Defining Design

Trends come and go, but style is timeless. This is most true in the realm of interiors and décor. Design options are countless and the standards are constantly being remade. How can you tell if you are Baroque or Classical? What is Feng Shui, anyway? Nothing is hard and fixed, but there are certain cornerstones of every style. Being able to tell them apart is the first step in realizing your vision.

*There are many more styling options that space does not allow us to provide. To find out more, contact the designers and retailers featured on these pages.

a•mer•i•can(a)? ?
1 Palette: Red, white and blue 2 Woods: Either light or dark, but always matte 3 Themes: Stars, stripes and revolutionary motifs

This style embraces our national identity by pulling together historic symbols and details. It works particularly well in older homes, as in pre-20th century, and can convey a warm hominess. Furnishings should be simple, comprising mainly right angles, showing a handmade craftsman feel. For ultra-patriotism, finish rooms with Uncle Sam knickknacks. For a subtler approach, invoke textiles and images sponged in indigo (looks weathered). Another good way to recall the past is by hanging antiqued posters, advertisements or photos of bygone icons. Or, personify a room by displaying elements of Revolutionary-era costumes (hat, guns, gloves, etc). For a specific, outdoorsy twist, call on the Wild West to recreate a log cabin feel with animal skins (faux or otherwise), wrought-iron fixtures and rugged, earthy tones.

art dec•o
1 Palette: White and black 2 Woods: Veneers and high gloss 3 Themes: Zigzags, chevrons, sunbursts, zebra prints

Also known as “Deco,” this style emerged as a simplification of the Art Nouveau movement (see following entry). Bold, clean, angular lines in architecture of buildings and windows were the backdrop for the shiny, bright optimistic decadence associated with the Jazz Age. The style often reads as modern or futuristic because glass, sparkling chandeliers, lacquered furnishings and geometric patterns are front and center. Deco is synonymous with the flappers of the Prohibition era, thus everything feels like “cocktail hour.” Staples include sleek, well-defined lines, mirrored and/or black lacquered cabinets, chrome lamps (which are very big right now), brushed metals and neutral tones juxtaposed with either a pop of lime green or zebra-print textile.

imageart nou•veau
1 Palette: Sage green, mustard, brown, lilac, white, gold, peacock blue 2 Woods: Any—floors were mostly ceramic and glass tile 3 Themes: Stained glass, curvilinear lines and natural forms

A precursor to Art Deco, literally “new art” in French, this style emerged at the turn of the 20th century, but continues as new and fresh today as ever. It is known for its use of sinuous, sensual curves (as found in nature), whether depicting an actual form, like an iris or lily, or evoking the feeling of a
garden by replicating the loose, flowing lines. Drawing on Orientalism, Eastern rugs are often used to center a room. Cabinets tend to be adorned by serpentine inlays and/or handles on doors. Furniture arms and legs are typically thinner and have a wavy effect.

1 Palette: Whites accented by red, black and gold 2 Woods: High gloss and hand painted 3 Themes: Mystical animals and legendary scenes

Asian refers to the fusing together of various Eastern cultures, namely Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai, and sometimes, lesser-known societies (those of Laos and Cambodia, for instance). Chinese and Japanese are the two most commonly invoked styles, and work well together in a yin-yang harmony. “Chinoiserie” calls on strong colors and themes to create dramatic moods. Furniture is often intricately carved and finished in hand-painted designs. High-gloss lacquered surfaces, red accents (representing good luck) and ornate pottery (especially blue and white Ming designs) are mainstays. Mythological beasts, dragons and monkeys are frequently depicted. Folding screens, whether decorative or used to separate a room, celebrate historical characters or scenes in striking colors. Conversely, Japanese styling focuses on the delicacy of nature and is meant to bring lightness to living spaces. Subtle colors set a calm foundation—rooms are a ballet of crème and off-white tones. Bamboo, stone and like materials are embellishments that meld nature to indoors and draw in relaxed brown, gray and green palettes. Here, furniture and accessories tend to be simple, not ornate, supporting textiles of delicate patterns and florals. Silk, linen, rice paper and natural fibers are canvases for embroidery, art and gentle designs. Fusuma (semi-opaque sliding doors), shoji (light wood and paper) and fibrous window treatments complete the look.

1 Palette: Gold, silver, crystal 2 Woods: Dark 3 Themes: Palace reincarnation

The best way to visualize Baroque style is to listen to the over-the-top classical music of composers Handel and Bach, who were known for elaborate, sculptural pieces. In the 1600s and 1700s, the artistic movement flourished, but the design remains common, even in contemporary suburbia, because it can lend an air of opulence to the most modest spaces. Defined by extravagance, upholstery and window treatments are rich, tactile and weighted. Fabrics finish tables (heavy, draping tablecloths) and even walls, which can be covered in a rod and drape fashion or by starching the fabric directly to walls. The walls can either be left white to showcase the textiles or painted in rich hues, like burgundy or brown. Gilded vases and showpieces are prominently displayed. Tassels and crystals are ubiquitous, gracing everything, including drawer pulls, curtain tiebacks, doorknobs, chair corners or anything that can be hooked. Because individual pieces are so opulent, the best way to accomplish the drama is by choosing fewer, but larger items. Start with elaborately finished furniture, hang an operatic gilded mirror prominently on the main wall, center a low-hanging chandelier and add candelabra sconces to the perimeters. Layer windows with curtains, sheers, drapery shades, valances and finials, and let the space breathe from there. Caution: Too little can look incomplete, too much can look like your stuffy Aunt Eleanor’s museum tea parlor.

