Saturday, February 9, 2008

Style Guide: Oriental

The Oriental style is mystical, meditative and calming, from ornately decorated palaces and temples to minimalist interiors of the common man. Though the Orient spans countries from China to Indonesia, certain elements are common to the diverse styles of each. Materials are natural, bamboo being a staple. Craftsmanship of furniture, ornaments and textiles is splendid. Lacquerwork and batik are distinctive. Colors are subdued or vibrant. And there is a respect for spirituality inherent in the symbolism for patterns, colors, artifacts and placement of objects.


Modern Variations

  • Less is more when accessorizing a minimalist Oriental dcor. Ruminate on the grace and beauty of each piece. Carefully select them for elegant, dramatic, even artistic impact. Stand larger pieces alone so they make their own statement. Group together smaller pieces, like Japanese lacquered, miniature furniture.

Blue-and-white porcelain, red or black lacquer ware, painted mask, shadow puppet, bamboo-handled teapots, carved jade, boxes with mother of pearl inlay or stoneware pottery with painted imagery are common.

Some special items include Chinese bamboo wedding baskets, 18th-century chinoiserie, fan-shaped lacquered stacking boxes. Mirrors with ornately carved frames that hail from Burma or Bali and look almost Indian, are a fusion of colonial and native styles.

Modern Variations

  • Don't forget a sculpture or two, uplit for extra effect, such as a Lahu hill-tribe musical instrument, essentially a primitive harp. Choose also a cho-fa roof ornament on a pedestal or a Japanese netsuke, a carved belt toggle used to secure pouches through the sash of the kimono.

Screens can function as a backdrop to a statue if they are solid colored, laminated surfaces or simply designed. Or they can be accent pieces unto themselves if more elaborate. Consider the 18th-century carved-jade table screens or axonometric cityscape on an eight-paneled screen.

Wall Hangings
Modern Variations

  • On walls, hang framed hand-made paper or, for higher style, the striking black brushstrokes of Chinese calligraphy. For drama, place an antique Japanese kimono or embroidered Chinese shawl.

Other Dcor
Modern Variations

  • Enhance a calm aura by displaying a statue of Buddha, a vase with a lone plum or cherry blossom branch, a bonsai tree. Use Chinese "scholar" rocks – a flat circular basket filled with pebbles, medium-sized rocks and one large rock.
  • Achieve balanced energy and promote good fortune with such feng shui artifacts. Try a pair of carved-wood mandarin ducks to enhance marriage prospects, fish for prosperity, and a small water fountain for luck.


Elegantly plain, the Oriental floor is made of wood planks, stone, terra cotta or natural fabrics like jute, coir or sisal. The Japanese are noted for covering floors with tatami mats – rice straw outlined by black linen tape or brocade.

Modern Variations

  • Create the same visual effect using small matted rugs with bounded borders.

Modern Variations

  • If every other element in the room is without pattern, including furniture, walls and accessories, employ an Oriental rug as a design element. Symbols of lotus flowers, dragons, tigers and snow lions typical of a Tibetan rug can add a little spice to an otherwise austere room.


Less is more when it comes to furniture. The pieces themselves are simple and unadorned, with woods color-stained or varnished. Small pieces like screens, chests, trunks and cabinets are lacquered and/or inlayed with very elaborate designs of nature or trade themes.

Modern Variations

  • Keep furniture low for the minimalist modern style. Long benches, plain stools, large floor cushions and large coffee tables should be as close to the ground as possible. Upright furniture is more in keeping with a traditional style stemming from colonial and native influences.
  • Include typical materials like hand-carved teak and tropical hardwoods, especially rosewood. If painting is desired, do so only with layers of black lacquer, though traditional Chinese lacquer-makers use richer colors of cinnabar red, yellow, crimson, vermilion and olive-green.
  • Use bamboo or rattan furniture as an alternative. Woven cane is popular in the Philippines today and China is producing bamboo and split cane furniture.

Screens can be simple, for example, a bamboo frame and rice paper sheathing. Elaborate screens have wooden fretwork panels. Eight-paneled lacquered pieces sport nature or cityscape designs.

They use space more efficiently by filling up an empty corner or creating intimacy in a seating arrangement.

Storage Cabinets
Oriental storage cabinets and chests are solid, rectangular forms with inventive detailing and workmanship. Designs include light-relief carvings of dragons chasing pearls or lacquered surfaces with asymmetrical designs of nature themes.

One standout piece is a Japanese storage chest shaped like steps to fit under stairs. When not stowed away, the chest steps become shelves for displaying of accessories.

The Japanese futon, a soft cotton mattress, epitomizes simplicity and comfort. Used as a bed, it is spread out directly on the floor.

Highly adaptable, it can be rolled and stored in a cabinet during the day or serve double duty as a sofa cushion on a sofa bed frame.

Modern Variations

  • Enterprising Western manufacturers have designed a rectilinear "four poster" futon – a mattress on a very simple four-poster metal frame draped with simple white fabric.


Paper Lanterns
The classic lighting for Oriental style is also the most widely recognizable and popular decorative piece: the paper lantern.

Modern Variations

  • For an upscale look, check out the powerful modern designs of Isamu Noguchi.
  • More affordable pieces can be found in chain stores and lighting shops. Choose from spherical, cube, beehive, drum and box shapes. Natural parchment is preferred to capture a soft glow and carry out the overall subdued feeling of an Oriental room.
  • For unique effects try red or different colors. Other lighting options: metal lanterns with tea caddy base, lamps with ceramic ginger jar base, coolie-hat shades and any sleek modern design with hidden lights.
  • A low-level rectangular, box floor lamp with white shade, accented with slender metal perpendicular stripes functions perfectly in rooms with low furniture – or as an uplighter with more traditional, upright furniture.


Walls are typically understated for the minimalist Oriental style. Plain colors, usually white or beige, though sometimes spice tones like jade green, offer a nice contrast to furniture and accessories.

Modern Variations

  • For subtle interest, create texture by mixing sand or fine grit with paint, or "stipple" the job by applying the paint in small brush strokes. Try tactile hessian or rice paper as wallpaper, too.

