Open a home decorating magazine these days and you'll see beds that look as if they have been slept in, living rooms where people eat popcorn while watching TV and club chairs where someone snuggles under a comforter and sips tea while reading a book.
Hey, what's going on? It looks as if people actually live in these rooms.
Call it the "lived-in look" or "comfort decor." It goes beyond the casual-to-a-fault trend of couch potatoes. This is snuggling in style -- a way to obtain casual chic that looks "undecorated" but tastefully put together. Suddenly, people have mustered the courage to be cozy.
Mario Buatta, the New York City designer who made a reputation on the expensive but comfy look of down-cushioned sofas and collection-filled rooms, provided the inspiration for comfort decor the mid-1980s, way before it hit mainstream America.
"Life is rough out there," he told a United Press International reporter as he motioned to the street outside. "People want to come home to warmth and comfort. They are tired of cold, impersonal rooms. There is a new attention to detail -- not clutter, but personal effects that make you feel cozy."
During the 1980s, many of us used home as a place to change our clothes on the way to the gym or the latest trendy restaurant. Home didn't have to be comfortable because we didn't spend a lot of time there. But times have changed. Baby boomers settled down, had children and too many bills to paint the town. Then came recession, the war and a hunkering-down mentality.
"We have become more secure about our surroundings," says Tom Williams of Federal Hill Interiors. "We have gone through cocooning. The next legitimate step is comfort decorating. It has lot to do with our lifestyle. We are mature and secure. These days we want our friends to be comfortable, not impressed. Just like we have become secure enough to serve our guests roast chicken with potatoes, our homes don't have to be flashy anymore."
Federal Hill Interiors is one of several local design firms that works with clients to achieve a stylish design without shouting, "I hired an interior designer." Their definitions of what makes a place "homey" may be slightly different, but their goals are the same -- to produce an attractive room where guests and residents can feel comfortable taking their shoes off and putting their feet up.
The first impression of a room is the furniture. Does it look comfortable or does it shout "Don't touch me"? Our designers agree that the easiest way to achieve the comfort look is to fill the room with plump, overstuffed sofas, wing chairs with footstools and plenty of pillows. Bigger furniture always looks more comfortable. So does furniture upholstered with plaids or wool rather than a fussy fabric. But it doesn't have to be the Mario Buatta look. Comfort can come in contemporary as well as traditional styles.
Where the furniture is placed is also important, according to Angela Cambouris of Perimeters in Overlea.
"Furniture should be arranged in conversation areas for people to sit in and talk as opposed to a room arranged just to look good. People are beginning to realize that they don't have to line up their furniture around the corners of a room."
But cushy furniture alone won't make a room cozy. One of the keys to cozy is accessories, particularly collections -- paperweights, picture frames, glass animals, snuff bottles, whatever expresses the owner's personality. Aim for an eclectic rather than a matched look.
"If you do a wall of pictures, the sizes have to be varied," Mr. Williams says. "You can make a table-top collection of pictures look homey with rather ornate frames, old silver. Part of what looks homey is old and used. These things should look like something you have had for a long time."
The items should look like they were collected over time and come together naturally on a table top. Donna Foertsch of DLF Design Associates Inc. in Timonium says an end table needs more than just a lamp and one other item. Instead, surround the lamp with a miniature plant in a ceramic pot and three to five antique boxes or paperweights.
"Designers hope to find clients who collect something," adds Ms. Cambouris of Perimeters. "When you are starting from scratch, collections can give you inspiration for a room. Oftentimes the hardest part of decorating a room is putting in the finishing touches. Those touches have to be their personality, not mine."
Dan Huber of Huber Design Associates in Fells Point says he likes to mix the client's existing possessions with his new design plans. This may mean taking a chair that looks like a white elephant and giving it a new life with reupholstery, or merely arranging a collection in a new way.