Window Treatments

- Friday, April 17, 2009

I have been looking at windows a lot lately, partially because I am hoping to see a sign of spring, but mostly because I am currently designing window treatments for many of my projects. This is one aspect of my job that I particularly enjoy because of the vast array of options and styles available to custom tailor each window to the client’s needs and desires. What many of my clients see as a daunting task I see as a chance to be creative and have some fun.

Ideally a window opening in a room serves as a picture frame for beautiful views of the outdoors. And, as a big fan of good interior architecture, there is nothing better than a well-detailed, properly proportioned window overlooking a fantastic garden or waterway. A source of natural light to brighten your interiors and your soul, no further embellishment is needed.

But let’s face it, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the interior architecture is not that great, or even non-existent. Sometimes that view is less than fabulous, like the one of your neighbor’s service yard. Sometimes the natural light is too much when trying to watch television.

Most people today think of window dressing as purely decorative, but in fact, window treatments can serve a variety of purposes. When a pair of draperies adds color or texture or pattern to a room, it is indeed decorative. But how about controlling the glare or limiting heat loss or gain? Creating privacy for the inhabitants inside? Helping with acoustics? Getting rid of that vast expanse of cold, black glass at night. These are tasks that drapery and a whole host of specialized products can address such as shutters, blinds, and shades.

Window treatments can be bold and make a statement or be subtle and create a quiet backdrop for a space. Whichever the case, they should not dominate or overpower the room. I am happy to report that the heavily structured, over-the-top, swags and jabot valances, trimmed in yards of bullion fringe, popular in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, have given way to less fussy, classic drapery panels more in keeping with our lifestyle in the Lowcountry.

As with so many other facets of interior design, there are guidelines to consider rather than rules when designing window dressings:

Don’t be skimpy. Even a simple and tailored drapery panel needs to be proportioned correctly so the end result looks full and luxurious. A casual swag should be gracefully draped, not stretched and taut.

Think about the pattern. The folds and construction may distort the design or hide it completely. Your favorite flower in a fabric design may disappear on a roman shade. If you have a vertical stripe on pleated drapery, depending on the size of the stripes, one color may dominate.
Busy prints will compete with any art on the walls and may take your eye away from the view as well.

Generally, heavier fabrics should be used on the upholstery, not on the windows. Leave that woven brocade on the sofa.
Plain or inexpensive fabric can be enlivened by trim details like a contrast welt or band, nailhead trim, or fringe.

Please be sure your drapery panels come to the floor, breaking or even puddling slightly. Nobody wants to see a fabric amputated at the window ledge or suspended above the floor.

Get a memo (sample or small cutting) of the fabric you are considering and live with it for a few days. Pin it up by the window and look at it in different light, on sunny days as well as cloudy ones to see how it changes.

The right drapery hardware can make all the difference. It does not have to be expensive, just well proportioned and appropriate for the window treatment. It is like the jewelry that makes the dress.

Take these things into consideration when planning your window treatments and soon you will be looking at your windows in a whole new way.

Trends for 2009

- Wednesday, February 04, 2009

“I forgot to ask you about your recent trip to the Atlanta Market Show,” my mother said to me on the phone the other night. “Was it depressing?” she inquired.

“Depressing?” I replied, knowing full well she was wondering about the attendance of the event, given the current state of our sluggish economy. “Mom, you are watching way too much television. And, you are falling for all those gloom and doom predictions!” I teased her.

While the crowds of designers and buyers were somewhat smaller, I am happy to report that the interior design business is not dead at all, but very much alive and evolving in ways influenced by our very economic situation. How so, you ask? Let me enlighten you. 

Color is everywhere, and becoming more saturated on everything from upholstery fabrics, to area rugs, to accessories. I believe it is our psychological associations with color that influence this trend. Colors, as well as other motifs, coming into vogue, directly reflect our attitudes and needs of the changing times. Those beige-on-beige, mono-chromatic color schemes need a little added punch these days.

Shades of yellow, for example, were prevalent at the show. Mimosa, citron, and Dijon mustard all made appearances this season. These are colors we associate with sunshine, warmth, happiness, and nurturing. And who couldn’t use some nurturing in these tough times? Whether used sparingly as an accent color in a neutral colored décor or as the primary wall color of a room, the effect is cheerful and welcoming. 

Yellow was not the only hue shining at the tradeshow. Brighter blues, such as azure and cobalt, made waves like the oceans, turning up on fabrics on bedding and glazes on pottery. Deep purples such as amethyst and aubergine jumped out of the gardens and onto tablewares and dining chair fabrics. Forget all those faded hydrangea pastels of yester-year, these stronger hues demand center stage attention, evoking a richness and grandeur. And pink tones, amped-up from grandma’s faded rose bouquet to more vibrant fuscias and corals, added punch to everything from accent pillows to upholstery.