Modern Variations

  • Achieve a little drama through sheer simplicity. Display a colorful kimono hanging from a pole pushed through the sleeve. For more daring dcor, hang wallpaper with motifs of pagodas, flying cranes, bridges or waves in separate panels.
  • Make walls the focal point.Mount an antique lacquered screen in brilliant and resonant colors with an elaborate design, such as an overhead view of an Asian palace.
  • Use screens to divide rooms or space within a room, thus acting like walls.

Style Guide: Art Deco

The quintessential 1920s and 1930s style for skyscrapers, homes, cinemas, even cruise ships, Art Deco is glamorous, modern and dramatic. French designers mixed classical and contemporary elements, including the passionate colors of Fauvist paintings, sensuous fabrics, exotic artifacts of Egypt, Mexico, and the Middle and Far East, and Cubist painters geometric shapes in round mirrors, floor treatments and barrel-shaped chairs. American designers streamlined the style with modular and built-in chrome and aluminum furniture, while British designers contributed sleek materials like Bakelite and commercialized motifs like zigzags and chevrons.


Accessories are plentiful, vibrantly colored and briskly designed.

Anything shiny or metallic adds allure, such as silver-painted coffee tables or silver dressing table sets.

Pieces of pottery are plentiful, especially those by Clarice Cliff, whose prized, "Bizarre" crockery collection is distinguished by angular, almost Cubist shapes with bright reds, oranges, yellows, greens and black.

Mirrors sport circular shapes, ziggurat tops or other engravings, and are especially striking over fireplace mantels.

Modern Variations

  • One elaborate treatment: Sheathe an entire fireplace and chimney with mirror-glass.

Other Accessories

  • Oriental-style screens – richly lacquered
  • Glassware – vases, fruit bowls, perfume bottles and lamp bases made from affordable opaque-pressed glass or exclusive Lalique-like crystal
  • Wall ornaments – sunburst-decorated stained-glass windows or plaques shaped like faces, fans and feathers
  • Exotic touches – large palms, lacquered boxes or trays and African tribal masks or other artifacts
  • Final touches – silk tassels and fringing on lampshades, seats backs and cushions


Main Colors
High, contrasting color fuels the glamorous, theatrical Art Deco style. Pale main colors of cream, beige and eau de nil, offer sedate, peaceful backgrounds for passionate accent colors.

Accent Colors
Vibrancy predominates in orange, lime green, mauve, crimson and yellow.

These dramatic colors were inspired by contemporary Fauvist paintings and the exuberant, joyful costumes and sets of Sergei Diaghilev's exotic Ballets Russes, the rage in Paris during the period.

Drama is heightened with black and metallic shades in glass, mirrors and metals.


Flooring is streamlined and striking.

In living areas, pale wood is preferred as a base – boards, block or parquet – though wall-to-wall carpeting works if colors are light, like cream or taupe.

In halls, kitchens and bathrooms, linoleum reigns supreme. Entire areas are simply done in one solid color, such as green, beige or brown.

The patterned floor is more representative of the Art Deco style. Inlaid linoleums can be made to order.

Modern Variations

  • Create your own design, including fake marble, a trendy material for the period.
  • Try checked patterns or go wild with bold designs – large circles intersected by straight lines, for instance.

Rugs with vibrant geometric patterns, like checks, are popular. Or try rugs with one overall color and contrasting borders or circular area rugs with target striping.

Modern Variations

  • For dramatic contrast, throw down animal-skin rugs. Zebras are a good choice. Try polar bears and leopards, too.


Materials and Designers
Chromium-plated metal and bakelite were featured in Gilbert Rhode-designed tables of the 1920s. Later, he tried tubular metal and wicker furniture.

Russel Wright designed modular furniture, introducing the three-piece sofa that could be arranged in any number of ways.

Paul T. Frankl created "skyscraper" bookcases and cabinets with stepped silhouettes echoing New York City's ever-rising buildings. Kem Weber adapted the style for fireplaces, bed headboards and built-in side tables.

John Duncan Miller designed veneered furniture with rounded edges, as did Betty Joel, whose pieces were marketed as being ideal for working women because there were fewer corners to dust.
Photo courtesy of Karl Kemp.

Built-in Furniture
Fitted furniture came into vogue during this period.

The built-in, private bar was a new domestic interior element. Desk units with cupboards and shelving are tucked into walls. Sometimes L-shaped designs fit into a corner and span two walls.

Laminated wood allows for fitting walls with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, display shelves and hidden cupboards.

In bedrooms, false walling disguises two wardrobes, with a built-in vanity unit between them.

Kitchens sport built-in breakfast niches with benches and fixed table.

Modern Variations

  • For a truly authentic Art Deco interior, take the time to shop for original furniture or have it built.

All these options can be pricey. Alternative designs made for the middle class sport geometric outlines and rounded corners.

Try chairs shaped like barrels or boxes, upholstered in fabrics or leathers. Round sided tables and drink trolleys with circular sides befit the Art Deco spirit.

Look for period, mass-produced tubular steel chairs.
Photo courtesy of Karl Kemp.

Other Pieces

  • Coffee tables and cocktail cabinets – oak, walnut, ash, sycamore or other pale woods
  • Other materials – same designs in wood also in chrome, aluminum, steel, glass or mirrors – or coupled with these materials
  • Bathrooms – black-white-pastel color schemes done in checkered tiles and linens, plus splashy chrome towel rails, taps and sink legs
  • Mirrors – beveled-edge mirrors common in bathrooms
  • Boxed tubs – emerged in the 1930s to replace baths with cast-iron legs


Materials and Characteristics
As electricity filtered into the mainstream in the 1920s, Art Deco designers produced fittings with gentle glows. They reveled in newly available materials – aluminum, tubular steel, plastic, pressed glass and plywood.

Starkly angular fittings also define Art Deco style.

Pendant Lights
A common fixture, the pendant light features a marble glass bowl hung upside down by three chains. The bowl is often round, though occasionally hexagonal, stepped or cone-shaped and is sometimes patterned with animal, flower, fruit or geometric designs.

Figure Lamps
A classic Art Deco style, the figure lamp portrays a coquettishly draped glass female figure holding a globe. Reproductions of original Parisian and Viennese models are plentiful today.

