Q: It's time to buy some new chairs for my living room, and this seems a good opportunity to create a more eclectic look. I'd like to introduce some traditional pieces to a room that's now furnished in a contemporary style. What sort of chairs do you think would work best with my current furnishings?
A: That's certainly a timely question. The eclectic look is at last becoming widely accepted in American homes more than 20 years after a few high-style interior designers first tried to popularize this style in the United States.
Eclectic design in this country was originally based on the modern European interior. In the Old World, it's common to see homes that have mixed inherited antiques with furniture from various historic periods, including the present day.
In America, interior designers have sought to imitate this European look, even when inherited pieces are not available. Newly purchased antiques are thus placed alongside reproduction pieces and contemporary furnishings. It isn't easy to create a coherent composition with such a melange of styles, especially since the lines, proportions and forms of these different pieces can conflict with one another.
To be successful, an eclectic interior must first reflect originality as well as individual taste. But this doesn't mean that anything goes. Certain styles do go together more readily than others.
In your case, I would probably choose traditional pieces that have a distinctly classical appearance. Hybrid or transitional styles seldom create an interesting mix with contemporary furniture, which itself is usually a pared-down version of classicism.
Do avoid the so-called "married designs" -- a high-back Queen Anne chair with straight legs and rails, for example, or a camel-back sofa with a modern plinth base. Pieces that already exhibit an eclectic design seldom look good in a room that's mixing styles.
The safest approach would be to select seating pieces crafted in classically inspired styles such as Directoire, Empire and Biedermeier. Country furniture, either European or American, would go nicely, while helping you produce a less formal look. Such pieces will mix well in a mainly contemporary room, as long as their lines and finishes are compatible with your existing furniture.
Occasional tables and decorative items -- like an armoire or a small trunk placed next to a modern sofa -- are also good additions to the type of room you describe.
If you're willing to try for a more unusual mix, consider something like the chair shown in the photo. This chunky 19th century American adaptation of a classical Greek chair is produced by Milling Road, a division of Baker Furniture. This type of clean design with good ancestry and high-grade materials and craftsmanship mixes well with contemporary styles. Like a good black dress or a fine set of pearls, this traditional and unadorned piece is appropriate for any setting.