by Patricia Cove
Modern. Traditional. Contemporary. Transitional. These are some of the words used to describe interior design over the past decades. We have seen a pendulum swing from historically accurate interiors to sleek, minimal spaces, and there are legions of style supporters on both ends.
When one style is popular, the other falls out of favor, and so it goes. The lovers of the modern interior, with its metal and plexiglass forms, clean lines and straight edges, feel uncomfortable in a space sporting an 18th-century armoire and Martha Washington chairs. As of late, though, it seems that the pendulum has stopped somewhere in the middle.
The biggest complaint about traditional, and even more so, “historic” interiors, is that they are too formal. Traditionalists complain that the modern interior is too cold and unwelcoming. But what would happen if a room could be both traditional and modern, contemporary and eclectic, all at the same time?
The photo on the cover of a recent “Traditional Home” magazine shows just that: a room with a blending of styles, with a heading that directs us to “Reinvent Your Rooms!” This is great news for those of us who actually have careers in design. Because, although the internet has made it pretty easy to create rooms in a singular style or genre, the most interesting rooms are those that incorporate unique design features, and those most successful rooms are much more challenging to achieve.
Cookie-cutter rooms with “canned decorating” techniques are becoming passé. The new modern room needs to have different elements, a cohesive blending of old and new, with a large dose of personal design elements that make a room specifically one’s own, not one belonging to a one-stop, furniture mega store.
This new trend first became apparent when we were completing a new living room for a youthful couple who had just purchased a traditional stone home in Chestnut Hill. It was clear how much they loved the house, the deep crown mouldings, raised panel doors and walls, stained balustrades and built-ins.
Their furnishings, though were a mix of inherited pieces, second hand treasures, and the ubiquitous Restoration Hardware sofa and matching chairs. The look of the room could be called eclectic, but as a dynamic space in which one would actually want to spend time, It lacked interest, coordination, and most notably, a clear design direction.
In surveying the pieces with which we had to work, we realized that some of the elements that were needed to create our new modern interior were actually there. The rich architectural detail of the living room provided the perfect backdrop. The choice of paint colors and wall-covering patterns would be critical decisions that could either enhance or detract from the furnishings.
More and more wall-covering companies have begun to design patterns that incorporate a traditional design, but with an updated, almost avant garde stylistic version. Several have actually turned a most traditional damask pattern into a strikingly modern version, and a strictly modern geometric into a transitional statement.
The clients had not yet purchased a rug for the room, so that became the piece that would set our tone. Keeping in mind that the goal of the completed space was to create a room with the clean, contemporary lines of “modern’ plus the warmth and livability of “traditional.” Since both the color and the pattern of the rug would contribute greatly to the overall feel of the space, we decided on a Marc Phillips pattern, called “Reeds.” It had a horizon blue pile background with contrasting, stylized branches in a taupey beige, giving the rug a very modern look, and a slightly traditional bent.
The seating, although still structurally sound, was looking tired, and the generic styling of the pieces lacked the strong design tone that the upholstery needs to set within the room.
Although many different elements with a space can determine a specific look, it is the upholstery that often becomes the strongest factor. In a new modern space, it should be long, sleek, smooth, preferably narrow, but most importantly, comfortable. Although we are not talking layered back cushions and multiple throw pillows here.
It was decided to donate the Restoration Hardware pieces and invest in a new modern-lined sofa and coordinating chairs. The sofa we covered in a solid blue, low knapp fabric, and the chairs were glorious in a branch patterned material that picked up the stylistic boughs of the carpet. The room began to take shape and slowly began to become style specific.
The modern elements of the room were in place, and it now became important to make sure that the room stayed warm and would not take on the aura of a totally modern space in which every surface was cool, hard and made one afraid to sit down.
So, to that end, we brought in a mahogany bookcase that had once belonged to a relative, and two half-moon cherry tables that were placed on either side. Since each of the couple worked, and often worked from home, I suggested a metal and plexiglass desk that incorporated a traditional layout with filing drawers and a storage cabinet. I teamed it with a traditional shield back chair found in a local resale shop.
The room was almost finished. The cool lines of the upholstery, the stylized, reeded carpet, the warmer woods of the bookcase and tables, combined with the sleek working desk were almost all the elements required for this “New Modern” look. Plexiglass lamps with bases in the shapes of chinoiserie urns, were placed on the cherry tables, and artwork, finished in varying frame styles, was placed in strategic locations to anchor the upholstery pieces.
Window treatments in the “New Modern” room are optional. If you are lucky enough to have garden views, don’t cover the windows at all. And if you need privacy, choose a simple paneled style, and incorporate eye catching rods and finials in a metal/wood combination.
It used to be that interior design was dictated by rules, and it still is in some respects. But when it comes to real appealing spaces that pull you in and make you want to stay, it is the proper balance and coordination of modern, traditional and personal that make for the rooms that are right, right now!
Patricia Marian Cove is principal of Architectural Interiors and Design and can be reached through the company website. You can also speak with her and her team this Saturday, where one of her fabulous kitchen designs is on the Harvest Kitchen Tour, sponsored by Meals on Wheels. See the Meals on Wheels website for tickets and information.