TRENDS : Stone, Metal, Glass--New California Look Is a Natural


Chandelier shopping? That graceful, rusted-metal one with a few crystal ornaments is a safe bet. The California casual look that combines natural elements such as stone, metal and glass is one that is big and getting bigger.

Contemporary furniture with classic lines, along with "quirky antiques" such as a rough-carved stone table, is the look of the future, say a number of design professionals.

Hundreds of interior designers who attended the annual Market Day this week at Design Center South in Laguna Niguel got previews of this and other trends in the industry. Events ranged from showroom tours of French reproduction furnishings to a keynote address by innovative designer Dakota Jackson, who discussed his mold-breaking style.

Designers could inspect several pieces from the line of furniture Jackson has created for the Lane Co., which were on display at Interiors, Etc. Pieces included a circular glass and iron table, a wood table in light ash with straight dark legs tapering to points, and a bronze wall mirror in an undulating basket-style weave. A bed with the basket-weave headboard and footboard (a design element borrowed from woven leather shoes) could be seen in a catalogue along with the "wonder dot" upholstered sofa and chair. That idea is a variation on the multicolored Wonder Bread balloons from the familiar bread wrapper.

In the same showroom, furniture by John Charles Designs seemed to blend in with Jackson's ultra-contemporary look but offered a softer, more relaxed style. Sofas with loose pillows and soft, roll arms were upholstered in what sales representative Randy Gleckman said is the coming trend in color--earth tones. Natural colors are falling out of favor and being replaced with rust, bronze and muted tones, he said.

Color palettes are becoming darker, agreed Michael Koski of the Steven Michaels showroom at Design Center South, but he says it is hard for Southern California designers to move away from the lighter, natural look. Koski, who offers classic contemporary furnishings such as the rusted-metal chandelier, is so confident of growing interest in the look that he is taking it to Europe and opening a showroom there in the fall.

Olive green, gold and khaki are popular for carpeting, showroom owners said. Shag carpeting is making a comeback but is more often used as a rug, they said. The fluffy rugs composed of five-inch-long chubby strands mixed with long, slender strings could be seen in several showrooms. Berber remains popular.

When it comes to lighting, the glass, stone and iron combination is still hot. Diane Thomas of Fine Art lamps previewed the firm's new line that will be shown at the High Point, N.C., furniture show in April. Groups of torchiers, candlesticks and consoles, all in a casual contemporary look, were featured. Details included hand-painted lampshades on a chandelier and the hand-rubbed antiqued patina on an iron console lamp.

A variation on the aged-metal chandelier with more, but smaller, crystal ornaments arranged in strands was being shown at Blake House, along with fun, 10-foot-tall metal palm trees.

Natural materials showed up at windows too. Blake House is featuring Conrad Original Sunshades, handwoven window coverings made in the Orient of natural grasses, reeds and fibers.

The Roman-fold shades filter sunlight and outline outside views. A mesh shade can be mounted behind them for additional ultraviolet light control or privacy. Nature and technology meet here in an option that includes a motorized shade with remote control. The shades are a longstanding product that is being rediscovered, said Sandra MacLennan, president of Blake House Associates Inc.

The popularity of natural elements has resulted in a comeback for woven-wood shades, according to Shirley Schnitzer of Mark LeVine Windowcoverings. The newer versions use less chenille and more wood, she said. Also big are unstructured drapes on metal rings that are pulled closed with a wand. Hunter-Douglas has a new Roman shade, Vignette, which looks like a drape, and has added marbleized patterns to its pleated shades for a "stone" look.

As for fabric, those who attended talks at Scalamandre and F. Schumacher got an exotic, Oriental view. The Oriental motif is the next obvious design trend, according to Thomas M. Burak, vice president and design director at Schumacher.

"If we look back at the '80s--when there was so much English chintz and layers and layers of fabric and pattern on pattern--and then the beginning of the '90s, where it was the paring down, we went from one extreme to another. We went from having six layers of curtains at the windows to ripping them down and not putting up anything," Burak told a group of designers.

"When you look at these kinds of trends, there has to be something that pulls you back to good, classic, traditional design. Our feeling is that the Oriental motif, which works well not only in contemporary but in traditional design, is it," Burak said.

Burak dazzled the audience with silks and damasks in Chinese and Japanese prints with companion fabrics in a more traditional vein that can stand alone or blend with the Oriental pieces. Designs came from fragments of a Japanese robe, documents, paintings and even a hand-painted silk ball gown in the Colonial Williamsburg archives.

The color range was vast--from typical Chinese Imari colors of blues and rust to bold red, bright yellows and the new color direction the firm chose for the Far East Collection. Those colors include coral, aqua and yellow--colors that Burak said are more adaptive than the original.

Although oohs and aahs greeted the bright colors, the audience of designers seemed happiest when Burak showed the neutral palette.

"You really have a neutral, but there's a sense of color about it. It's soft, it can work with darker golds, it can start to work on its own," he said, displaying a print called "Exotic Garden" in a "faded neutral" olive-hued taupe and gold, with a damask in wheat and a textured chenille stripe also in wheat.

The audience fairly purred.

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