Creating a garden -- from the humblest window box to a picturesque field of flowers reminiscent of Monet's Giverny -- has become one of the country's top hobbies. But most climates prohibit year-round gardens, and homeowners as well as apartment dwellers are eager to somehow bring the garden atmosphere indoors. During a gray winter, a breath of spring inside the house is exhilarating. And in these recessionary times, there's even more of a need for brightening our interiors.
"With so much doom and gloom, anything pretty has appeal," says Meri Stevens, vice president-design director of Waverly Fabrics. "[Flowers] provide an ongoing beauty."
So people are saying it with flowers, on everything from upholstery, window treatments, bed sheets, rugs, dinnerware and lamps to all sorts of accessories, such as pillows, picture frames, photo albums, jewelry boxes and even bathroom sinks. The sheer variety and the selection of patterns available today is at an all-time high.
So strong is the interest in patterns with flowers or foliage that even leading flower and garden source companies are marketing floral-themed home furnishings products for their customers who want to surround themselves with as many blooms as possible. They offer note papers printed with botanical drawings, ceramic candleholders sculpted in the shape of roses, and furniture. Jackson & Perkins features Eileen West's "Rose Garden" bed ensemble and a collection of white wicker furniture with floral-patterned cushions in its 1992 rose catalog.
Flowers long have been a part of decorating, for stylized blossoms can be found even in ancient designs. Floral patterns are popular in home interiors because they're familiar and they bridge a variety of design styles.
"Florals are a big part of decor," says Ms. Stevens. "They are understandable. Good traditional floral prints are very realistic in feeling. You don't have to imagine what a rose looks like."
There's something comforting about that. Besides, New York designer Mario Buatta feels that while other patterns such as geometric prints may get boring over time, florals endure. "They always look different," said Mr. Buatta. "When they get older, they look even better. Perhaps that's one of the reasons for the appeal of English houses."
Besides their timelessness, florals provide a palette that can dictate the entire color scheme of a room.
"You can start with a statement floral print and pull out any number of colors," said Ms. Stevens. "It gives you lots of decorating building blocks."
Naturally, the impact of florals on a room has to do with the colors, which may be soothing or electrifying, the scale of a pattern, and how much of the pattern is used. An all-white room, for example, might be punctuated by a single chair in a flame-red and white cabbage-rose chintz. Or it might be covered in a more subtle tone-on-tone damask -- still a floral, but with its impact coming less from the pattern than from the brilliance of the color. Or the red might be combined with a variety of other colors -- other blooms, in a variety of traditional or contemporary patterns, or even exotic interpretations, reminiscent of a scene from one of Gauguin's tropical paintings.
The pattern might be taken to the windows in formal draperies, balloon or Roman shades or a simple swag, the look changing with the style of window covering and the amount of pattern and color. Or the floral pattern might be placed on the walls.
How florals are applied is a matter of individual preference. English style, of course, conjures images of floral chintzes everywhere.
Indeed, some people are so enthralled with flowers that they want to decorate virtually every surface with them, so you feel you are standing in a garden when you walk into the room. There may be carefully coordinated florals of the same or varying scale on walls, windows, sofas, chairs, tables and floors.
Laura Ashley and Designers Guild, both British-based, are well-known for their translation of flowers to fabric, and they, along with a number of other furnishings manufacturers, have made it easy to put different floral patterns together, with coordinated wall coverings, fabrics and borders connected by color and varying by scale.
The lushness of a water garden, for example, is brought indoors with Greeff Fabrics' "Spring Beauties" pattern from its Pick-A-Flower collection. A delicate floral is used above a more dense border. A larger-scaled pattern, which features water lilies and other spring flowers in clear shades of yellow, red, blue and white covers the walls, balloon shades and skirted chairs.