Simple Elegance

- Wednesday, December 01, 2010

As I sit down to write this month’s column the downstairs of my home resembles a war zone. I am in the midst of holiday decorating, which I admit, takes me several days. Furniture has been moved around to make room for a ceiling touching twelve-foot tree that itself has been wrestled into its corner of the living room. It has been wrapped in strands of lights. Boxes of ornaments have been brought down from the attic and their contents strewn upon the dining room table, awaiting placement on the tree in the adjacent living room. It’s a process.

When all is said and done, I imagine it will be a festive display that will convey some holiday spirit. It reflects my personal decorating style, which is to say the least eclectic and multi-layered. With so much color, pattern, artwork, and objects on display any really simple, restrained effort would be lost in the mix. That’s OK. I have finally embraced the fact that it is Christmas.

But, of course, simple can be elegant and beautiful. This past Thanksgiving I was invited to an intimate holiday feast hosted by my friend Bob. He lives and works in New York but has recently finished renovating a weekend getaway condo in Drayton Tower located in downtown Savannah. For those of you not familiar with the structure, it is a landmark mid-century building constructed in 1949 in the International Style, smack dab in the middle of Savannah’s historic district. Originally built as apartments, the building is enjoying a renaissance as condominiums and Bob was one of the first to purchase a space. He was eager to embrace its clean, modern aesthetic, expansive views, and create something fabulous from its raw state.

And fabulous it is, exemplifying how much drama and elegance can be wrought out of a mere 1100 square feet with low ceilings and no elaborate moldings, fireplaces, original wood floors, or other details typically associated with historic downtown buildings. Working with another friend of mine, Sim, a fellow SCAD alum and Savannah designer, they have played up the corner unit’s most striking feature, walls of glass encompassing views of some of Savannah’s best architecture and tree-top vistas. Simple, period-appropriate furnishings, book-match mahogany veneer wall panels, cork tile flooring, and a sleek, unadorned open-plan kitchen assure the view takes center stage. Restraint and editing are used to the fullest effect.

I am witnessing a similar trend in the Lowcountry with some of my projects. I have noticed a desire for a more simple and pared-down approach to décor. Fading away are the “more is more” over-the-top design trends that gained so much popularity in the 1990’s. When properly executed, these simplified design schemes still convey warmth, sophistication, and make a statement without too much clutter or ornamentation.

Selecting a single design element to play-up and highlight in a room can often have as much impact as featuring several competing motifs or elements. For instance, if you are using a boldly patterned granite or marble in a bathroom or kitchen, the other elements such as cabinetry can take a backseat. An over-scaled, ornate mirror can hold center-stage in a powder room without needing support from the light fixtures or faucetry. A treasured collection of pottery on display or a single, bold piece of art can sometimes be the only accessory needed in a space. It just takes a little thought and planning to make it work.

Case in point: A current Sea Pines client expressed her wishes for a completely neutral color-scheme in her newly renovated home. She has a collection of oil paintings and primitive early American antiques and wanted them showcased inside a quiet cocoon of ivory and sand. I chose textured silks and nubby linens in natural colors for the upholstery and drapery. The only pattern is a subtle geometric hand-woven area rug in shades of aubergine, merlot, and charcoal. The artwork provides the punch and becomes the main focus in the serene space.

My client will not be here for the holidays but I imagine if she were she would decorate a tree in all white lights with a monochromatic color-scheme. As for my friend Bob, I have no doubt he would do a retro silver aluminum tinsel tree. While neither would be as over-the-top as mine, both would be an elegant expression of the season and compliment their decor.

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