Decorating interiors boldly can add pizazz, fill gaps, voids


March 24, 1991|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,Universal Press Syndicate

I know an interior designer whose flower arrangements are so large that his friends routinely refer to them as duck blinds, the foliage that hunters assemble to conceal themselves from their high-flying targets.

Jack uses about the same number of flowers most would use to make a modest centerpiece. But usually he relies on extra-long-stemmed blossoms of one sort or another and then fleshes out the composition with tree branches, cattails, evergreen boughs, banana palm leaves and assorted leggy greens, even roadside weeds, until he has something approaching the size of an ornamental shrub.

From his friends he takes a good deal of good-natured ribbing about these overblown bouquets. But those same friends are now following his lead. For us, a delicate little bowl of posies or even a run-of-the-mill vase of gladioli just won't do anymore. Jack's not-to-be-overlooked duck blinds -- simultaneously symbolizing flower bed, forest and field and stream -- put diminutive flower arrangements to shame.

I tell this anecdote because it has occurred to me recently that much of what we do in terms of furnishing and decorating has an aura of timidity about it. Our lack of confidence about decorating issues is reflected in our play-it-safe approaches to feathering our own nests. Our tendency to shy away from strong colors and bold patterns, for example, often results in monochromatic, over-neutralized rooms where everything fades into the background and nothing gets noticed. Then we wonder why our rooms are visually boring, why they seem to lack energy and liveliness.

The truth of the matter is that sometimes bigger is better. For one thing, big objects can help fill spaces and voids in a room, making the spaces we live in feel warmer, cozier and more psychologically satisfying.

Big things attract attention, and that can give a room one or more focal points genuinely worth looking at. Furthermore, big things suggest self-confidence, achievement, stateliness, grandeur, competence and, well, rootedness and permanence.

Often, big things look important even if they're not intrinsically valuable.

So, if your home seems short on any of those emotional attributes, consider enlarging some of the elements in it, such as the following:

*Big art: Most framed artwork does about as much for a wall as a postage stamp does for an envelope. I'm not suggesting, of course, that size should be your only criterion when buying posters, prints or fine paintings. But it should probably be more ,, important than it usually is, and you can safely choose larger pieces than you think.

A single large-scale piece of artwork can often do more for a room than several smaller pieces grouped together, in terms of contributing color, pattern and personality. In some ways, big art is a form of architecture. It adds shape and dimension to a large, unbroken expanse of wall.

If the painting or print isn't itself large, you can enlarge its dimensions -- and enhance its stature and visibility -- by having a framing shop add one or more wide-margin mats and a hefty, overscaled frame. Similarly, on an otherwise blank wall, a big mirror with a big frame can work like an interior window, seemingly giving a view to a space beyond while at the same time camouflaging a visually boring solid surface.

*Big architecture: A great deal of lip service is paid to the value of architectural detail. But detail need not be diminutive. Nor do you need postmodern columns or rough-hewn ceiling beams. Wide woodwork around windows and doors, beefy baseboards at floors and deep crown moldings at ceilings can give a featureless room a substantial -- almost sculpted -- character.

*Big accessories: Accessories are usually thought of as little objects -- ashtrays, candy dishes, candlesticks, table-top bowls, baskets, figurines and lamps. And almost always those objects are too small. Choosing fewer but bigger objects often can help eliminate the cluttered effect that a large number of small objects can produce.

Instead of several small bowls or baskets on a coffee table, use one overblown basket or punch-bowl size bowl filled to the brim with a colorful, aromatic potpourri that you can change seasonally. Instead of half a dozen ditsy "toss" pillows on the sofa, use two 24- or even 30-inch-square pillows. Instead of a charming bud vase on the mantel, use an urn-size vase that can look good even if it's empty.

*Big antiques: A single, ample antique can be more effective, in terms of conveying a sense of history and heritage, than a smattering of little antiques scattered throughout a room. A not-to-be-overlooked armoire, Hoosier cabinet or roll-top desk, or trestle table cut down to coffee table height, will have more visual impact than several little tables, chests or chairs.

*Big furniture: Our preoccupation with spaciousness often leads to select sofas and chairs that are visually too small for the rooms they occupy and often too small for the people who occupy them.

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