For minimalists, even a whisper of decoration is like a flaw on an otherwise perfect diamond. But one reason that a more modern aesthetic currently is appealing to a broader segment of consumers is because it’s showing a softer side. That may translate to a loosening of form or color – both unabashed and subtle – where something more neutral is expected.
And with a less rigid interpretation also comes – wait for it – a bit of well-chosen embellishment.
Curiously, the most intriguing introductions at recent furnishings shows are those that take chances with convention: more streamlined forms somehow dressed so they don’t feel self-consciously naked; a modicum of trim on upholstery fabric, even furniture; a little bit of bling, sheen in weaves or fabrics like glazed metallic linen; texture, such as hammering or roughed-up surfaces; dressmaker details such as pleating and channeling – even on leather.
At the same time, more hard-core traditional is sporting an edgier look.
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Sculptor and collage artist Phillip Estlund drew inspiration for his tweak of iconic seating from a simple, random placement.
He was organizing and laying out cutout images of flowers when he began placing some on the seat of his Charles Eames molded fiberglass chair.
“The otherwise stark surface became immediately activated in a way that I hadn’t considered, and after arranging and adhering the flowers to the seat, the result was the Bloom chair,” Estlund says.
It’s the first in his Genus series for Grey Area ( thegreyarea.com). The flowers are hand-decoupaged onto the Herman Miller-produced chairs.
For the most part, the kinds of details that distinguish new furniture design are not really novel – it’s just the way they are used that shakes things up.
Pleating and draping: A fashion reference (think pleated skirts or bodices of a gown) or the kind of folds created in drapery design, the crossover to upholstery isn’t as much of a stretch on skirts of sofas. But trompe l’oeil draping or real folds on a wicker console by Mariette Himes Gomez for Hickory Chair really pushes the envelope.
DETAILS FROM THE ressmaker: There’s channeling and tucking, a kind of sewing that creates parallel folds of fabric, which sometimes is seen on bedding and also has shown up on sofa skirts; “trapunto,” a stitchery technique that Himes Gomez employed on the arm of a leather sofa.
British designer Bethan Gray used the kind of stitchery, perforations and serrations that are signature on brogue shoes for the apron of a table.
Jewelry-like hardware: More manufacturers are paying attention to this simple dress-up. And, of course, changing out hardware is an easy re-fresh on existing furniture or cabinetry.
Nature as inspiration for form and pattern: From the geode-inspired women’s collection of Phillip Lim, the mineral structure itself has showed up in naturally jagged-edge agate light sconces as well as in printed fabrics and area rugs with a similar swirly vibe.
Cladding: Again, there’s nothing new about this, as it’s the equivalent of using veneers as surfacing materials. But clever takes and applications have created a buzz.
• Chests cloaked with grass-cloth wall covering or fabric have been trending in Europe.
For Wesley Hall ( wesleyhall.com) at the spring High Point furniture market there were trunks and parsons desks covered in plaid fabric.
• Eglomise – reverse-painted glass – is becoming a decorative tour de force again; perhaps most arresting are more abstract mottled patterns, especially with sparkling flecks.
• Decoupage, applique, flocking and gold leaf command attention.
Skins – crocodile, shagreen, ostrich and suede – are covering entire pieces of furniture, such as bureaus and desks.
• Decorative molding also is applied to create fancy patterns like Moroccan tracery on simple frames.
• Figured and/or stained veneers are employed to create distinctive patterns, such a herringbone, on the face of furniture.
• Even shells, long a crafty solution to designing with beachcombing souvenirs, are assuming a more modern look as insets on tabletops or door fronts.