The past is alive in 2008

Times Staff Writer

LOOK at the top design trends for the coming year, and it’s clear that the past will shape our future. The Hollywood Regency craze has evolved, creating a hunger for antiques and cleverly updated pieces that pay homage to French neoclassicism and all-American tradition. A counterpoint to all this ornamentation? There’s a separate move toward minimalism, including chinoiserie that’s more Mod than Ming. And as for bringing the natural world home: We’re not out of the woods yet.

1. Enchanted forest

The look: Think of it as a tongue-in-cheek riff on the wood-grain prints, antler accessories and trophy heads that popped up in shelter magazines so often last year. After several seasons of realistic carvings and castings, designers are beginning to tweak woodland fantasy motifs, presenting flora and fauna in an almost-surreal way that’s more Lewis Carroll than Field & Stream. “Acorns and owls are the new deer and daisies,” says Brooke Hodge, curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Cartoon-influenced mass-market accessories aimed at the young at heart may resemble kitschy midcentury knickknacks, but unexpected materials and colors -- such as the glossy black plastic garden gnome table by Philippe Starck -- give these pieces the sheen of 21st century cool.

Why it’s hot: “It probably has to do with ecology and going green, because the emphasis is now on stylized forms from nature rather than dead animals,” Hodge says, “although I’m sure Damien Hirst’s crystal skull encouraged people to take common objects and make them more opulent.” Bottom line: In California’s indoor-outdoor design culture, people crave natural elements, and even the most cutesy critters can be rendered as modern objects.


The pieces: Looks this bold should shine on their own as accents. Upper right: Kathy Taslitz’s Old Leaf table ($14,500) is available by custom order from At right: Illustrator Tim Biskup’s Gama-Go mushroom character pillow ($27) is from Yolk in Silver Lake, (323) 660-4315, The yellow ceramic squirrel nut dish ($32), squirrel lamp ($36) with green shade ($12), and orange fawn coin bank ($18) are from Urban Outfitters, The new black version of Attila from Starck’s Gnomes series ($374) is at Kartell in Los Angeles, (310) 271-0178, The Hear No Evil ceramic planter by DF Casa ($180) is perched on bisque porcelain logs by KleinReid ($320); both are from Show in Los Feliz, (323) 644-1960,

2. French neoclassic

The look: Look for more 20th century reproductions of early 19th century French furniture, a period defined by Napoleon Bonaparte’s earlier military campaigns in Italy and Egypt. The neoclassicists of that era embraced the architectural details, decorative flourishes and mythological iconography of ancient cultures as a new design vocabulary -- one that was famously revived in the mid-1900s by the Parisian design firm Maison Jansen. The look is unabashedly old money, and unlike its Los Angeles-bred counterpart, Hollywood Regency, French neoclassic style relies on restraint -- muted finishes and a strong sense of architectural delineation. Jansen furniture is notable for its use of fluted columns, leather paneling, marble surfaces and steel-legged furniture with brass sabots.

Why it’s hot: Some credit goes to Acanthus Press, which last fall published James Archer Abbot’s “Jansen Furniture,” the sequel to his 2006 tome, “Jansen,” stoking the fever for French neoclassicism. “It represents the classic end of the market,” says Richard Wright, owner of the 20th century auction house Wright in Chicago. “And it is not inexpensive, but it’s much more refined and done with a better sense of taste than Hollywood Regency.” Suitable for a drawing room or a man’s study, the look has long been fashionable but hardly hip. With the renewed interest in ornamentation, the appeal is growing. Williams-Sonoma Home is offering furniture and lamps with a Jansen profile, and L.A. designer Kelly Wearstler’s recent collection of decorative accessories for Bergdorf Goodman features classic marble busts and urns.

The pieces: Genuine Jansen is stamped with the manufacturer’s logo and can be found through auction houses such as Christie’s in Paris. Dragonette Limited in Los Angeles, (310) 855-9091,, has a collection of vintage pieces including a 1950 marble-topped bar with leather panels, right, and three bar stools, shown on Page 1, which come as a set ($28,000). The store’s 1920s gilt and upholstered Napoleonic style side chair, right, is $15,000 for a pair. Unsigned period reproduction pieces that are signatures of the style can be used to create the neoclassical look: Here, Dragonette’s 1940s urn lamp is one of a pair that sells for $4,800, and the agate obelisk on the bar is $1,100 per pair. The bronze sphinx ($1,500) sits on the Madison, a Dragonette design based on the campaign table ($1,400 in bronze and marble). For another contemporary riff, the Sullivan Trolley ($1,650), inset above, is from Williams-Sonoma Home in Los Angeles, (310) 289-2420,

3. Shanghai modern

The look: You also could label it Chinese Contemporary, or Auntie Mame Mandarin. This is chinoiserie stripped down to its most potent elements: fretwork patterns and classic curves in furniture, koi and foo dogs rendered as decorative motifs with the paintbrush of Pop art. In contrast with the ornately carved and painted Chinese antiques and the earthy Zen of some Asian furnishings, these mass-market pieces take traditional forms and reduce them into sculptural silhouettes. A Kang table that’s traditionally painted becomes an eye-catching focal point in polished stainless steel, and a vase-shaped etagere with asymmetrical shelves has a Mod kick when presented in white.

