Many years have passed since Gary Kemp was a wunderkind member of Spandau Ballet, the kilt-clad New Romantic band. So it is somehow comforting to discover he's still a romantic. Hence, he says, his long-standing passion for Aesthetic Movement interiors, which has seen him decorate parts of his house - its crowning glory being his upstairs, ochre-walled drawing room - in the ultra-arty, late-19th- century style once championed by Oscar Wilde.
"The style suits my fascination with history - I have a romantic sensibility," muses Kemp, now 40 years old. "I'm fascinated by the latter half of the 19th century and the fin-de-siecle era. It was a great time for literature and a lot of changes happened socially. The Aesthetic Movement culminated in Art Nouveau, which was devastatingly modern. It influenced Modernism and Le Corbusier in the 20th century."
Kemp is an informed motormouth on the topic. The germ of the Aesthetic Movement, he explains, lay in the mid-19th-century romantic-socialist vision of William Morris. Reacting against the dehumanising effect of mass-production both on design and workers, Morris insisted on handcrafting his furniture and legendary wallpapers. Kemp was first smitten by the style after buying a chair designed for Morris by the architect Philip Webb with one of his first Spandau Ballet wage packets. "I wasn't interested in cars," he says. "I've always loved design."
Later, in the 1870s, the Aesthetic Movement abandoned its socialist roots. Also known as Art for Art's Sake (a term coined by Wilde's Oxford tutor, Walter Pater), the style was also a backlash against the claustrophobic clutter of the mainstream Victorian middle-class interior, with its heavy furniture and garish colours.
Oscar Wilde became one of the movement's foremost advocates - he even toured America to deliver a series of lectures on the subject, called House Beautiful. Now this title has been purloined by an exhibition at East London's Geffrye Museum - The House Beautiful: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Interior - to mark the centenary, this year, of Wilde's death. The exhibition dissects the Aesthetic Movement interior - its furniture, wallpapers, textiles and decorative arts - which reached its peak in 1890. It was a movement that ushered in an age of individualism. "Art furniture" - likely to be handcrafted - allowed homeowners to buy unique pieces. Yet it is one of the ironies of the movement that, despite this, it was very prescriptive. "These ideas were mainly disseminated by home- decorating manuals, such as Mrs Orin Smith's The Drawing Room, published in 1877," says Saskia Partington, the exhibition's curator. "They told you in no uncertain terms what was wrong with previous interiors."
One example of a truly individualistic home, however, was Wilde's house in Tite Street, Chelsea. One of Kemp's leatherbound books from the era relates an eye-witness description by WB Yeats of Wilde's avant-garde dining room - all white, save for a red cloth on the dining table, which was decorated by a terracotta sculpture and over which hung a red lamp. …