(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
An eclectic style is hard to describe and even harder to create. It’s a careful mix of treasures, travels and memories reflected in furnishings and techniques. And, it usually takes years to develop. Last year, I had the pleasure of helping new clients add a few final layers to their eclectic décor.
The architecture of their home is best described as Old California by way of Spain. The ivory-colored walls and arches, the wood floors and dark beams, and the black, iron accents exude a strong and textured style. At the same time, this neutral color palette creates a calm simplicity. Strong, textured and calm also describe my clients. Their backgrounds include Italian families, childhoods in Venezuela and rural New York, and 20 years of marriage in Belgium before settling in Napa.
From the moment I walked into their home, I felt the culmination of their worldly experiences. The French armoire (circa 1780), the Dutch Biedermeier (circa 1830), the Belgian metal and stone coffee table, and the collection of books on food, wine, art, and gardens only began to tell their story. I inhaled it all along with the aroma of authentically-brewed espresso.
Why was I there? The windows and French doors were bare and the family room was temporarily filled with patio furniture. During our initial meeting, I learned four things. They appreciated quality, liked linen, wanted their new upholstery to have contemporary lines, and they favored the color orange. The quality factor would prompt a trip to the San Francisco Design Center where we could find good upholstery in every style.
We’d create a conversation area at one end of the family room with sofas and swivel chairs. Swivels would allow them to easily shift their focus. In their case, it could be on the fireplace, the television, or those seated on the sofas. The chairs could also face the open and adjacent dining room and kitchen. They could even turn 180 degrees to face the other end of the family room where we planned to create a reading area.
We eventually chose a pair of matching sofas and a different pair of matching swivels. With a contemporary goal in mind, these pieces had straight, slightly tapered arms and no skirts. The fabric choice was important. It had to balance modern lines with soulful, Old California. The existing gray and orange, Oriental rug was also a factor. The answer was a soft, ivory-color chenille. The slight texture of the chenille was a nod to the texture of the house, and the ivory repeated the color of the walls. The solid pattern of the fabric avoided any busy conflict with the rug. However, to unite the upholstery with the rug, we added two orange throw pillows.
For the reading area, my clients already had a round, mahogany table (French, circa 1840) and an antique Kashan rug, but we needed two new chairs. They had to be comfortable while sitting back to read as well as sitting forward to write. They also had to be notably stylish because they would be visible from many angles. We found a sleek, high-backed and gently-curved pair that fit the bill and could be upholstered in any fabric of our choosing. I had a heather-gray linen that, coincidentally, came from Belgium, back in my office that I knew they’d like.
The draperies and shades would have to be custom-designed because of all the variables. There were not only width and length calculations, but fullness, quantity of pleats, pin-set distance, draws, overlaps, returns, stack-backs, and spring-backs. There were also rod and ring diameters, lengths, finials, brackets, projections, splicers, and supports to prevent sagging. I don’t introduce these terms to now explain them but for two other reasons: know that ready-made, store-bought treatments will rarely fit your doors and windows properly, and, if you know a current math student who complains that he/she will never use it in real life, assure them that calculations and “solving-for-x” can show up in the most unexpected situations.
My clients had converted their formal dining room to a library with an oak, gate-leg, hunt table, 1920s Belgian wood and leather chairs, and a hand-knotted Iranian rug. The library had three sets of French doors and a pair of windows. All would be covered with gray linen. To preserve as much natural light as possible, I treated the doors as one entity. That is, instead of mounting three separate rods and three sets of finials, I spliced the rods together to make one long one. In total, this allowed the draperies to open more than a foot further. I also maximized the light on the windows by mounting the shades higher on the wall. How high? Enough so that, when raised, the stack of fabric would clear all but a few inches of glass. More math. I attached the shades to black, iron rods that matched the drapery rods. All of these rods, in turn, tied into the existing iron light fixtures and staircase railing.
Sometimes a mix of styles can just be a mixed mess. But with careful thought and deliberate choices, it can create interesting layers of beauty, history and comfort – all best enjoyed with a demitasse of freshly-brewed espresso.
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