Take a good look at your walls. That's one place where your personality can shine.
Displaying art, photographs and other mementos is one of the best ways to add individuality. But it's not just the objects that attract attention. Sharing the spotlight are frames of all sorts -- from gilded to silvered, carved to inlaid wood; marbleized, painted, beaded; made from cloisonne, fabric, ceramic and glass. Materials also include a rainbow of colored metals, sterling silver, laminates, and sometimes exquisitely decorated mats, hand painted or imprinted with fancy borders.
Framing is big business, a $3 billion-plus industry, according to the Professional Picture Framers Association, an international group of about 7,000 retailer members.
In addition, some frame manufacturers are providing the art, which includes reproduction lithographs, silk-screens, engravings, serigraphs and simple prints, offering framed art as galleries might but at more affordable prices than originals.
Framed Picture Enterprise, a Memphis, Tenn.-based company, engaged superstar designers Mario Buatta, Jay Spectre and Raymond Waites to create framed artwork that would be compatible with their respective furnishings collections. Products range from $20 to $800.
At Pier I Imports, wall decor represents about 5 percent of the total business; of 50 categories, that's a substantial chunk, according to buyer Becky Baker. Wood, metal, acrylic and some ceramic picture frames are available, ranging from $7.99 for 5-by-7-inch to $44.99 for 24-by-36-inch frames.
Randy Bourne, who used to be management supervisor of an advertising agency and before that a small-town photographer, launched a mail-order catalog that has evolved in just four years from one that focused on designer shoe boxes for storing photos to a sophisticated source for hundreds of styles of frames, photo albums and even lights for frames.
"We have tried to bring fashion into picture framing," says Mr. Bourne, president of Exposures. "Frames are an integral part of interior design, a very personal part." Mr. Bourne's firm, which is based in South Norwalk, Conn., now is designing and supervising production of about half its picture frames.
"We travel around the world looking at design trends from fashion, furniture and other directions in interior design," he said.
Spiegel Inc. home fashions director Bette Frank Rosenberg finds the popularity and variety in frames exciting. "You can create your own look," says Ms. Rosenberg. "Express yourself through your wall decor, whether it's with a family picture of a wonderful holiday, art from your favorite gallery or a piece of ceramic pottery."
"The framing industry has become very design-conscious," says Raymond Waites, whose New Country Gear frames echo the sophisticated country style in his interiors. "We've found people responding to the very fashion-forward, of-the-moment styles," he says. "When animal themes started to become popular -- leopard prints, alligator shoes -- we started using animal prints as mats for pure drama. We did ostrich skin with gold inner liners, in baroque frames.
"When tartan plaids started surfacing three years ago, we did them in mattings and tied them to country horse scenes with burled framing. We hung some with plaid bows. It just dressed the art up, made it special. We do mattings that are crackles of faux finishes, mattings on top of mattings on top of mattings, marbleized florentine papers."
Ms. Rosenberg also applauds the visual mix available in picture frames today. "The finishes for frames have expanded to reflect the direction in home furnishings, whether it's a coordinated look, using coordinated fabric laminated on frames, or gold or silver leafing."
During her visit to a Milan trade show in the fall, Ms. Rosenberg noted paisley picture frames with narrowly banded bits of terra cotta whose tops were capped with cameolike medallions in gold; Etruscan looks; and neoclassic accents.
"There were some almost Middle Eastern influences," says Ms. Rosenberg -- lots of broken tile, inlays, Moorish lines. There were Gothic arches, even pieces of weathered barn siding in a Gothic arch shape. There were laminated fabrics accented with contrasting bands of color.
Given the wide range of choices, that doesn't necessarily mean that a frame style need reflect every decorating style in a room.
Designer Raymond Waites is fond of unusual juxtapositions. "Like the idea of wearing a wonderful piece of antique jewelry on a cotton shirt, I like those contrasts in interiors, such as taking a more opulent frame and putting it in a room that is very casual. Five years ago I would never have had gold-leaf frames in my house. I would have thought them wrong, too much. I recently framed a beautiful dog painting -- my wife loves dogs -- in nice traditional gold leaf. I hung it with my country folk decoys and rocking horses. It just brought the whole room into the '90s and made it sing. That contrast is what gives a room visual texture and interest.