Since many people may not be indulging in trips abroad as they used to, it is not stopping them from bringing home some of the flavor of faraway places. Exotic looks are hot, especially safari-themed animal patterns like ostrich or giraffe. At the semi-annual High Point Furniture Market this past October, designer Suzanne Kasler showcased her eponymous collection for Hickory Chair Furniture. Inspired by her travels to Africa, the fabrics featured native Ikat patterns, resplendent with bold geometric designs and rendered in glorious pinks and golds on natural ecru backgrounds. “People are looking for more interesting textiles. Ethnic is now a basic category, like modern.” says John Robshaw, textile designer, as quoted in Home Accessories Today magazine.

And, as before, we have seen an ever-growing trend of environmental consciousness for recycled and renewable resources. Bamboo fiber based fabrics abounded, from sheeting to duvets. Reclaimed wood was featured on casegoods both rustic and contemporary. One particularly interesting example I found at market was the “Found Twig Lamp” in the Palecek showroom which features bundled twigs from fallen trees for the base (Accacia, Mango, and Teak) crowned with a rectilinear shade made from woven raffia. It is truly a work of art, both sculptural and eco-friendly, and great-looking to boot. This lamp would work well in a rustic styled application as well as a very modern themed room.

So, despite the bleak predictions of gloom and doom for the economy, the interior design industry is combating this mood with an optimistic energy and a host of new, uplifting-themed products to make even the worst of times more enjoyable for us at home.

The Art of Faux

- Tuesday, December 02, 2008

“Remember, Gregory, no flat walls,” my client Hillary told me on the phone last month. We were going over the preliminary color scheme for her new home under construction in Wexford Plantation.

Based on our previous conversation when she indicated her desire for a neutral décor, I sent her some paint color schemes to consider.  “Oh, do you prefer an eggshell finish?” I asked, thinking she was referring to the paint finish.

“No, but I was thinking I would love to have subtle faux-finish.  I need that forgiving texture.  I have active children. Very active!  You’ll will meet them soon, and understand,” she joked.

Hillary was right.  Her new home includes a magnificent grand stair, back stair and a generous number of corridors perfect for exploration and fingerprints. A wall paint with a textured look would be less likely to show the wear and tear of children and be more visually appealing than more than a flat paint finish throughout.

“Well, you are in luck because your builder has one of the best in-house faux-finish artists on the island. I will have him work up some samples ASAP.” I was speaking about Geraldo Alverez who does specialty finishes for Palatial Homes.

The term “faux” is French for fake and is used to describe a wide range of decorative painting techniques. Originally replicating materials such as marble and exotically grained wood, the phrase now encompasses many other decorative finishes such as stucco, plaster, denim, linen, and moiré.  Joey Doolan is another very talented artist who has done some beautiful work for several of my clients.

Like Geraldo, he can transform an interesting space into a specatcular one.

The roots of faux-finishing can be traced back many millennia. Examples of faux-finishing are seen in cave drawings and in ancient Egypt. The Greeks and Romans were masters of faux marble and faux wood techniques that often mimicked more exotic and precious building materials. Some of the most fascinating spaces excavated at Pompeii utilize trompe-l’oeil.  A French term meaning “trick the eye,” trompe-l’oeil is a technique of creating extremely realistic murals, often depicting views through a door or window, visually expanding spaces with enhanced perspective views of gardens or cityscapes.

Robert Adam and other Europeans designers contributed to a resurgence of faux-finishing during the classical revival of the later eighteenth and early the nineteenth century and the interest continued on through the Victorian Age.  Faux-finishing’s more recent popularity seems to be partly influenced by the preservation movement with its interest in greater interior accuracy for these restored older homes.  Also, consumers began to tire of the highly colorful and graphic wallpaper designs popular in the 60s and 70s and turned to non-paper alternatives.

Like those mod textiles, faux-finishing tended to be a bit heavy and over-the-top in the 80s. Remember all those not-so-subtle shoulder-padded fashions, those garish, day-glow colors from the music videos popular at the time? Yeah, well, we did them on the walls then too. I am happy to say today’s decorative paint techniques are far more restrained, sophisticated, and timeless.

I have employed several artists over the years for various projects to execute their magic on projects as simple as faux-finishing electrical switch plates to match a granite backsplash to as complicated as creating a tropical mirage landscape mural in a windowless bathroom. The beauty of faux finishing and working with an artist is you can make it as detailed or as simple as you wish. Marbleizing, graining (faux-bois in French), Venetian plaster, and color washing can all be used to enhance what would otherwise be plain, boring walls. And the great thing is, if you tire of them you can just paint over it. Much easier than stripping wallpaper.

Or, in Hillary’s case, a faux-finish can give a richness and elegance to your walls and also make them a little more resistant to the realities of day-to-day life with the little ones.


