A room in cabbage roses completed for the Eleanor Houston Smith House in East Falls, circa 1986.

by Patricia Cove

Trends are like thieves in the night. They sneak in, scope out all your lovely belongings and, one by one, piece by piece, abscond with their beauty, their timelessness and their relevance. And it is done with such abandon that those treasures that trends take away are so much better, in so many ways, than the ones they leave behind. But more on that later.

As a preservationist and a historian, it is fascinating how these mischievous interlopers can latch on to everything from the economy to industry, society to politics, and create general upheaval using sometimes clandestine, but often quite obvious methods. And we have no recourse, but to sit back and wait for their arrival.

America was enjoying the refinement of the Georgian and Federal periods in both architecture and interiors, when low and behold, a machine called the lathe was invented, which allowed all sorts of intricately carved and heavily detailed building ornaments and furniture to be mass produced. You might not remember what happened then – but when you see a photo of an interior displaying chunky, ornate tables and overly embellished sofas and chairs covered in heavy velvets and brocades, you are clearly looking at a photograph of a Queen Ann building with a distinctive Victorian interior.

New trends can also result from a backlash against one that came before. When the 1800s turned into the 1900s and the mass production and commercialization of residential interiors seemed never ending, a movement emerged in England intent on re-introducing the “craftsman” ideal of unique pieces, that would reflect the longed for, simpler qualities of nature. A gentleman, by the name of William Morris, a poet, preservationist, decorator and textile designer, formed his own company with craftsmanship as the dominant theme. His very distinct textile patterns are still produced and manufactured today, and the simplicity of his styles still have much appeal and work well within modern, streamlined architecture as well as traditional settings.

The Modern Movement, coming on the heels of “Arts and Crafts” sought to strip away all unnecessary ornament from interiors. With mass production now an established means of manufacturing, designers like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van De Rohe, hoped to change society for the better with the creation of a more “democratic” type of design for all, by reducing interiors to four white walls, unadorned plate glass windows and bare floors, hoping that people would. become “equal” on both economic and social levels. That movement lasted for nearly 35 years, until the 1980s rolled around, and the masses realized how much they missed cabbage roses and billowing window treatments.

Those cabbage roses, along with stripes and plaids and all other forms of floral designs stayed current for a good long time. As did their case-good counterparts, in the forms of inlayed buffets, mahogany tea tables, cherry bookcases and walnut secretaries. Weekends were spent searching through antique shows, and we all had our favorite antique shop where the owner was all too happy to research and find a particular piece if there was not one in the store.

It’s hard to say exactly when damask fabrics and rich patinas went out of style, but the change in design tastes seemed to follow the change in architectural styles to more open floor plans and casual living spaces, reducing the need for formal dining rooms and studies. In these larger rooms, furniture took on more sculptural qualities and also sculptural materials, which can often result in harder, cooler, and much more cavernous and vacant feeling spaces. And although the pendulum has not moved a lot since then, it is starting to. Those cool gray and white rooms are starting to look old. And there is a definite yearning for some warmer features, warmer, but vibrant colors and fabrics that convey comfort rather than commercialism.

So, have we reached that new wave? No, not yet, but we are certainly on our way, and we are about to explore exactly how to create those spaces that do it all: are modern, are traditional yet on trend and still not following the pack. So, buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a brilliant ride.

Patricia Marian Cove is principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill, and is celebrating her 30th year in business.

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