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Coco Chanel Whispered in my Ear

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)

At the end of a recent meeting with a client, I said, “I’m going to write about this”. Not only had Coco Chanel’s words come to mind (which I will explain shortly), but my own words had underscored them. Let me set the stage.

The purpose of this meeting was to choose fabrics. We were in the final stages of her kitchen remodel. The new design included the replacement of her oversized dining table and chairs with a built-in bench. We needed fabric for a seat cushion and five throw pillows. The colors would naturally tie into the new kitchen cabinetry which was cream and smoky grey.

I love working with fabric. All types and textures. I’ve maintained a fabric library in my office for two decades and still have my text book, “Fabric Science”, from long ago and my special magnifying glass that allows me to identify the tiniest of weaves. A bench cushion and pillows should be a piece of cake.

When selecting fabric, I always keep the end use in mind. When it comes to dining areas, I often look for ultra-suede as it is easy to clean. (I’ve accidentally tested this myself with a ball point pen and a Peets mocha). I also think about the durability needed in relation to its use. In this case, the seat cushion had to be heavy duty, or score high on the “Wyzenbeck rub wear test”. Medium duty would be fine for the pillows.

My client nixed the ultra-suede samples because they were all solid patterns (or rather, had no pattern). Regardless of its ease in cleaning, she wanted texture that would be more visibly forgiving. So, I reached for a few woven tweeds with different colors of threads. Think of a Coco Chanel boucle suit but I still have more to say about her later. My client liked one that was grey, cream and gold.

It was now time to choose pillow fabrics. We both immediately liked a large floral linen blend in the same grey and cream colors with an addition of gold. Since this floral was so perfect and so beautiful, I suggested we use it for four pillows and then find a small red print for an accent pillow. The red would tie into her red and gold sectional in the adjacent open family room.

But something kept nagging at me and that’s when I heard Coco Chanel. She is quoted as saying, “Before leaving the house, a lady should look in the mirror and remove one accessory”. And then I heard my own self say, and as I have written in my column many times, “restrain and refrain”. So, in the spirit of practicing what I preach, I suggested we use the same fabric for all five pillows. Forget the accent. Forget the pop of red that connects with the sectional. The gold in the floral would connect just find and unify the two rooms.

With my client on board, this decision will make the design of the bench niche stronger, more confident, and more sophisticated. It also follows another one of my mottos, “Make it simple. Make it significant”.

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