South Park Magazine

Traditional, modern, contemporary

Wall grouping of carved wooden square art plaques in living room in Sandra Medlin's home in Ballantyne. Marcella Davis-Burks uses a  fusion of modern and traditional elements in her interior design.
Wall grouping of carved wooden square art plaques in living room in Sandra Medlin's home in Ballantyne. Marcella Davis-Burks uses a fusion of modern and traditional elements in her interior design. Nanine Hartzenbusch

From a time when prehistoric man was carving it out of stone, furniture has been a part of our existence. We eat on it, rest on it, use it for storage and sleep on it. Beyond the function, furniture is viewed as an object of design, an art form through which you can express yourself.When deciding which pieces of furniture to place in your home – or keep in your home – the choices and trends can be overwhelming. We certainly don’t live in the Stone Age any longer when it comes to contemporary and modern furniture design. Contrary to popular usage, contemporary and modern have two completely different meanings. Modern design actually stems from the 1920s. Loyd Dillon, an acclaimed Charlotte designer and interior design instructor at Central Piedmont Community College, clued me in on what are known as the Classics of Modern. Designers like Ludwig mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Le Corbusier and Charles and Ray Eames are responsible for many of the predominant styles you see in magazines and TV ads. Their designs, from decades ago, have become the basis for today’s trends. “Ludwig mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair was designed in 1929, but four of them grouped together in the new, very modern Mint Museum uptown look absolutely timeless,” says Dillon.Contemporary design refers to the looks trending at the present moment. Entrenched in contemporary styles are striking patterns, sleek lines and unusual colors. Stainless steel, recycled materials, chrome and even plastic are often used with contemporary aesthetics. Trying to determine rules of contemporary style is nearly impossible, as fresh designs and new characteristics are introduced to the market every day. On the other hand, modern design is established and revered. “There is some risk associated with furnishing one's home with unproven styles that may turn out to be faddish,” says Dillon. Charlotte is home to many highly qualified interior designers, like Dillon, who make it their business to know the latest and greatest in furniture design. A few of them were willing to provide advice and share their design insight. Members of the Interior Design Society (IDS) of Charlotte Loyd Dillon, Ann Newton Spooner and Marcella Davis-Burks have all been awarded the coveted IDS Fellowship for outstanding service to the Interior Design Society and Council for Qualification of Residential Interior Designers (CQRID). In over 35 years of IDS's history, only 10 people have been awarded this honor, and three are from the Queen City.SouthPark area designer Ann Newton Spooner gives her perception of local style: “The South can be slower on the uptake of trends in the industry compared to other parts of country,” she says. “In our area, we lean toward traditional style with crossover into contemporary.” As a Southern city, Charlotte revels in its history and tradition. In fact, a trend that seems to be increasingly popular in our area is transitional style. Charlotteans who love their antiques but yearn for a modern look in their homes would find this trend particularly tailored to their needs. Dillon uses an analogy to describe transitional style: “We love our iced tea around here, and just by adding the very different tastes of sugar and lemon – sweet and tart – we can improve the taste, just like mixing very different furniture styles.” For instance, you can achieve this look by pairing Chippendale chairs with elaborately carved back splats as a counterpoint to the minimalist lines of a Parsons style dining table. “Linear contrast, the juxtaposition of straight lines to curves, is a very important element of interior design and is usually easier to achieve by mixing a contemporary piece or two or five with one's traditional furniture,” says Dillon. Interior designer Marcella Davis-Burks also supports a modern or contemporary spin on traditional style. Davis-Burks mentions that many have a first instinct to get rid of the old when updating a home’s look. With this in mind, Davis-Burks discusses one of the most consistent and reliable trends in the industry: repurposing. “Design trends in 2012 are all about repurposing and redesign, and then we add the new,” she says. “We love to blend modern surprises with our Charlotte traditions, incorporating elements from several style periods, adding graphic patterns in our artwork and fabrics, while choosing a palette of less or more color.” With all the new trends, Davis-Burks says people automatically think they need to get rid of antiques. “Antiques are back with a vengeance. That doesn’t mean have a completely antique room, but you can blend it with modern.”Local resident Sandra Medlin hired Davis-Burks to update her SouthPark home. “Sandra’s living room, dining room and kitchen design statements are what I call ‘modern Charlotte style.’ There we have taken a modern approach to placement and accessorizing her traditional foundation pieces,” says Davis-Burks. Medlin’s master suite has handcrafted wood pieces stained in shades of dark chocolate. The design incorporates simple lines, mirrored and metal accents, fabrics with textural variations and shimmery weaves. Davis-Burks says the look is easy to dress up for a taste of Hollywood glamour or dress down for a more informal look.The informal look is a trending in furniture design. Dillon explains how you can spot the trend spanning industries. “Most restaurants – even fine ones – no longer require jackets and ties for the men dining. Stainless flatware is much more popular than silver. Formal living rooms and dining rooms are giving way to great rooms,” he says. Societal trends often transition into design trends. The popularity of high-tech tablets, e-readers, sleek futuristic cars and flat screen TVs shows an acceptance and appreciation for innovation, making innovative designs a popular trend.Local furniture store Design Within Reach (DWR) sells many innovative pieces designed today, but they also sell designs by the Classics of Modern. While some of the featured designs, like those by Marina Bautier and Nazanin Kamali, were created in recent years, other designs, like those by Verner Panton, are from the 1960s and 1970s. DWR’s catalog looks encompass the informal, innovative trends prevalent in contemporary style. Spooner points out: “The Restoration Hardware look, so popular with the young professional, adds another definition to the term contemporary which is also strongly influenced by industrial and green trends.”The heart of SouthPark offers many leading furniture stores with the latest designs and trends, including Restoration Hardware, Design Within Reach, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn and By Design Furniture. “They are excellent sources for clean, simple, more contemporary pieces to mix in with traditional,” says Dillon. “Pottery Barn was and is important in shaping national tastes and making contemporary more acceptable to larger numbers of people.”Depending on where you shop and when you shop, pinpointing furniture design trends that fit your style and last can be tedious. There is a surge of contemporary style hitting the market and it’s hard to determine what will and won’t stand the test of time. It seems the more you try to spot contemporary trends, the more you must ask yourself: What is contemporary? Spooner notes, “Most everything we see today and label as ‘contemporary’ is actually a resurgence of some historic style.”Instead of looking for the hottest furniture trends, find something that reflects your personal style. “Everyone has a personal style signature. It’s about the preferences they respond to,” says Davis-Burks.Look to the Classics of Modern to inspire you and guide you to the trend you want to live with. Don’t attempt to completely let go of traditional style; instead find a balance by adding in new design and repurposing the old. Dillon says, “None of us are flat, one-dimensional people with just one area of interest. Our homes should reflect that.”