If unsure, experiment in small area

Rita St. Clair

January 06, 1991|By Rita St. Clair

When people find out I'm an interior design columnist, they often ask me for advice about some specific situation in their own homes. The next most common question is, "But don't you run out of ideas?"

As it turns out, those two lines of inquiry intersect. Many of the ideas I offer here actually arise from questions about a particular setting.

It's the nature of my trade to avoid definitive rules and formulas. I like to think of design as an art, not a science. Consequently, the ideas I discuss are more suggestions than dogmas.

It's quite possible to approach a design problem from many different angles, which ensures there will never be a shortage of topics for a column of this kind.

Regular readers know, too, that I sometimes advocate experimentation. A fresh or an unexpected solution can be very inspiring and open up a whole new way of thinking about design. That, after all, is how fashions come into being.

I've learned, however, that many people are reluctant to carry out design experiments in their homes. They imagine a truly monstrous outcome, so ugly that it's an embarrassment. This fear is not to be blithely dismissed, since time and money are indeed precious commodities. But when I urge experimentation, I assume careful planning will precede any purchases.

Even then, I can understand why a cautious individual will not want to attempt something unusual in a prominent place like the living room. A less important part of the home -- a hallway, for example -- might be a more appropriate setting to try out an intriguing but unfamiliar look.

The choice of color or pattern for the walls can be a good starting point for an experiment. Many amateur decorators buy a roll of wallpaper and hang it in one part of a room just to see if it suits their taste. If you're able to visualize color and design in much larger proportions, then that small strip of wallpaper might sufficient to inspire an entire theme.

In the model shown, richly colored and patterned paisley on the walls is coordinated with stripes and plaids as well as with the upholstery and drapery. It's not an easy task to use this exotic "Champion" Pelican Prints collection in such a manner, but the designer of the space has managed to pull it off with considerable finesse.

It's reassuring to remember that a small-scale experiment need not be considered a failure even when it doesn't fully meet expectations. Something valuable will surely have been learned about how to proceed in the future.

Then, too, a hallway doesn't have to look like Versailles in order to be serviceable and presentable. And in Versailles, don't forget, there was plenty of experimentation.

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