INTERIORS : Fringe Elements : Swags and Tassels, Cords and Cascades Herald New Attention to Detail


Lois Mirkovich was delighted when she and her husband inherited his grandmother’s classically styled furniture but wasn’t crazy about the silk fringe on the sofa and chair skirts.

She likes a more contemporary look, and she planned to reupholster.

But as she flipped through stacks of interior design magazines, the Irvine resident changed her mind and kept the fringe because she saw that it, along with tassels and cord--called passementerie in design circles--is popular again.

Trim is turning up everywhere, from department store pillows to the swags, jabots and cascades that crown expensive draperies. It can be as simple as a piece of gimp or as elaborate as a pair of handmade tassel tiebacks fashioned from custom-dyed silk. You can see it in the plain cord used to outline the shape of an upholstered piece or the deep trellis fringe used as a luxurious silk sofa skirt.


The reason such trim is in style now, designers say, is because of a newfound attention to detail, a trend toward more traditional design themes and away from the sparse contemporary look.

New York designer Teri Seidman wrote in her book, “Decorating Rich: How to Achieve a Monied Look Without Spending a Fortune” (Random, $22.50), “If there’s one touch that symbolizes the finest European homes, it’s the not-so-simple tassel. I’m not talking about your measly little cotton ornaments or pulls you find in dime stores, but rich, thick fabric threads of distinction.”

Trim is a popular accessory in home furnishings, said Edward A. Goodman of the trim division at Scalamandre in New York, because “it’s a way of adding weight to a swag, finishing off the edge on a pillow or carrying color from a window to a sofa or a skirted table.”

How costly is it to add these details?

You can spend a few dollars to add touches to a room or hundreds of thousands of dollars for an expanse of handmade trim that can cost from $40 to $300 a yard.

In a recent master bedroom and dressing room project Goodman was involved in, the trim alone cost $200,000.

Part of the cost is because tassels and fringes are labor-intensive, he said. Some trims require painstaking handwork so that every inch of trim has elaborate detail.

Another factor is the material. Although expensive, silk is used for passementerie because it “takes” color, has a sheen and hangs well, said Corona del Mar designer Carol McMahon. McMahon, of Veldhuis-McMahon Interior Design, has spent a year working on what she calls the ultimate trim project: the Calabasas home of Paul and June Ebensteiner, who also own a home in Orange County.

McMahon, a designer for 15 years, says the Ebensteiner project went far beyond anything she has ever created for a client.

She used eight kinds of custom trim in one room. There’s trim on the draperies, the sofa and even the inside of the upholstered display cabinet doors in the Crystal Room, where the couple’s crystal is displayed.

For the 10-foot-tall windows in that room, McMahon created oversized tassel tiebacks by altering standard tassel tiebacks from Scalamandre, one of the few firms that still offer handmade silk trim that can be customized.

She added to the tassels’ proportions and specified the colors--shades of royal blue, gold and cream--to match the upholstered damask walls, Aubusson rug and drapery swag. The tassel tiebacks, actually a series of tassels-on-tassels that form larger ones, hang from an eight-ply crepe cord that was also custom designed and colored.

McMahon designed other trims for the room, including a tassel fringe and miniatures of the tassel tiebacks to be used on furniture. The blue damask drapes are outfitted with gold, blue and cream striped swags and cascades and are topped off with gold-plated medallions.

The lavish use of silk and custom, handmade trim cost thousands of dollars.


Trim, said Scalamandre’s Goodman, has always been a sign of prestige. In Louis XIV’s time (1638-1715), it was so abundant on garments, drawing rooms and bedrooms that it was almost decadent, he said. Even coaches had carriage lace, often woven with the family crest and used as assist straps or to hold cushions in place.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, trim took on a practical aspect. It was used to cover up nails in upholstered pieces, and, because it was so expensive to get furniture reupholstered, base or bullion fringe was added to protect chair skirts. If shoe polish happened to rub off on the fringe, it was cheaper to reverse the fringe than have the furniture reupholstered, Goodman said.

The opposite is true today, but if you love the overall look of passementerie, it can be duplicated in cotton and rayon for a fraction of the cost of silk. Using trim made on power looms rather than by hand and using less elaborate trim, such as braid, also decreases the cost to $7 to $10 a yard.

Author and interior designer Seidman, who has decorated homes for 20 years, suggests scouting thrift stores and flea markets for old belts and lamp shades that sport great tassels.

Goodman said he often finds that the trim has outlasted the fabric. It can be reused and repaired, but it shouldn’t be redyed if it has faded. He compares the fading to the patina on old furniture, which can never be reproduced.

Sometimes just a touch of trim makes a world of difference in a room.

Take another of McMahon’s trim projects. A home in Laguna Niguel has window treatments using cornice boxes with roping on the top and bottom of the boxes. Due to a tight budget, the treatment was installed in stages: The drapes and cornice boxes were put into place, and the roping was added months later.

“After the roping went on, the client called and said she thought it was wonderful before but now it was really gorgeous,” McMahon said. “She could really see the difference and enjoy that $300 detail.”

McMahon also used trim in a Williamsburg-style home for a client who moved to a suburb of Atlanta.

McMahon found standard rather than custom-colored trims that matched the furniture’s fabric, including an oversize bullion, or long fringe, that was added to the bottom of skirted sofas, large chairs and ottoman.

The trim, which also included tassels and fringe on pillows and a little roping on one pillow, came to about $1,000, McMahon said.

Not every design concept requires trim, but some treatments, such as swags and jabots, look naked without them, Goodman said.