Modern Variations

  • For extra elegance, construct wall-to-wall ceiling light panels with geometric designs. Even more dramatic are corniced lights at wall tops, casting indirect light.

Other Fixtures

  • Ceiling lights – sandblasted, glass-diffusing rings with clear borders
  • Wall lights – glass-and-chrome with ziggurat, shell, step or fan shapes
  • Table lamps – on columnar bases with above shapes in shades of plastic, silk, parchment or molded-glass
  • Wall and table lights – dressed up with sunray, gazelle or borzoi dog motifs


Treatments and Colors

  • Wall treatments are simple or bold – or boldly simple. Both are fashionable and sophisticated.
  • Walls in a plain white, off-white or beige set off vibrantly colored furniture and accessories.

Wallpaper and Mirrors
Borders or corners are adorned with stencils or paper with sunray, ziggurat, lotus blossom or scarab designs influenced by pharonic times.

The look also favors wallpaper filled entirely with embossed geometric or botanical patterns, or paper that captures the effect of wood.

Modern Variations

  • Cover entire walls with metallic paper (glazed silver was popular) or mirrors, two highly dramatic looks in vogue in the late 1920s.

Luxurious paneling abounds in lacquer or wood, stripped and waxed or possibly stained.

Mural paintings made a comeback during the period.

Modern Variations

  • Display cut-out sections from wallpapers with trompe-l'oeil or abstract designs by Art Deco artists or paint murals yourself.

Step designs are popular and provide shelving at different levels – mantle, mid-level at the side and base.

Or the steps might climb along the top of a one-dimensional face made of mottled tiles framed by wood.

Modern Variations

  • If your pocketbook can take it, create a wall design by renovating fireplace faces.

Style Guide: Medieval

Mobility and warmth defined decorating choices in various cold, dark, communal strongholds where large households moved in and out often to avert danger of warfare. Most things had to be transportable, from furniture to service ware to adornments. Rich, deep, vivid colors on walls, in paintings and in textiles gave life and comfort. In particular, tapestries, cushions and carpets provided warmth as well as visual excitement.


Sign of Wealth
Modern Variations

  • Display on cupboards and side tables colorfully exotic dishes and vases resembling those from Moorish Spain and the standard medieval tableware of metal plates, cups, goblets and dishes. Often of gold or silver centuries ago, the plated variety suffices today.
  • Dress up walls with flat-sided metal bowls, small convex mirrors and medallions with Gothic or heraldic motifs of lions, crowns, shields and gargoyles of wood, stone or bronze. Consider religious items, such as ornamented crosses.
  • Frame and display illuminated manuscripts or prints of pages from these books found at museums and art stores. Find and frame classic medieval prints of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus.
  • Seek statuettes reminiscent of those in the period's churches and chapels, such as long, elegant ivory figurines of the Virgin Mary and Child from the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Use in a corner or as a space divider, a large wooden screen, painted and carved with Gothic motifs. (Such screens in front of doors blocked winds during medieval times.)


With constant medieval warfare, households, including European courts, moved frequently to avoid danger. Only easily packed and transported belongings were kept. Thus, textiles were the heart and soul of medieval-style interiors.

Textiles could be taken down and hung anywhere: on walls as decoration; over beds and windows for warmth and comfort in drafty structures; as room or space dividers in communal living arrangements; as large embroidered or woven floor cushions for additional seating and lounging; as canopies over the chairs of important people; as a ceiling by suspension under a high roof; and as drapery over chairs, divans and tables.

Fabrics included canvas, wool, silk and velvet in luxurious hues of russet red, deep green, royal blue and chocolate offset by stone and accented with black and gold.

In the early medieval period, rugs and tapestries were imported from the Orient. In the 9th century, a sea route between the Persian Gulf and China allowed textiles from those regions to make their way to Europe via Venice and Genoa. By the Norman times of 1066-1189, textiles were a staple in most medieval households.

Tapestry manufacturing centers sprang up in Paris and Arras in northern France, and Crusaders brought back wares from the Middle East.

Modern Variations

  • Ready-made tapestries – search for floral patterns or scenes of courtly love, battle, Bible stories and history.
  • Stitch your own – use tapestry-prints and kits.
  • Stained cloth – paint a fabric with scenes or patterns of flowers, Latin text or heraldic motifs.
  • Walls – use metal rings or wooden or metal polls to hang textiles.
  • Beds – use textiles as bed covers or hang from wooden rails and gather into bags at corners.
  • Curtains – construct from large pieces of luxurious velvet, brocade or silk damask and gather a single panel to one side – attached to the wall with a large tassel. Hang from rings on a wooden or metal pole with fleur de lys or spearhead finials.
  • Over furniture – drape fabrics over chests and backs of chairs. Linen tablecloths, originally introduced in the 15th century, are fine for tables.
  • Cushions – use damask or velvet with medieval patterns for chair or large floor cushions. These can be embroidered with metallic thread or adorned with gold braiding.


In the early Middle Ages, floors were beaten earth covered with sawdust, rushes or aromatic wild plants, frequently watered to control dust. Flooring became more sophisticated in homes as the centuries passed and class status elevated. Hard plaster floors to stone slabs progressed to oak boards to Islamic tiles.

In the 14th century, the use of red tiles inlaid with white in various patterns became widespread.

Modern Variations

  • To capture the look today, use wall-to-wall modern matting of rush, sisal, coir or jute. Broad reclaimed boards that show age can simulate the period's wood flooring. Flagstones recreate the slab effect.
  • Lay down exotic Middle Eastern tiles or plain square, modern unglazed tiles colored in the period's popular hues: black, red, white, yellow or blue. Forget rugs. Carpets imported from Persia and Turkey by the Crusaders, considered too valuable for treading on, became wall and furniture decorations.


Portable Furniture
Due to the mobile lifestyle of the Middle Ages, furniture was light and portable. Later on, pieces were permanent built-in fixtures of a house, hall or castle. Styles were basic, except for carved Gothic ornamental work on chair backs and buffet doors in wealthier households.

The storage chests or coffers, brightly painted and adorned with ironwork, were the chief pieces, transporting possessions in wagons and later used for storage when in a new home.