- Friday, October 03, 2008

Well, I went and did it. I joined Facebook. Don’t ask me to explain it.
I can’t really.  But, before long I was connected to college friends for the first time in ions. Catching up has been a lot of fun - especially comparing notes about families and the different paths our careers had taken us since graduation.

Yet, I have learned that email doesn’t always serve to adequately communicate with these formerly long lost friends. Sometimes I have found I do something really crazy and old fashioned. I pick up the telephone.

The other evening I was speaking with another interior designer who lives in Richmond. She inquired where I find inspiration for design after doing it for so long? “It’s not always easy,” I explained. “But, after 18 years in the profession, I feel I have ways to understand what a client needs. But sometimes the spark that ignites the whole creative process is a simple as just opening your eyes and looking around you. I often find I take a cue from my surroundings.”

“You sound like Professor Norton,” she chimed in referencing one of our most engaging and demanding professors in college. “I feel like I am back in our color theory class again.” 

“Exactly,” I said. “That’s how I approach it.”

I am constantly fascinated by color and light and how they interact with each other. Like the great Venetian painters of days past, countless artisans have recognized that their environment is filled with a dazzling array of colors to draw from.

Not too long ago I was on my morning walk with my dog Louie along the leisure trails of Moss Creek Plantation. At one point, I became intrigued by the complexity and variety of color on a particular palm tree along the path. The morning light was hitting it just so. What we might easily call a gray/beige tree trunk was, upon closer inspection, a complex symphony of cool, soft, mossy greens over a driftwood-gray background, with hints of golden amber and burnt sienna.  I was in awe. (Professor Norton would be proud of my color assessment.) It was beautiful. I snapped a close-up with my digital camera to be included in my inspirations library for future reference.

The following week a client and I were in the studio and talking about the color palette for her new home. After having worked with her over the past few months, I feel I understand her stylistic tastes. She has an easy-going personality and quiet demeanor. A Chinese red dining room was certainly not in the cards for her.

“I want to show you something,” I said as I pulled up the photo of the palm tree on the computer. “Just look at these colors! You love the coast, the beach and want a casually elegant home. You must have 30 palm trees on your lot. Why don’t we take some direction from this?” We had our inspiration and were off and running.

A trip to a stone and tile vendor was our first stop in search of some special granite to top the central island of her (soon to be fabulous) kitchen. We found the perfect match with green mearsk. The composition of colors in the crystals embodies all the colors we wanted to use throughout the house and look surprisingly like those in the inspiration photo. 

From there we looked at paint and textiles. The paint selections were easy, I just pulled out some of the subtly contrasted ivory, moss, amber, and driftwood hues from the photo. For the fabrics we went a little bolder with color and pattern including a wheat and mocha colored zebra print and a teal and amber coral-pattern chenille. Looking at all the samples assembled together gave us a great idea of what the final installation will look like.

“Well, it sounds like you’ve got the inspiration aspect nailed-down,” the Richmonder said. “I’m so glad we have reconnected with each other. Facebook is great!  But, before we hang up, I have one other question. Where do you get ideas to write your column?”

I laughed to myself and then replied, “Oh, I’ve often found I can count on my wonderful college buddies for that.”

Designing Bedrooms

- Friday, June 27, 2008

“Mmmmmm. What were they thinking?” I muttered to myself as Tammy, my realtor, lead me to the master bedroom of a condo I was considering for purchase last year.

We had already toured the foyer, guest bedroom and bath, kitchen and marvelous great room of the furnished villa. I liked it. Bright, open spaces were complemented by a splendid marsh view. I knew I would eventually paint and replace some furniture, but overall it was certainly “do-able” as a weekend retreat for my family, my friends and, of course, me to enjoy.

My excitement did diminish as soon as my eyes focused on the contents of the master bedroom. A makeshift king size headboard created from two very spindly twin headboards poorly fastened together, mismatched pseudo-colonial furnishings combined with a somewhat tired and dated golf-motif décor gave me pause. Prominently featured was a wallpaper boarder of knicker-clad men putting. “I’m not sure I can sleep in here!” I blurted. “Tammy, don’t get me wrong, I like golf. However, this is not really the personal retreat I had envisioned."

Tammy laughed. “Well, it was on the rental market, besides I’m sure you have some connections and will transform it into whatever you want it to be.”

Time flies, and as I recalled that conversation it made me think about a subject for this column. Why do we always seem to concentrate on designing and decorating the rooms where we entertain guests more than we think about our own bedroom? What a shame. After all, the reward of a carefully designed bedroom that reflects our aesthetic and contributes to our serenity is too important to neglect.  If this is selfish, so be it!

First, consider what you want. Restful? Warm? Romantic? Do you want a bright space when you awaken or a darker space to fall asleep? Then, think about the opportunities you see to make it happen in the space you have. Cozy is great.  Over crowded isn’t. Combining appropriately scaled furnishings with the other decorative elements of the room including fabrics, wall color, lighting, window treatment, and art will ensure a pleasing environment for this most special place.

