10 can’t-miss classics
Armless upholstered chair
Sea grass and sisal
Sterling silver picture frame
Blue and white porcelain
Venetian blinds, especially wooden
Leather (perfect on Parsons tables)
Chinese Chippendale chair
Swing arm lamp
The power of pairs: lamps, chairs, side tables
They are as familiar to us as our childhood homes, yet they still feel fresh and current. These 10 classic designs — constantly reimagined — have proved their enduring appeal over decades and even centuries. They transcend trendiness: They’ve never gone out of style. Why? They are functional, good-looking, well proportioned, intelligent and versatile, lending themselves to any number of interpretations. They’re great in traditional settings; they’re great in contemporary ones. In short, they work. Anytime, anywhere.
1. Chaise longue
WHAT IT IS: The chaise longue, meaning “long chair,” was created in 18th century France with one arm, a cushioned back and a seat that stretched out far enough to politely accommodate a sitter’s outstretched legs. During the Modernist era of the ‘20s and ‘30s, the chaise longue (pronounced shez long, not chaze lounge, as Americans are too often wont to err), gained international popularity when European designers reenvisioned it.
WHY IT WORKS: Lounge-ability equals longevity, says New York architect Richard Meier, who designed L.A.'s Getty Center. “It’s a masterpiece of furniture,” he says. “You’re not lying down in a bed or sitting up as you would in a chair. You’re somewhere in between.” His favorite: Le Corbusier’s iconic 1928 tubular steel and cowhide chaise, which the Swiss architect and designer called “a relaxing machine.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: This neoclassical Scroll chaise, $1,709, is from Milling Road by Baker; www.kohlerinteriors.com.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: Sophie Chaise, $1,199 at Pottery Barn; www.potterybarn.com.
2. Klismos chair
WHAT IT IS: Created in Greece in the 5th century BC and influenced by Egyptian styles, this graceful chair — known for its absolute purity of form — is one of the most reinterpreted of furniture designs. It is distinguished by saber-shaped legs splayed at the front and back and a gently curved backrest that conforms to the human back. In 1961, British-born interior and furniture designer T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings pared down the klismos design to its essentials, creating a refined Modernist chair of walnut and woven leather that is still being reproduced.
WHY IT WORKS: “Robsjohn-Gibbings really got the shape right; it’s not clunky. It’s beautiful and light, easy to pull up for a conversation,” says Los Angeles interior designer David Desmond, who considers the klismos versatile enough to fit classical and modern design schemes, but also a formal piece. “It’s not a lounge-around, watching-TV chair,” he says, “but a piece of sculpture.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: Robsjohn-Gibbings klismos chairs, as shown here, $16,500 for two at Blackman Cruz, Los Angeles; (310) 657-9228.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: The Pompeii side chair, $995 at Kreiss Collection; (310) 657-3990.
3. Regency table
WHAT IT IS: A 19th century mix of ancient styles, predominantly Greek, Egyptian and Roman, the Regency is a neoclassical design with architectural ornamentation, a three-footed pedestal and a round top.
WHY IT WORKS: Using the proportions of columns, urns and the Greek key motif, a Regency table “evokes a great sense of the Old World and contributes a warmth and dignity to its setting,” says Los Angeles interior designer Donna Livingston. While the aesthetic may seem somewhat grand, Regency also has a clear and logical look that allows for modern updates and easy integration into almost any room. An English Regency breakfast table, says Suzanne Rheinstein, owner of the L.A. store Hollyhock, works in a sleek contemporary room and “looks terrific with ‘40s French chairs and Art Deco lighting.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: Julian Chichester’s breakfast table, shown here, has a silver leaf mirror top, $2,695 at Grace Home Furnishings, Los Angeles; (310) 476-7176.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: The Collina, a steel pedestal table with a copper top, mimics the look for $799; at www.crateandbarrel.com.
4. Parsons table
WHAT IT IS: Jean-Michel Frank, an instructor in the Parsons School of Design’s Paris Ateliers, designed this perfectly proportioned table in the mid-1920s. Its secret? Four square supports form the corners of the top, which is the same thickness as the legs it stands on. Made of particleboard and plastic laminate or high-gloss lacquered hardwoods, the Parsons table can be found everywhere from Park Avenue apartments to students’ first rentals.
WHY IT WORKS: The elementary geometry of the Parsons table allows for versatility in size, shape and scale, including consoles with two slab legs instead of four. Says San Francisco interior designer Paul Wiseman of the egalitarian Parsons: “You can make it a coffee table, drinks table, desk, stool or sofa table, and it always looks good mixed with antiques or modern sculpture.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: Lacquered Parsons cocktail table shown here, $1,500 at Jonathan Adler, Los Angeles; (323) 658-8390.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: The Jolly side table in transparent polycarbonate, $128 at Kartell, West Hollywood; (310) 271-0178.
5. Wing chair
WHAT IT IS: Also known as a “grandfather chair,” this tall upholstered piece was created in the late 17th century to protect its occupants from drafts. The upholstered “wing” panels extend forward from the back of the chair (holding you upright if you nod off) and curve into padded arms.