Other simple, moveable furniture included stools, benches, tables of long wooden boards placed on trestles and folding chairs, such as the Roman curule chair, usually made of local timber.

More substantial chairs with high straight backs and seats and arms, sometimes stuffed with rushes, were rare, used only by heads of households.

Cupboards of substantial size and different styles were standard household fixtures, among them the hutch, armoire and buffet.

Beds for peasants and yeomen were easily transportable, straw-filled mattress or take-apart items. The huge bedsteads of wealthier households could hold six couples and the favorite dog. These sported carved posts and canopies, which evolved into the four-poster bed.


Small windows to keep out cold and drafts and scant use of expensive glass meant little natural light during medieval times. Hence, fire from a central fireplace, candles, oil-soaked brands or tallow-covered rushes provided the main internal light.
Photo courtesy of Malmendier Art Metal Works.

The main fire burned in the center of the great hall with smoke rising through holes in the roof.

Modern Variations

  • Today, wall fireplaces can serve the same illumination purposes for a medieval style, as can candles in a variety of holders.
  • Wall lanterns can best emulate the effect of oil-soaked brands mounted in cressets (iron baskets) on walls.

Pricket candlesticks, standing wrought iron or bronze candlesticks, and candelabras with a tripod base and spikes onto which candles were forced were the norm.

Modern Variations

  • Tall wrought iron, bronze, pewter, brass or even wooden candleholders emulate the pricket today.

More Candle Holders
Torchéres, contraptions for overhead lighting and the chandelier's forerunner, held up to 20 candles in iron rings of decreasing sizes. Later, candles on iron spikes in a wooden beam were replaced by a square or circle of iron hung by chains from the ceiling.

Modern Variations

  • These styles can be found in antique shops, now wired with electricity and fit for flame-shaped bulbs. Or recreate suspended oil lamps with pendant lanterns.


Colorful wall treatments livened up cold, dark, sparsely furnished one-room halls of the early Middle Ages, living quarters for entire communities. Castles succeeded these during the later medieval period.

Tapestries, painted cloths and murals decorated timber and stone walls early in the period and covered tiles and paneling during the later Gothic phase.

Modern Variations

  • For a rough-hewn effect, plaster the wall lightly, then paint with chalky white, off-white or stone. For the appearance of stone, mark the plastered-and-painted surface with thin red lines or lay stone blocks themselves on the wall.

Another option was wood paneling, an insulation widely used throughout northern Europe.

Paneling was painted. Though little of the original paneling survived European wars, remnants in northern Europe show blood red, gold and green. These colors, plus ochre yellow or blue, brightened up both paneled and plastered walls.

Modern Variations

  • Cover a wall with exotic Middle Eastern tiles, emulating the fashion of wealthier houses, especially those in Moorish Spain, which imported Islamic tiles inlaid with different colored clays.
  • In stone or wood paneling around doorways and windows, carve repeat patterns of Gothic motifs: stylized heraldic eagles, coats of arms, rampant lions, crosses, roses, shields, quatrefoils and griffons, monsters with eagle head and wings and lion body. Or in lieu of carving, stencil the patterns.
  • Apply in gilt and black paint at wall tops, Latin words in Gothic lettering found in illuminated manuscripts. Get more artistic with a bold touch of murals illustrating Biblical, pastoral or historical themes on an entire wall.
  • Hang Oriental textiles and tapestries or painted silk or canvas cloths with European medieval floral patterns or scenes of battle, courtly love or the Bible.

Style Guide: Victorian

The Victorian style of 19th century England and America revived elements of several styles, including classical Greek, Romanesque, Tudor, Gothic, Elizabethan, Italianate, Egyptian and Oriental. Eclectic rooms are dark and cluttered with such hallmark features as boldly patterned and colored wallpaper, Oriental rugs, ornate fringe and tassel trimming on luxurious curtains, artistic arrangements of knickknacks, stained-glass windows and solid, bulging furniture with deep-buttoned upholstery.


Artistic arrangements of knick-knacks, objets d'art and collections are a hallmark of Victorian style.

Collections include scent bottles, samplers, family photographs in silver frames, wooden toys, Oriental fans and 19th-century kitchen implements such as spice graters, fruit slicers and apple corers.

Modern Variations

  • Create a grouping on a decoupage screen, box or tray with images cut from magazines, books, old prints or wallpaper, covered with a layer of varnish.

Other Victorian Touches

  • Brass and china door knobs
  • Gilt-framed, Old Masters landscape paintings
  • Stained-glass windows
  • Wooden or brass clocks (mass produced since the mid-1800s)
  • French-plated glass over mantel mirrors
  • Sculptured busts, bronze or alabaster statues
  • Elaborate silver settings, silk embroidered Oriental screens, scimitars (curved, single-edged Oriental swords) and potted ferns and palms


Vibrant Colors
Strong, vibrant colors in uncommon, arresting combinations characterize the Victorian style.

In sitting rooms, dining rooms and studies, intense shades of crimson, claret, bottle green, sharp yellow, purple, mahogany, terra cotta and Persian blue are favored.

In bedrooms, colors are lighter, but no less dramatic when mixed together: pink, gray, pale blue and soft green.


In living rooms and dining rooms, hardwood floors and a central carpet dominated. Wood, usually pine, was often darkly stained and polished, though occasionally bleached.

Later in the century, parquet came in style, covering wooden sub-floors with designs ranging from geometric to floral.

In kitchens, plain quarry tiles or stone flags appealed to the period's newly developed interest in cleanliness. Linoleum, introduced in 1860, was often found in bathrooms, hallways and pantries. Popular colors were plain brown or green.
Photo courtesy of Burrows & Company.

Floral, swag, festooned and geometric designs, all big and bold, were showcased in carpets. Preferred were Oriental, Persian, Rococo-designed or needlework rugs.

Economical substitutes existed, such as floorcloth, parquet, tiling or canvas sheeting printed to simulate rug patterns.

Straw, coconut or cloth matting replaced rugs, which were taken up in summer. Decorative encaustic tile, laid in geometric patterns covered hall floors. Staircases were dressed up with runner carpets secured by brass stair rods.


