Autumn in the Northeast revels in its association with the textures and colors of the trees and the appeal of the foliage-dappled landscape can also apply indoors. The essence of autumn in décor is combining earthy with luxurious; the rough with the refined. It means designing with contrasts in mind, starting with wood, then folding in vibrant colors, textures and finishing touches to bring comfort, warmth and light inside even as the days grow cooler and shorter.
The most basic element of fall style is wood, in both its machined and natural forms. A boxy chest of wood drawers with an exotic grain pattern or a traditional game table with decorative inlays showcase the grain’s movement within our spaces. A molding applied to walls and ceilings is a way to incorporate wood into the visual periphery to complete the thought. Lisa Aiello, owner of Rich Designs in Port Jefferson, used a walnut finish molding to create an octagonal shape on an otherwise bare ceiling. “We stained the moldings to bring out the natural warm tones of the wood and brought the ceiling, the forgotten fifth wall, to life,” Aiello said. Coating wood trim with a stain or using a natural matte finish with polyurethane will, unlike paint, emphasize natural patterns and earth tones in organic matter.
Paneling bathes a room with the rich texture of wood, but distances itself from its particleboard past. Among those worth sourcing are versions milled from wood beams salvaged from old barns and other structures, which feature a distressed and weathered character that new wood can’t match. Alan Solomon co-owns Brooklyn-based Sawkill Lumber Company, which serves Long Island with reclaimed wood from all over the country.
After Superstorm Sandy devastated the Rockaways and Coney Island there was a bevy of old, exotic hardwood boardwalk coming through his shop. “Using it in the rough gives you a soft weathered look while re-milling it will bring out the deep, beautiful colors of wood,” Solomon said. “Either way it is very beautiful.”
The range of wood tones are best complemented by a collection of paint colors that continue the fall-inspired design. The neutral, soft tones of less processed woods—from the organic grays in weathered cedar or the pale blondes in naturally finished birch or oak—work well with Sherwin Williams creamy Butternut (SW6389) or reddish Cordial (SW6306). Richer species like walnut, fiery chestnut and burgundy-toned cherry pairs nicely with warm greens or grays like Benjamin Moore’s earthy Hiking Path (524) or River Reflections (1552). Save the brighter tones of orange, yellow, gold and red of fall’s foliage for carefully placed accessories.
Next, add layers of soft, cozy elements to make the room feel luxurious and welcoming. When the temperature drops outside, temper things inside with a soothing, feathery flokati rug or a texture-rich shag rug in a colorful blend that mimics the look of fallen leaves. Window treatments should either mesh with or contrast wall colors. Choosing a fabric in a tone close to the wall color gives a subtle look. Contrasting a soft wall color with a window treatment in a deep, rich hue or a bold pattern creates a stronger design element that commands more attention. For example, Butternut, Cordial and Hiking Path look best with a neutral tan window treatment—silk, linen, velvet or woven—that fits within the natural fall color palette. The reverse also works: Pair a neutral wall color with deep reds, warm browns and virtually any green window dressing to create a focal point.
A fireplace is an obvious source of warmth but don’t overlook the hearth. Temper its masculine masonry with texture by placing a neat bundle of white birch logs within. Higher up, lean an antique mirror on the mantle to bounce light around—a premium this time of year—or bookend it with a pair of narrow candlestick lamps that create height by pulling the eye up. If a tv above the mantle restricts the height of accessories, use low-lying items like a sleek wood or stone box for remote controls or fireplace matches. Keep in mind any accessory on the mantle should share its color with something else in the room, like the furnishings, or it should be a neutral color like white, black, tan, gray or have a metallic finish.
Incorporate another earthy incarnation of wood with a stunning coffee table made from a slice of tree trunk. The jagged, natural edge makes for a striking fall-inspired centerpiece. Then finish a sofa or chair with a throw or pillows made with faux animal fur. This will bring visual comfort and approachability to the space as well as actual comfort to guests. Bring more natural elements in with a nature walk to pick up angular branches or a trip to the shore for a piece of driftwood. Set out on tables or mounted to walls, their roughness plays off refined surfaces, telling a story in contour.
Adding a ceramic, marble, glass or metal floor or table lamp juxtaposes a smooth or shiny surface against wood’s rough organic textures. “We brought in large table lamps made of sparkling mercury glass to give the room a boost,” said Aiello of her room design. Accessories that finish a fall-inspired room, like shapely glass wine decanters, stone coasters and leather placemats fold additional natural elements into the décor to complete the snapshot of the landscape’s rich collage of texture and tone.
Mixing neutral colors with bolder ones, smooth surfaces with coarse ones—it all allows fall inside in a way that doesn’t feel forced. “The colors and textures of the fall season offer a feeling of comfort and warmth,” said Aiello.