Set rooms aglow with to-sigh-for interior designs

What we all need now is a little more romance in our lives -- and inside our homes.

The outside world is awfully rough on our psyches. We're bombarded with unending e-mails, ringing cell phones and frustrating commutes to and from work.

It's no wonder that many of us crave the kind of romantic comfort we see in movies. Candlelight. Champagne on ice. Soft colors. Feel-me fabrics. Dressing tables. Beds draped with fabric or mosquito netting.

Just ask designer Florence Pion. A few years ago, she asked her antiques class at Florida Atlantic University to name their favorite decorating style. The students, ages 22 to 48, overwhelming said they preferred "romantic."

"Each one said they wanted a romantic atmosphere with soft lighting and candles," she said. "In other words, the period was not as important as the feeling. At the time, they were all going to thrift shops and they were in love with the past."

Ah, romance. Don't we all crave more of it?

Now there's help. In Jessica McClintock's design book, "Simply Romantic Decorating" (Rodale, $32.50), she takes you through the steps to transform your home into a romantic nest.

McClintock includes everything from steps to creating beautiful backgrounds to advice on cooking, dining and entertaining. And, if anyone knows romance, it's McClintock, best known as the go-to fashion designer for old-fashioned wedding gowns and prom dresses. This book completes her foray into home furnishings, which includes designing furniture for American Drew, C.R. Laine and Lea, rugs for Loloi, and lighting for Minka.

"I just love to think of a room as a beautiful jewel box," McClintock said.

"Bring into it memories of historical references and fine-tune it into a little jewel box with colors you like and paintings."

She also suggests bringing in classic elements such as wooden panels from older homes, architectural capitals in the corners of rooms and painted details such as soft vines or cascading flowers. Colors are muted. Soft lighting comes from candles and wall sconces.

"With me, romance is all about the structure, the color, the fabrications I use, the furniture," she said. "It's so overwhelming that many people don't know where to start."

As an apparel designer, she likes to start with swatches of fabric. She prefers soft colors that look natural and aged, nothing new or shiny. Think off white, cream, rich taupe or gold.

"Wood that has been lived on and walked on for 10 years looks better than wood just placed on the floor," she said. "A house that is lived in has beautiful pieces of furniture and experiences in romantic situations. You draw from the essence of older things."

McClintock suggests using glazes on the walls to make them look as if they have been aged, such as starting with sage and adding soft glazes such as gray lavenders.

Designer Barbara Maker said about 50 percent of her clients are looking for a romantic style.

"It's usually the master bedroom or bath where the woman wants something softer and more feminine," Maker said. "She is content if the rest of the house is more tailored."

If the husband objects, Maker points out that a romantic atmosphere is more conducive to inspiring intimate encounters.

The typical male response: "If this is going to provide a better relationship for romance, then I'm in."

In order to make the man feel more comfortable, Maker said, you shouldn't go over the top with a frilly, girly look.

Use subtle rather than large-scale prints. Select soft neutral colors and throw in some darker tones. Add a comfortable chair for the husband's TV viewing. If the woman wants a draped night table, the man can have a less girly wooden table.

"There has to be compromises in a design for a couple," she said. "Often they have different tastes. One is traditional and the other is contemporary. We try to blend the looks, making it a softer contemporary or a cleaner traditional."

Recently Maker decorated a home that had a free-standing tub. The clients didn't like the look, so she added two drapery panels hanging from the ceiling and surrounded the tub with plants. She put a skirted vanity next to it, adding another romantic touch.

Romantic decorating, like romance, means different things to different people.

"Take care," she said. "Your home is not the place for immediate gratification. Follow your mind, your eyes and your heart."

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In the mood for love

Romantic decorating isn't easy to define. Like love, it means different things to different people. Designer Barbara Maker gives tips on what romance can mean in your home:

Drape it. Hang drapes or mosquito netting from the ceiling over a bed. Drape round tables with floor-grazing cloths.

Add a dressing table. The style doesn't matter. It can be wood or draped with fabric. Either way, they bring back the romance of old Hollywood. Use the accessories that represent romance, such as a perfume tray with crystal bottles and family photos.

Say it with flowers. Add bouquets of fresh flowers and live plants.

Select feminine fabrics. Look for fabrics with a soft feel, such as silks, velvets and chenille. Prints should be subtle. Pump up the romance on pillows with tassels and fringe.

Soften the rectangles in your design. Layer pillows on your bed to make it more welcoming. Add throw rugs to your floors.

Control the light. Layer draperies with sheers and room-darkening drapes. Sheers will diffuse the light during the day. Crystal chandeliers add elegance and soft, filtered light. Use plenty of candles. Put dimmers on all lights, even the kitchen and hallway.

-- South Florida Sun-Sentinel