Victorian era fabrics, lavish to touch and behold, are truly a "luxurious" style. Velvet, satin, silk damask, wool, chintz and chenille were used for draperies and upholstery.

Elaborate designs of Gothic, classical, Middle Eastern and Oriental origins enhance the visual richness.

Floral patterns are the most common, especially roses and dahlias intertwined with ribbons or accented with birds. Cottons with complete scenes of children, animals or landscapes also are popular. The era's improvements in printing and dyeing made such designs readily accessible.

Trimmings are just as ornate: deep fringes, large tassels and ropes for window treatments and portières (room-dividing curtains), plus embroidered and laced-edged pillows or cushions.


Solid and Large
Victorian homes overflowed with furniture of various styles including Rococo, Near and Far Eastern, Gothic, olde English and "fat classical," a neoclassical form with carved ornamentations.

In general, pieces were solid and bulging, made of mahogany, walnut, rosewood or satinwood. The invention of the coil spring in the 1820s made upholstered furniture commonplace, especially styles with curving shapes and deep buttons. Fluted and cabriole legs commonly supported such pieces.

Scrollwork on chair and sofa rails featured carvings of flowers, leaves, vines, acorns and grapes.

New forms included the classic caf� chair, created after Austrian Michael Thonet refined the bending of beech wood. Ornate brass-and-iron bedsteads were introduced to Britons at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Cozy Corners
Settees often were found below stairs and on landings in the Victorian home's combined living and stair hall. Cushioned extravagantly, they provided domestic respite from the industrialized world.

Modern Variations

  • For a more elaborate Victorian touch, construct below stairs a charming stylistic specialty, a "cozy corner," an intimate arrangement of built-in seats. Or situate cozy corners next to a fireplace or in room corner.

Free-standing pieces, open shelving and marble-topped pastry tables defined the 19th-century kitchen.

Bathrooms featured wooden washstand with bowl and pitcher and tin bath before the advent of indoor bathrooms in 1870. With indoor plumbing, large, colorfully decorated basins and enameled tubs on ball-and-claw or scroll feet came on the scene.

Victorian Period Pieces

  • Marble-topped tables and chests
  • Armoires – prior to the invention of constructed closets in Victorian homes
  • Renaissance-like bed pediment with arched cresting and carved cartouche
  • The meridienne – a short sofa from the Empire period with arms of unequal height connected by a back with sloping top
  • Balloon-back chairs
  • Corner cupboards
  • Rectangular dining tables with rounded legs
  • Small writing desks
  • Piano
  • Long case clock
  • Ornate coat, hat and umbrella stands

Friday, February 8, 2008

Style Guide: Tudor

Stylistic freedom colored England's Tudor period from 1485 to 1603. Fueled by political stability, international trade and prosperity, a building boom of multistory individual manors and townhouses introduced signature design features for long-term living and comfort: the wall fireplace, wall and ceiling ornamentation like strapwork, and ornate permanent furniture. Other decorative elements are a hodgepodge of influences from Gothic Europe, Italian and German Renaissance, the Orient and the Middle East.


Service Ware
Tudor interiors exhibited a host of goblets, spoons, plates and bowls made of pewter, brass or silver. They were displayed on buffets, cupboards even tables. Beginning in the Tudor period, thick green, cast glass was being produced.

Modern Variations

  • Choose some items with medieval roots and others with a Renaissance flavor to best capture the spirit of the Tudor style.
  • Simulate the cast glass today with vases and glasses of modern recycled glass.

Oriental Touches
Islamic pottery and Chinese porcelain were first imported by Europeans during the early Middle Ages and continued to be valued in luxurious Tudor households.

Modern Variations

  • For a very special touch, put out a few pieces of Islamic pottery or maybe a Chinese porcelain tea set, some candy dishes or plant holders. A screen with Oriental ornamentation would not be out of place, either.

The Renaissance began to embrace the beauty, power and intelligence of man, demonstrated in the rage for portraits of historical figures. Hans Holbein was the official painter at Henry VIII's court, while Isaac Oliver became renowned for his miniatures at the end of the period.

Modern Variations

  • Search for paper- and poster-sized reprints of the period's famous portraits at museums, antique stores or art shops and display them in dark-wood frames on walls, tables and shelves.

Books and other reading materials were introduced after the 15th century invention of the printing press. The Guttenberg Bible in 1456 was the first large book printed using moveable type.

Modern Variations

  • To acknowledge this historical revolution, stack thick, leather-bound books or track down a modern, Guttenberg Bible reprint and cover it in leather.


Main colors
Stylistic freedom in decoration as well as architecture characterized the Tudor period and colors broke barriers, too. Crimson, orange, yellow, turquoise, indigo, sky blue, pink, purple, green and mid-brown, alone or in powerful combinations in fabrics and paintwork, made for highly flamboyant interiors.

Decorative elements, touched up with gold or silver, plus gilding, threading, fringe or paint, make rooms appear magnificently royal and dramatic.


Tudor Prosperity
With peace and stability came prosperity during the Tudor era as a building boom swept through England. Households, no longer temporary shelters, were multi-room and multi-storied structures to live in permanently and furniture no longer had to be portable, as during the Middle Ages.

Furniture became more substantial in shape and weight, plus sophisticated in ornamentation. Carvings, painted patterns, curving, gilding and strapwork were popular.

The most valued piece was the bed, a wooden four-poster with ornately carved footposts in bulbous cup-and-cover shape and wainscoted headboard, holding up a canopy and curtains.

Built-in Furniture
Fitted furniture is a key feature of all Tudor houses. Hinged bench seats double as storage chests. Fixed seats are fashioned into window recesses, porches and within great fireplaces.

Storage pieces for clothes, silver and important documents were standard for households of all income levels. A standout was the wall aumbry, produced by attaching a frame and doors to a recessed masonry wall or wooden partition.

Modern Variations

  • Build trestle tables and benches into kitchen floors and settees with arms formed into walls.
  • Look for authentic carved and paneled, high-backed chairs, such as the "gossip chair," with trapezoid seat and wide arms to accommodate the full-skirted Tudor ladies. There is also the farthingale chair, armless but with padded back and seat.