WHY IT WORKS: Perched on wooden legs, the wing chair can be hefty with old-school rolled arms or stand lean and 21st century minimal and still “look good in a room because it’s open underneath,” says New York interior designer John Barman. Changing the traditionally curvy shape and proportion of the wings and arms, he adds, “allows it to be interpreted into a modern style but still have the same distinctive look.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: This Devon wing chair, $2,213 (fabric not included), a curvaceous update of the classic shape, is from Baker’s Milling Road Collection, www.kohlerinteriors.com.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: Milford chair, from $719, www.ethanallen.com.
6. The column
WHAT IT IS: A functional support in classical structures, the column stands on its own as a pedestal or as a piece of sculpture that adds architectural interest and a vertical element to a space.
WHY IT WORKS: Whether sleek or ornate, real or faux, marble or wood, the column is an icon that integrates with formal aesthetics and adds a traditional elegance to minimal and modern décor schemes. “A column represents solidity and strength, beauty of material and at the same time simplicity of design,” says interior designer Matthew White of Pasadena and New York. “It also evokes antiquity and our connection to the past.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: Columns in wood, sandstone, granite and marble, 17th to 19th century, $900 to $20,000 at Singh Imports, Culver City; (310) 559-3826.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: Rust silver pedestal, suggested retail $450 to $495, from Arteriors; (877) 488-8866.
7. Crystal chandelier
WHAT IT IS: Hanging candleholders, used in Anglo-Saxon churches in the 11th century, gave the basic form to the chandelier, which has since been crafted from wood, iron, bronze, brass, even gold and silver, and festooned with chains and pear-shaped drops in cut glass and crystal.
WHY IT WORKS: As a lighting fixture, the chandelier is adaptable to any design genre, including Mediterranean and Modern; like a piece of jewelry, it creates a striking focal point that paints a room in the best possible light. “It’s the only time you can use a cluster of lights in an effective way,” says Los Angeles interior designer Rose Tarlow. “If you use an overhead light, it casts unflattering shadows on faces. With a chandelier, the light goes up and doesn’t reflect on faces.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: The Bellagio, shown here, $5,760 from Jeffrey Stevens, West Hollywood; (310) 652-3050.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: Amethyst and amber glass chandelier, $1,100 from www.anthropologie.com.
8. Chesterfield sofa
WHAT IT IS: The chesterfield was born in Europe in the 17th century and became popular during Queen Victoria’s reign. With a seat height under 20 inches, the classic chesterfield is shorter than the average sofa, and despite its overstuffed heft, it has finesse. The back is arched, the arms are extravagantly rolled and the deep tufting not only adds a pattern but creates a pleasing rhythm.
WHY IT WORKS: “It’s the only sofa that fits from completely traditional English clubby to modern, depending on what you cover it in,” says interior designer Peter Dunham of Los Angeles. “Worn leather looks sumptuous in libraries. For a modern look, cover it in white or some crazy red.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: Leather buttoned chesterfield, from $13,280 at George Smith, Los Angeles; (310) 360-0880.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: Commonwealth sofa, $2,299 at Thomasville, Pasadena; (626) 683-0200 or www.thomasville.com.
9. Oriental carpets
WHAT IT IS: First woven in central and western Asia more than 2,500 years ago and used as tent doorways, tomb covers and the only “furniture” in a dwelling, these dense wool rugs were refined into objects of remarkable artistry in 16th century Persia. Until the 19th century they were colored with vegetable dyes, which soften in vibrancy over time and add to their patina. Modern carpets tend to have synthetic hues, although the ancient dye method has been revived. To tell the difference, wet a cloth and rub it on the carpet. If the dye comes off, it’s probably a modern chemical.
WHY IT WORKS: An Oriental carpet “is a painting for a floor,” say Los Angeles interior designer Thomas Beeton. “Its appeal is not only its timelessness but its soulfulness. It has a personality and a character all its own.” Put it in a traditional home, and it looks as if it’s always been there — on a polished concrete floor, as if it always should have been there. The price of an antique Oriental can soar above $60,000, but, says Beeton, there are “a great number of very affordable ones out there that are tomorrow’s antiques.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: For people “looking for the Harry Winston of carpets,” Mansour of Los Angeles, (310) 652-9999.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: La Provence rug, from $600 at www.pierredeux.com.
10. Leather club chair
WHAT IT IS: Designed to sink into, the club chair has roots in the experimental designs of Bauhaus, which made a seat out of a basic upholstered cube. The club chair achieved its most iconic form from Art Deco styling that softened the corners of the arms and back, creating a streamlined look.
WHY IT WORKS: The club chair has a simple shape that complements modern interiors, but its basic form can accommodate changes in proportion and silhouette, such as a scalloped back or rolled arms, which help make it look more traditional. Says Los Angeles antiques dealer and furniture designer Richard Shapiro, “It represents universal desires to have something comfortable, not new. If you sit in a proper club chair, you will feel enveloped and comforted and as if you’re basking in luxury.”
WHERE TO FIND IT: The Crawford club chair, $2,399 from Classic Leather; (828) 328-2046.
THE LOOK FOR LESS: Grantham chair, $599.99 at Levitz, Glendale; (818) 240-1400.
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