1 Palette: Subtle tones of brown, blue, pink and lots of chalky whites 2 Woods: Less wood, more marble 3 Themes: Geometric patterns, symmetry, controlled balance

Like American(a), this style is referred to either way. Interchanging Classic and Classical is usually harmless, but it’s worth noting that Classical is what actually refers to Greek and Roman antiquity, whereas “Classic” pertains to imitating that style. A small point, since it is unlikely even the stealthiest purveyors will acquire true Classical embellishments (the real stuff is in museums), but wrongly applying “a Classic look” to something that is actually contemporary or meant to infer “timelessness” can be confusing. The primary focus in this realm is order and symmetry. This is where you’ll hear about the “visual footprint,” meaning the area visually perceived in a room and how the furnishings surround the space. Typically, the center is open and furniture is in a balanced arrangement (chair opposite chair, sofa opposite sofa). Colors are usually those drawn by nature, but limited, as they were centuries ago. Muted hues like terracotta, varieties of yellows, pinks, corals, blues and taupe are most common. The most recurring elements are columns, busts, urns and obelisks. Mosaics were an early form of wall and floor décor and appeared extensively toward the latter part of the Classical period. Ditto marble. Embellishments, like Roman coins reproduced as plaster wall hangings and paper borders, or stencils of geometric patterns capture the dynamic on a smaller scale.

con•tem•po•rar•y & mod•ern
1 Palette: Neutrals with touches of black 2 Woods: Lacquered, whitewashed or painted 3 Themes: Cleanly appointed spaces, open room plans

Often, these terms are confusing to consumers because of their similarities, but the devil is in the details. In either, the focus is the room, and how light moves through it, rather than the “stuff” occupying it. True contemporary design is a clean, simple yield to minimalism, but it relies on furniture upholstered in textured fabrics like wool, jute, linen and woven cotton to cozy up otherwise seemingly austere décor. Occasionally, bright colors are used in accessories, pillows and knickknacks to change the feeling of a room or recall the season. Modernism grew out of a firmer, wholesale rejection of other styles in the mid-20th century. It is characterized by a reliance on man-made materials, such as glass, concrete and steel, and rooms are often “stripped down” to expose these underpinnings of a building. Rigid adherence to shapes is key, whether it be squares and rectangles (preferred) or smooth-edged ovals and perfect circles. Accessories should be kept to a bare minimum, but if you can’t help yourself, those in plastic or painted wood will dovetail nicely. Art could either be reminiscent of the loose colorists painting at that time or sculptures that are masculine and pieced together by assembled metals.

Unlike other, more specified styles, European is a vast term encompassing very distinct cultural milieu, affected by both modern ideals and traditional tastes. For instance, Urban Italian differs greatly from Tuscan, though both hail from Italy. The savvy would do well to start with the particular colors, details and feelings they identify with (or favorite places they’ve been) and continue the story from there. Also, the actual room or abode will weigh in greatly. For example, a typical LI colonial home may not be the best canvas to explore the motifs of a Mediterranean villa.

1 Palette: Muted, weathered 2 Woods: Gently stained or painted 3 Themes: Farm animals, gingham, stripes

Similar to American(a), decorators rely on this style to create a warm, familiar feeling. True farmhouses were designed with large, open rooms that allowed air to circulate freely. Furnishing with large, bold wardrobes, shelving units, buffets and/or cabinets is not only appropriate, but a way to make the space more intimate. Textiles are either embroidered or stamped. Flower motifs are those of wild fields or countrysides, but doilies are what you’ll find covering side tables and shelves. In a bathroom, the claw foot tub is a staple. In the bedroom, a quilt would cover either a four-poster bed or one with a simple wrought-iron headboard. Other furniture should be practical, basic in design, functional and have a handmade look. Heirlooms, like white metal or ceramic vases or milk jugs, water pumps, antique basins, mason jars and even hand-wound tabletop pencil sharpeners will settle the room. When it comes to color, think less about shade and more about tone. Stay away from saccharine pastels, which are not true to the style, and instead choose weathered or washed out pieces. A faded red chair is more desireable than one with a pink pillow or upholstery. Finishing touches should be a simple matte black.

feng shui
Though it is often mistaken as a design ethos, it is more about how energy moves through rooms. As early as 1000BC, ancient Chinese were theorizing about the positive and negative energy everything is supposed to have (ditto colors). The practice of Feng Shui, meaning “wind” and “water,” focuses on arranging things in rooms, based on their energies, to bring focus, balance and clarity to our metaphysical places. There are myriad nuances, but the basics include removing all clutter, especially around entryways, to avoid creating blockages. Additionally, the presence of living things (plants, animals, fish) increases positive energy. And light and music are important factors in establishing calmness and clarity. To begin, the Bagua energy map is often referenced to determine the best layout of furnishings to enhance harmony. Bagua draws from astrology and guides the décor planning toward naturalness, like where to incorporate waterfalls and other aquatic elements.