Select traditional-looking pieces of oak, walnut, chestnut or beech with Tudor touches, such as

  • Carved chests with wrought iron studs and hinges
  • Long antique dining room table with carved melon shapes on the legs, distinctive of the Tudor era
  • Cupboards with open shelves for display of service ware
  • Dresser with spiral-turned details
  • Game table topped with leather


The flood of natural light was the biggest change in interior lighting during the Tudor period. Glass, available to houses grand and modest, allowed for more and bigger windows with "lights" ranging from two to eight. Window types included:

  • Mullioned – vertical posts dividing square openings and creating a rectangular "light"
  • Mullioned and transomed – crossbar splitting "light" in half horizontally
  • Foiled tracery heads
  • Four-centered arch
  • Square heads
  • Bay windows

Candlelight remained the main and most versatile form of lighting. The medieval period's pricket candlesticks turned into the forerunner of the candleholder during the Tudor period. Candles were held within a stick set on a single circular base with a central support. Later, branched designs proliferated.

Modern Variations

  • To recreate the effect today, look for tall, standing candleholders or candelabras, like those in churches, made of wrought iron, bronze, pewter, brass or wood.

Primitive chandeliers were used, too.

Modern Variations

  • Look for pendant metal coronets with holdings for candles or with flame-shaped bulbs, if the fixture is electrified.
  • Capture the Italian Renaissance ornamentation that influenced the Tudor period using any fitting – wall sconce, table lamp or chandelier – with classical designs of vines, acanthus leaves, urns or columns.


The introduction in the 16th century of the wall fireplace brought the most revolutionary change in interior decoration since the medieval period. During the Middle Ages, fire burned in a hearth in the center of a grand hall, smoke escaping through ceiling holes. But by the end of the Tudor period, wall fireplaces were built in nearly all sizes of dwellings. They remained part of the decorative scheme well into the mid-20th century.

Simple fireplaces are brick or stone with timber or stone lintels – plain, molded or carved with designs such as quatrefoils. In grand houses, fireplaces made entirely of wood, brick or stone are spanned by the period's signature, four-centered arch with molded decorations.

A frieze tops the lintels. Overmantels bear a coat of arms, decorative panels or interlacing bands, called strapwork. Added spandrels often contain badges or mottos.

The white marble fireplace, a definitive English element, was influenced by Italian Renaissance classicism and introduced late in the period by architect and stage designer Inigo Jones.

Wall Treatments
Walls in most homes were flat plasterwork painted with lime wash. In more elaborate structures, timber paneling was the norm. THey could be full height or to frieze or dado level, with thin oak boards, 24 inches square, set into grooves of solid timber uprights with cross members.

Carved decoration on paneling included arabesques, strapwork, foliate forms, geometric shapes and the highly fashionable, linenfold pattern.

Modern Variations

  • Walls with full height paneling – leave a gap at the top for painted or plastered friezes or for carved timber with heraldic devises. Look for the Tudor rose, a coat of arms, your initials, strapwork or arabesques.
  • Partially paneled walls – hang with tapestries, painted cloth, painted or plaster friezes above the panels or use painted decorations that imitate fabrics or paneling.
  • Try painting with period hues of red, blue or green.
  • Other options – Find Biblical, classical or folklore-scene frescoes.

Style Guide: Modern

The Modern Movement from 1920 to 1950 explored forms and materials of mass production in the machine age to fashion interiors that are functional and beautiful in their simplicity. Most influenced by the German Bauhaus design school and French architect Le Corbusier, the style uses plain and neutral-colored walls, geometric shapes of primary-colored accessories, streamlined space-saving modular furniture, vibrant polychromatic textiles with geometric designs, and materials such as glass, metal, concrete and steel. The look is of the moment, yet classic, the feel bright and spacious.


Like textiles, accessories are often vibrantly colored. With undulating curves or geometric patterns, such as amoeba, boomerang and kidney shapes, they provide a perfect antidote to the plain neutral-colored walls, streamlined furniture and linear architecture of the Modern style.

Modern Variations

  • Accessories should be used sparingly for effect. Clutter is a no-no.

Painting and Sculpture
Modern Variations

  • Abstract paintings are distinctive of the style. Look for prints by Cubist painters. One key period figure is Dutch modern painter Piet Mondrian, who created black, white and primary-colored grid-like paintings.
  • Consider period sculptures, too. British interior decorator David Hicks produced distinctive marbleized or Plexiglas obelisks for desks and mantels. Alexander Calder's mobiles made of steel wire and colorful aluminum sheets would capture the eye as well.

The era's huge explosion in glass production opened up experimentation in shapes. Foot-long ashtrays adorned coffee tables. Art glass from Italy, Scandinavia and Czechoslovakia was blown into unusual forms and sported wild tones.

Translucent glass vases and bowls of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto are still produced today.


Modern Variations

  • Search out Fiestaware, kitschy colorful dishes in reproduction now, or Russel Wright's spun aluminum torchéres, a design produced by many different companies as well as his own label.

A Modern-style home would not make the grade without American architect and designer George Nelson's ball clock.


Main Color
White – bright, reflective and clean – accents light, airy, spare Modern architecture.

Accent Colors
Gray, taupe and chrome add a slight contrast to white for a subtle dimensional effect on curtains, other textile accessories and furniture. Primary colors of red, blue and yellow are used sparingly on lighting fixtures, tableware and paintings.

Upholstery, often leather, is black, white, gray or brown with, occasionally, stark primary colors for a lift. Most furniture is framed by chrome. Wooden tables and cabinets carry neutral tones of medium to light brown to blond.


Space-saving, efficient, streamlined and light, durable industrial materials of tubular steel and chrome all define Modern Movement furniture.

Many pieces bear tubular steel frames or legs and are upholstered with neutral-colored fabrics or leather. Teak wood is fashionable for tables, shelving and dining room sets, especially by Danish designers.

Furniture also fits the movement's creed "form follows function." Living space is as uncluttered as possible with built-in furniture. Backs and bases of couches become part of walls or room dividers, if placed in the middle of an open space.

Other fitted designs resemble a ship's cabin with fixed seating around the fireplace, shelves beneath built-in beds and built-in bookshelves, cupboards, cocktail cabinets and spaces for radios and record players in walls.