Tammy called me this week to say hello and see how I was enjoying the condo on the anniversary of the closing. “I bet you have made a few changes,” she said. “Do you still have that border in the bedroom? I know you were particularly fond of that!”

“It was one of the first things to go,” I replied.

The room now sports a cool shade of tropical teal paint on three walls with a natural-toned, linen texture wall covering on the wall behind the bed. The wimpy, makeshift headboard is gone. In its place an ivory, padded leather one of proper scale (perfect for resting against while reading) and the mismatched bed-side tables have been replaced with a gorgeous antique trunk on one side and rattan nesting tables on the other. The faded, plaid comforter has been laid to rest and now an off-white, diamond-quilted, coverlet dresses the bed with piles of blue and green pillows in silks and linen fabrics. The room makes me immediately feel calm and relaxed.

The condo is coming along and I am happy with all the spaces. The great room is comfortable and inviting, the dining room has a touch of drama and the kitchen is nicely updated. However, I must confess that my bedroom trumps all the other spaces. While I am still living with the dresser that came with the place, it works well. My bedroom has become my peaceful getaway when my friends and family visit as well as when I’m there all by myself.

Bedrooms are our private sanctuaries. Spaces where we begin our days and retreat to for rest and relaxation. Bedrooms should provide comfort and calm from our fast-paced lives -- a special, tranquil place to unwind and dream. Does yours? If not, make it so. Sometimes it’s okay to be a little selfish. 

Trends for 2008

- Monday, December 31, 2007

To quote Heidi Klum, “In the world of fashion, one day you’re in, and the next, you’re out!” (Yes, it is a guilty pleasure and I will admit it, I am a fan of Project Runway.) As I listened to her deliver one of her trademark catchphrases during this week’s episode, I thought about how this edict applies to interior design as well. Think about it, what was popular and all the rage a few years ago is now looking a little tired and stale.

I have always noticed that what walks down the runway eventually trickles down to trends in interior design and decoration. Just look at the number of fashion designers who now have their own lines of furniture, bedding, and accessories. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Liz Claiborne (even Heidi’s sidekick Michael Kors) have all launched distinctive housewares and lifestyle collections that echo their respective design signatures and philosophies.

My recent buying trip to AmericasMart Atlanta last month for the Winter 2008 trade show was like being in New York’s Grant Park for fashion week. And, I am happy to report that high fashion is in store for designers and their clients in the upcoming year. It is so exciting to preview the latest styles and interior trends, so here are a few of my impressions and observations for trends this year:

Color is in, and it is more saturated than ever. Bedding, upholstery, artwork, glass and ceramics are sporting brighter hues after past seasons of restrained, muted, tone-on-tone neutrals. Even when used sparingly, this fresh jolt of color will add vibrancy, punch, and enliven the most tired surroundings.

Nailhead trim is being applied to everything, but with an unusual twist, not the seen-it before, typical western motif. In both very sleek contemporary and whimsical applications, I have seen it not only on upholstery, but also casegoods such as tables and bookscases, pottery, even lampshades. The finishes range from tried-and-true old brass to polished chrome, brushed nickel, and oil-rubbed bronze to add pizzazz to each item they embellish.

Animal prints and skin textures were everywhere, both bold and subtle, naturally colored and in colors not found in nature. Zebra still reigns as the most popular, with leopard and alligator running closely behind, but ostrich, elephant and ocelot are all vying for attention as well. A word of caution here, a little goes a long way unless you are purposely trying to achieve a campy look.

Floral patterns with a large scale and retro flair are coming back in vogue as are mod prints with a nod to pop art from the 60’s and 70’s. Anything nature-themed has been stylized and employed as a graphic print motif on textiles and wallcovering. I saw pillowcases and duvets emblazoned with a single, 20 inch diameter poppy or carnation bloom and wallpapers featuring a forest of silhouetted aspen trees.

Capiz shell, mosaic bone patterns, bamboo veneer, lacquer with eggshells, and other handmade elements continue to reflect our current fascination of exotic locales. Think about destinations for restorative retreats and vacations like Bali, Tahiti – all over the South Pacific. The allure of these finishes evokes a relaxing, earthy vibe that is in line with our new eco-friendly lifestyles. With our hectic daily schedules, who does not want to feel as if on a spa holiday even if they were only in their suburban bathroom at home?

What will be emerging at next season’s show? A return to the palette of pastel seafoam greens and mauves of the early 80’s? Let us hope not. As a designer on the island for the past 18 years, I am still not ready to resurrect that particular fashion statement. Some interior trends are like poodle skirts, great for a costume party or school plays, but not something to live with on a day-to-day basis.

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