Romancing the home, or bringing warmth, comfort and intimacy into your environment, does not have to be limited to special times of the year, special events or even to particular rooms. With today's trend toward "cocooning," any time is appropriate for romance.
Of course, how you bring this special quality into your home depends on your definition of romance.
For some, it may be about chivalrous adventures set in remote times and places, mysterious events, idealized love and the wooing of heroes and heroines. Other popular interpretations include gestures such as giving flowers, or cliched symbols such as candlelight dinners and sipping wine by a crackling fire.
Much of what is romantic is abstract, however, such as the mood evoked by listening to certain kinds of music, breathing in a certain perfume, or watching softly focused films or impressionist art and photography.
One magazine that epitomizes romanticism is Victoria, a publication filled with beautiful images of gardens, interiors and fashion. Editor Nancy Lindemeyer defines her magazine's successful formula in a word: gentility. "The magazine provides a kind and gentle respite, a time-out in a world that gets more hectic and stressful every day," says Ms. Lindemeyer. "Life does have to have those soft and precious moments."
Indeed, what better place for those soft and precious moments than the home? In home interiors, comfort is a big buzzword today.
"Romantic furnishings are definitely comfortable," says Debra Anton, editor of Victorian Sampler, citing "loosely fitting slipcovers and worn pine tables that you don't mind putting your feet up on." Ms. Anton, who is editing a new magazine with the working title Romantic Home, says that so much romanticism has to do with softness -- "soft lighting, faded tablecloths, nice cushy duvet covers, soft pillows."
An obvious place to start creating a romantic look is in the bedroom, where you can get away with a little overkill. A recent Bombay Co. catalog features affordable romantic style. There is "the ultimate luxury" -- a handsome wooden bed tray that features a lift-off tray, a book rest and two side baskets. It sells for $129. For the foot of the bed there's a soft mohair blanket. A large Queen Anne-style bench with gracefully carved cabriole legs and a scalloped apron sells for $169. The catalog also offers botanical prints, reproductions of 19th century engravings by Pierre-Joseph Redoute, framed in gold-leafed hardwood with ivory silk moire mats ($99 each).
For those whose tastes are not as traditional, designer Milo Baughman has coined a new term: romantic modernism. Uncomfortable with having his furniture labeled "contemporary" because that "associates it with excessively glitzy, overscale pieces" or "modern" because that term connotes the more minimal Bauhaus, Mr. Baughman says his newest designs have an emotional quality.
The pieces in his new collection for Thayer Coggin are shapely, undulating and lyrical. "The chairs and sofas are comfortable -- not stiff -- vaguely sensuous, and they feel good," says Mr. Baughman. "They are emotionally reassuring."
While somewhat spare in presentation, a room designed for one sofa and a pair of chairs in Mr. Baughman's collection conjures images of Fred Astaire in tux and tails dancing with an elegantly gowned Ginger Rogers. The deep sofa, with generous sweeping curves and rolled arms, has a back almost like a shawl collar, an intentional design element. "The piece has a higher back, so that when people sit down, they sink in and feel protected," the designer explains.
The chairs feature what Mr. Baughman calls a "visual twist." The arms flip out and turn in a way that's unexpected. "They stay close to what is familiar, so they're not intimidating, but they still break precedents. Nobody wants to follow all the darn rules any more."
Indeed, editor Anton says that some very romantic looks are emerging from "mixing things that you wouldn't expect: plaid with lace; Battenburg lace table with Fiesta ware; furnishings from different eras."
As decorating becomes a happy mix of deliberately incongruous styles, there are more options for weaving in all sorts of touches of romanticism. It needn't cost an arm and a leg, either.
The biggest splurge might be a single piece of furniture. Particular pieces hold a certain romantic charm: armoires and cupboards, especially when lined with pretty fabrics or filled with displays of new or old handcrafted objects; four-poster
beds, dripping with gauzy curtains or floral chintzes that frame them protectively; dressing tables or vanities, often skirted with pretty matching skirted slipper chairs or benches; daybeds, which have moved into living rooms; love seats, where three's a crowd; and footstools and ottomans, great for tired feet as well as doubling as mini-tables for refreshments.