Modular Furniture
Modular furniture, with inherent flexibility and efficiency, extends the built-in concept. Floating shelves can be on one wall one day, another wall the next. Storage shelves do double-duty as room dividers.

Marcel Breuer's Laccio side table, produced in different sizes, can be used separately or stacked together for a striking look. Arne Jacobsen's stacking chairs also provide versatility. George Nelson's platform bench works as seating, a coffee table or the base of a media center.

L-shaped sofas come in two parts, the short side as a chair by itself and the long side as a sofa without arms when separate.

Classic Pieces
For greater authenticity, search out designs by the period's best-and-brightest architects and designers.

  • Le Petit Confort chair – by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret (still in production today)
  • Marcel Breuer's Bauhaus chair
  • Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair, leather day-bed and Brno chair (mass produced in 1960)
  • Arne Jacobsen's Ant, Egg and Swan chairs
  • Eileen Gray's Bibendum chairs
  • George Nelson's Marshmallow sofa
  • The Butterfly chair by Argentine architects Jorge Hardoy, Antonio Bonet and Juan Kurchan
  • Josef Hoffman's steam-bent wood chairs
  • Eero Saarinen's Womb chair
  • Designs by Charles Eames – the Shell chair or rocker, the leather and rosewood lounge chair and ottoman, surfboard-shaped coffee table, and molded plywood chairs


De rigueur white walls complement the clean lines and open space of Modern architecture. Also characteristic are floor-to-ceiling windows with sunlight streaming through to cast abstract patterns.

Flat untextured, unpatterned plaster is the optimum covering. White tiles substitute for plaster in kitchens and bathrooms.

Mirrored walls increase the depth of horizontal space. Exterior walls of glass bricks let light in and enhance the open, transparent and fluid feeling.

Varnished plywood can dress up dining room and study walls. Partitions – of wood, though sometimes of thin prefabricated material – function as space dividers in open-plan layouts, as do cupboards and shelving systems, especially as designed by George Nelson.

Modern Variations

  • For a little pizazz, paint one wall a bright color or apply a plaster relief of an image. Or follow the trademark flair of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi and apply sinuous plaster curves for an organic balance to the straight-line furniture and architecture.
  • Consider murals in vignette style, including trompe-l'oeil surrealist styles, but use sparingly so they stand out. Hang period wallpaper in the same way, with vivid colors like orange, mustard and sharp green in splattered dots, narrow stripes and checks.
  • Go out on a limb yet stay within the style's minimalist parameters with walls of raw concrete, one of architect's Le Corbusier's tricks. Alternate sheets of glass, canvas and wood, a unique feature of architect Rudolph Schindler's house in Los Angeles. Use strands of bamboo to create a space divider, as used by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Or create the effect of a Scandinavian forest by putting the bamboo against a floor-to-ceiling window.

Style Guide: Baroque

The Baroque style is theatrical and extravagant. Decorative elements are intended to startle, electrify – and flaunt wealth. This was also true for the European courts and aristocracy that embraced the 18th century style. Furniture is massive and opulent, textiles are luxurious and expensive, colors are royally rich and glittery, accessories are exotic and sparkling, floors are dramatic. The style was most magnificently showcased at France's Louis XIV's palace at Versailles.



  • Displays of coins, medals, manuscripts, shells and precious stones were a 17th century craze.

Accent Pieces

  • Classical busts and andirons in the fireplace
  • Chinoiserie and other items of Far Eastern orientation, such as lacquered boxes or porcelain
  • Blue-and-white Delftware vases and ginger jars
  • Silver teapots, plates and urns for requisite glitter

Modern Variations

  • Hang pictures and mirrors with gilded frames so they lean forward for a low reflection of light.


Flamboyant and Intense
Gold was the quintessential color of Baroque style.

Modern Variations

  • Use gold generously as gilding in fabric threads, on ornaments and on walls.
  • Mix other intense colors in combinations that might shock. Choose among deep red, indigo, dark green, raspberry, ochre yellow, purple, strong blue and umber.



  • On lower levels of Baroque houses, stone flags, bricks or tiles combine in two or more colors to create an illusion of different depths.
  • On the upper levels, wooden floors are of oak, pine or fir.
  • Floors are sometimes painted with geometric patterns like those of a contemporary parterre garden, known as broderie.


  • Dramatic patterns dominate floor treatments.
  • The very wealthy experimented with a host of geometric patterns of black-and-white marble, including squares, diamonds and cubes.
  • Wooden floors often combine several kinds of woods with different colors for elaborate designs.


  • Rush matting is preferred in less formal rooms.
  • Woven carpets are placed under furniture because carpets considered too expensive to walk on.

Modern Variations

  • Recreate the look by installing linoleum tiles with marbled, brick or stone finishes



  • Newly introduced Indian cotton was reproduced in block-printed patterns of stripes, checks and flowers.
  • The wealthy hung wall tapestries of velvet, silk damask and leather, stamped, tooled or gilded.
  • Wall coverings, table linens and cushion covers were coordinated in fabric and design – tasseled and embroidered with silver and gold threads.

Bold patterns and rich textures abound for sumptuous opulence.

Bedroom Treatments
Grandiose bed hangings and window treatments define the style.

Modern Variations

  • Capture Baroque wall-hanging luxury by using intricate crewel work with floral or arabesque designs made from twisted wool on a linen base.
  • Choose fabrics with big patterns, especially exotic chinoiserie designs of dragons, entwined trees, birds and butterflies.
  • Replicate coordinated wall coverings, table linens and cushion covers.
  • Festoon curtains with a plain rectangular pelmet or a wavy-edged pelmet with tasseled trim or braided ruffle.
  • Dress up bed areas with suspended hangings all around, including fringed or tasseled trim.
  • Use same pattern in washable linen to upholster headboards and cover dressing tables.



