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Old World style, updated for a new era
At its most over-the-top expression, the look is pattern-on-pattern, curvy, decidedly feminine, definitely lacy, going for Baroque. At its most restrained, it's a vintage ecru doily slung over the back cushion of a leaf-green boxy sofa with tapered blond legs.
Ornamentation is back in a pastiche of forms. Call it anti-minimalism, non-Victorian or a riff on Rococo. However it's defined, the hunger for more frills is even drawing devotees of pared-down, Zen-inspired furnishings that have sprung up everywhere the past few years.
Pattern first resurfaced on wallcoverings, especially damask. Then wallpaper prints spilled onto sofas, chairs, pillows and lamp shades. Cage chandeliers cropped up, all dripping with crystals.
But this movement is not merely retro. It's more playful than faithful to a period.
Nor are the decorative designs confined to traditional furnishings. In fact, some of these ornamental patterns, translated into burnout velvets, appear on modern pieces, a mix mastered by the London-based furnishings company Designers Guild (www.designers guild.com).
Arabesque shapes have found themselves silk-screened onto tabletops, dressers and beds, including recently launched black gloss-on-matte finishes by Zocalo (http://www.zocalousa.com ), a furniture company based in San Francisco.
Floral patterns are being laser-cut into the surfaces of furniture in a marvelous peekaboo effect. Vibieffe, an Italian company, totally changed the personality of a slinky modern chair by splashing giant roses all over its back and seat, the floral outlines cut into metal.
Furniture gets texturized
Another spin incorporates texture into the furniture. One line called "Power Flower," from the company Franz, was shown at January's Maison et Objet, an international furnishings show in Paris. It features a console whose pressed porcelain floral design on a boxy front looks like it's made of tin-ceiling squares painted white.
Elements of a more embellished style are showing up from Target to Neiman Marcus, where a scrolled, hand-painted iron chandelier with jet-black crystals and beads makes a dramatic statement for $2,100. At Urban Outfitters, there are cotton curtains with silvery foil-scrolled patterns for $32 as well as kindred floral-flocked lamp shades for $28 and even removable flocked wall decals.
West Elm sells linen pillows in flocked-velvet florals for $29 to complement its seating. Wallpaper-patterned salad plates in brightly glazed earthenware in four colors are sold four for $40 at Anthropologie.
The Container Store recently showcased a graphic laptop desk with cup holders in a black-on-white allover pattern for $24.99. Etched-glass carafes for just under $20 are available through the Sur La Table catalog and retail shops. A white-lacquered poplar armoire with door panels decorated with cutout primroses is available for $2,998 from Anthropologie.
CB2 (http://www.cb2.com ), Crate and Barrel's hip store for a budget-conscious younger crowd with contemporary tastes, features an intricately lacy curtain by Dutch designer Tord Boontje. "Until Dawn," described as a pop pattern of flora and fauna, is an intricate laser-cut design made of black Tyvek, the polyethylene material used to wrap houses to protect them during and after construction. The piece is reminiscent of Boontje's popular chandeliers with lacy lamp shades, one of which is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
But the real exclamation point comes with Brocade Home (http://www.brocadehome.com ), a catalog that's unabashedly flirty and has a female point of view, page after page lush with pattern of some sort.
The catalog is about layering rather than a literal association with the dressy fabric, although textiles are a giant part of the look, a definite departure from the lean-spirited West Elm (http://www.westelm.com ) that Lisa Versacio helped create. Though Versacio was trained in fashion, she clearly had a handle on the 20-somethings who like pared-down, sleek style on a budget.
"Five years ago, modern looked so good," says Versacio, now with Restoration Hardware, the new catalog's parent company known for classic, clean, high-end American design. "But the last few years, I've been feeling that decor is a little too austere, too naked. Frankly, things felt too masculine. I was just so tired of leather chairs, big fat stuffed sofas. I felt the need for something a little prettier."
Not too sweet
Wallcovering is so much a part of the Brocade Home look that the company will introduce its own line in the fall. And the summer catalog brings the indoors outside with furniture echoing many of the same graceful contours and damask looks in all-weather materials. Also in the works are plans for a retail store in 2008.
Though as Versacio says, the Brocade Home look isn't for everyone, response has been amazing. Some customers are buying up entire rooms to be displayed just as they are in the catalog. Singer Beyonce Knowles scooped up bunches of furnishings and accessories to use as a backdrop for an upcoming video.
To be sure, the evolved definition of modern is more nuanced, with new takes on decorative touches. Even magazines like Metropolitan Home, which bills itself as a guide to modern design, now are open to the occasional tufted velvet chair in the context of a cool contemporary setting or a curlicue-shaped Venetian-style mirror teamed with a ceramic console on skinny chrome legs in a lab-like bath.
The self-proclaimed champion of contemporary style weaves in such flourishes in moderation, of course. As Versacio warns, "a little goes a long way."
It's all about balance. "The new modern is comfortable, livable, fun," Versacio says. "And pretty without being icky sweet."