Why it’s hot: The twin forces of Chinese pop culture and Tinseltown glamour make the mix a hit, interior designer Liana Reid says. “Taking old ideas and making them fresh is the essence of great design,” she says. “Everyone’s eyes are on China these days, and if they aren’t, they ought to be. Their culture has elements of beauty from the most primitive to the highly refined.” The exuberant architecture of Shanghai and the contemporary art scene in Beijing, site of this summer’s Olympics, are attracting the attention of collectors and design enthusiasts. “They have a rich decorative arts culture, a long history of crafts like lacquer and joinery and all of the production facilities to interpret designs in a contemporary way,” says auction house owner Richard Wright. “There’s going to be some important design coming out of China in the next year or two.”

The pieces: Pieces in this vignette include, from lower left: a lacquered jewelry box ($89) and ceramic koi lamp ($199) from West Elm,, and a stainless-steel Kang table ($3,314) and pink silk floor cushion ($136) from H.D. Buttercup in L.A., (310) 558-8900, The white Shaped Storage bookcase ($899) is from On it, from top, are a terra-cotta Tang-style horse ($1,400) from Downtown in L.A., (310) 652-7461,; a blue and orange crewel bug pillow ($28) from Urban Outfitters,; plastic Buddha banks ($22 each) from Zero Minus Plus at Fred Segal in Santa Monica, (310) 395-5718,; a vase by KleinReid ($190) at Show in Los Feliz, (323) 644-1960,; a ceramic foo dog ($9.99) from West Elm; and a Chinese puppet head on a museum mount ($66) from H.D. Buttercup. The rattan pagoda chair ($680) is from Algabar in L.A., (323) 954-9720, Needlepoint pillows ($98 each) on the chair and the silver porcelain garden stool ($595) are from Williams-Sonoma Home in L.A., (310) 289-2420, The Climbing Leopard silk rug by Diane von Furstenberg ($6,920) is from the Rug Co. in L.A., (323) 653-0303,

4. Americana

The look: It’s a broad category that covers American fine furniture and decorative objects from pre-Revolutionary times and the Federal period (1770s to 1830s) as well as folk-art pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries. Drawing from the designs of master English cabinetmakers including Thomas Chippendale and neoclassicists George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton, this furniture is graceful and elegant with fine woods, inlays and brass trim. “When I saw a Pottery Barn Queen Anne-style chair, a very simple dining chair with a splat in the back, I realized it could make sense as a compromise between modern and antique,” says Barry Cenower, publisher of Acanthus Press. The January issue of Art & Antiques, which is devoted to American quilting and folk art, identifies a new way of looking at U.S. history. Given the trend of mixing vintage and contemporary pieces, and the current craze for do-it-yourself craft and handmade folk art, “people are beginning to see how to incorporate Americana into contemporary interiors,” says Museum of Contemporary Art curator Brooke Hodge.

Why it’s hot: The suburban interiors of the AMC series “Mad Men” gave the 1950s Colonial Revival style a significant shot of glamour. “I can totally see it,” designer Alex Meconi says. “Like ‘I Love Lucy’ in Connecticut with new upholstery.” Or, perhaps, in the shape of updated Windsor and spindle-back chairs, rockers and benches, such as those made by Thos. Moser. The Vermont-based firm, known for its modern renditions of American classics, will open its first Los Angeles showroom in the former Helms Bakery building this spring. Other designers are also attracted by the inherent possibilities of updating classic American styles in contemporary materials and finishes. In crafting the Spindarella table made of recycled paper, the Brooklyn-based Redstr/Collective pared down Sheraton’s urn-pedestal original. Later this year, New York interior designer Jeffrey Harris will unveil his Colonial Mod collection, including acrylic pieces containing deconstructed early American furniture.

The pieces: The look is mix-and-match and even improvisational -- why not take a can of high-gloss white spray paint to a spinning wheel or rocking chair? The pieces shown in the vignette, lower left, include an 1830s painting ($3,800), a Federal period bow front dresser in the Hepplewhite style ($5,800), an early 19th century document box with studded initials ($975) and a solid bronze American eagle ($650), all from Thomas R. Field of South Pasadena, (626) 799-8546,, which bills itself as the largest purveyor of Colonial and Federal furniture on the West Coast. Thos. Moser furniture, including the Continuous Arm Bench ($2,350), left, is available at

. . . plus four more makes ’08

5. The Missoni look: With its first signature boutique hotels set to open this year and bedding and bath textiles selling briskly in L.A. stores, the Italian fashion house famed for rainbow stripes and zigzag knits is seeing its design influence spread. Crate & Barrel’s Mira pillow ($69.95) and throw ($129), top left, are the sincerest forms of flattery: imitation Missoni at budget-minded prices.

6. Matte white lights: Now that the Regency renaissance has brought crystal chandeliers into so many homes, the pendulum is swinging back to simple fixtures. With a nod to lamps made by late sculptor Alberto Giacometti, owners of L.A.’s Bourgeois Boheme have fashioned the hand-plastered Couronnes chandelier ($4,150), top right, a vision of soft-white minimalism. (323) 936-7507,

7. Sheet metal chic: The publication of “Maria Pergay: Between Ideas and Design” in 2006 sparked a revival of the French designer’s 1970s streamlined stainless steel furniture. The look is echoed in more mass-market accessories, including this bent-metal vase ($39.95), bottom left, from Z Gallerie.

8. Fringe elements: Nail-head trim and button tufting made upholstered classics chic once again. Now, Victorian-style fringe is beginning to dress up the skirts of couches at top design galleries. Dana John in Los Angeles offers vividly hued horsehair tassels ($75 per pair), bottom right, that can be hung on drawer pulls and lamp pull-chains. (323) 965-0400,