  • Oversized and ornately carved, painted, gilded and inlaid wood with precious materials such as silver, ivory, mother of pearl and ebony
  • Intention to impress, possibly startle


  • Knole sofa – high-cushioned arms that were raised and lowered to form a daybed
  • Oak cupboards – paneled and ornamented
  • Buffets – set into arched niches in dining rooms and displaying silver and glass
  • Bookcases – with open shelving, standard in libraries
  • Lacquered cabinets – often set on gilded or silver stands

Modern Variations

  • For purists with deep pockets, buy throne-like chairs and marble-topped tables, both with legs shaped as cherubs, mermaids, titans, dolphins or eagles.
  • Construct built-in furniture.
  • For limited budgets, achieve the look with one or two distinctive items and several plainer pieces.
  • Find wing chairs or chairs with low, wide seats, high backs and scrolled arms of polished oak or walnut; upholster with heavy, striking fabric in Baroque fashion.


Candles and Lanterns

  • Candles and lanterns chief source of day-to-day lighting for rich and poor
  • Candle stands – wood, brass, or pewter
  • Lanterns when moving through halls or on stairs
  • Typical staircase lantern suspended from an iron branch hinged from the landing – lantern pulled across and lit from the staircase
  • Branch lights – brass with central globe enhancing light from candles resting in serpentine arms

Wall sconces made of silver or brass with metal or mirror back contrive to reflect light.

Carved or gilded wood, rock-crystal, silver or brass epitomize Baroque opulence.

Modern Variations

  • Recreate Baroque grandeur and richness with shiny and reflective light fittings.
  • If Baroque-styled chandeliers are used for lighting instead of decoration, hang low to get the most light from burning candles


Wood Paneling

  • Theatrical splendor characteristic of Baroque style is captured in grand style of walls.
  • Social events in the late 17th and early 18th centuries were played out against paneled walls.
  • Wood paneling, or wainscot, was divided into different shapes and units, such as small squares or larger rectangles.
  • Classical proportions in wood paneling, had clearly defined dado and simple cornice.
  • Panels often painted with geometric patterns.
  • Wood sometimes painted to upgrade its look: pine to resemble oak, oak to mimic walnut and other woods to look like marble or tortoise shell.
  • Extravagance was showcased with elaborate carvings of floral motifs or figures.

Wall Hangings
Gilded leather tapestries and other painted fabric hangings were fashionable.

Modern Variations

  • Attach moldings to a plaster wall, paint with a faux finish or wallpaper to create appearance of wainscot or marble.
  • Paint designs of curlicue, flowers, heraldry or classical architecture with iridescent colors on a dark background.
  • Display colorful and unusual tapestries or fabric hangings in separate panels or across an entire wall.
  • Add fringe to wall hangings for exotic touch.

Design Process: Principles of Design

Although these basic principles deal with intangibles, they're very important for establishing a successful décor.


When a sense of visual equilibrium is achieved in a room, the design is balanced. To achieve balance, you need to think about the visual weight of the elements. Balance in a room may be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Few rooms are completely symmetrical, but there are often symmetrical elements, such as a centered fireplace or identical chairs facing each other.


The organized repetition of elements in a design scheme constitutes rhythm. This repetition brings a sense of unity and continuity as your eye moves easily from one motif or area to another. While the repeated elements must share a common trait, such as color, for a sense of unity they should also be varied to create visual interest.


Emphasis suggests making some elements in a design more significant than others. If a work of art is the focal point in a room, for example, the furnishings and wall coverings should be subordinate. Without emphasis, a room looks monotonous.


When the scale of a wall covering, for example, is in proportion to the overall size of the room, the room appears harmonious. If the scale is too large for the room, the effect will be overpowering; if it's too small, the design will look flimsy or weak.


When both unity and variety exist in a room, harmony results. A careful combining of colors, textures and patterns produces a unified whole. Too much unity, however, can be boring. Variety – in just the right amount – contributes vitality and excitement to a room's design. It may be subtle, as in slight color variations, or it may be startling, as with sharply contrasting patterns.

Design Process: Elements of Design

An understanding of basic design elements and principles will help you start the design process. Although the concepts may seem abstract, they need to be considered and applied as you develop your own style.

Elements of Design

Color may be foremost among the design elements, but space, line, texture and pattern are also critical to a decorating scheme. As you consider the many choices for furnishings, keep those elements in mind. A successful mix will help you achieve a balanced, beautiful room.


Walls enclose and define the space called a room. How space is perceived depends on the way color, line, texture and pattern are used on and inside the walls.

  • To make a small room seem larger, emphasize openings to let the eye travel to the space beyond. Use small- to medium-size textures and patterns on walls. Employ light, cool colors on walls and ceilings.
  • To make a large room seem smaller, use a contrasting color, texture or pattern to define or create distinct areas. Use dark, warm colors on walls and ceilings. Introduce rough textures such as combed plaster on walls to advance them visually.


The "lines" of a room refer to the room's shape or the dominant visual direction created by all the decorating elements. A room can incorporate many different lines – vertical, horizontal, diagonal, angular and curved. Directional patterns on wallcoverings, decorative moldings and window treatments can alter your perception of a room's size.


Rough plaster, velvet, the softness of drapery, and the sheen of marble or glossy paint are a few examples of texture. Patterns on fabric and special paint techniques, such as sponging, possess a visual texture. Whether tactile or visual, texture adds interest to a décor, and can make it feel warmer or cooler. Texture tends to fill space and can make a room seem smaller or cozier.


Pattern brings rhythm and vitality to a room, unifying colors and textures with design. Thinking about how patterns appear on walls and how they interact will make the job of choosing and combining patterns easier.

  • Naturalistic patterns are realistic renderings of natural forms, such as flowers. Stylized patterns simplify natural designs to capture their essence; the fleur-de-lis, a stylized iris, is an example. Geometric designs such as plaids and checks are nonrepresentational. Abstract patterns are loose, artistic interpretations of realistic or geometric designs.
  • The size of a design motif when seen in relation to other motifs is referred to as scale. Some small-scale patterns are so small that they read like a textured surface. To keep a room from appearing too small, choose a pattern with an open, airy background; your eye will look through the pattern and beyond, making the room seem more spacious. A generously proportioned room will support large, brightly colored motifs, even when they appear on dark backgrounds. Because they have the effect of drawing the walls closer, large patterns can consume space and create the impression that the room is smaller than it actually is.