerns about AI-generated spaces? I’d love to hear from you! Leave thoughts or questions in the comments.
P.P.S. Want to know more about how I routinely use visual technology in my interior design work? Stay tuned for next month’s blog post!