CHICAGO -- When Andree Putman opened Ecart, her Paris-based firm, in 1978, she was alone and unknown. Today she is the toast of interior design on both sides of the Atlantic.
So it is surprising that Ms. Putman says "good riddance" to the decade of her greatest success and predicts that the 1990s will be better for good home design.
"The 1980s was the decade of the championship of arrogance and money," she declares in the deep, husky voice that has advised clients from the French minister of culture to the owners of Barneys New York.
The 1990s, says Ms. Putman, ought to be more relaxed. "You can imagine people picking a few things and not being sad because they cannot re-do their apartment every three years, which has nothing to do with real life."
Ms. Putman made a whirlwind trip to Chicago to address the Architecture Society of the Art Institute. During a break in her schedule, she advised consumers of moderate means on what it takes to have a beautiful private space.
"I come to tell people, 'Don't be so tense about design,' " says Ms. Putman, whose recent credits include the restaurant at the French pavilion at the 1992 World's Fair in Seville, Spain. "Feel free to be how you feel; mix things; be eclectic; don't throw away wonderful old things you like."
Angry about what she considers the mindless consumerism of the 1980s, when people used more money than judgment, she says: "I have many things to say about that frenzy for constantly acquiring the new. The new this, the new that. I think it makes people so uncomfortable. If they don't have enough money, they feel miserable. If they don't have a lot of money, they can have amazing homes, too."
She should know. Since 1976 she has lived in what she says was the first loft in France, sparely furnished with a combination that includes thrift-store finds and pieces Ms. Putman rescued and recognized as 20th century classics.
"I haven't bought anything in years," she says, except for art, about which she is passionate.
"I watched for 12 years from my window an industrial building which I wished to acquire," she says. "One day it went up for sale, and I bought a floor with a flat roof for a very, very nice terrace. . . ."
"In the 1990s I think eclecticism should come back," Ms. Putman says.
"I practice for myself, totally, in my home. I have a beautiful Egyptian wood object from 2,000 years B.C. and a Philippe Starck ashtray designed last year. That's a span of 4,000 years."
Such a mixture must be approached slowly, she allows, especially for those who are beginning to develop a sense of personal style.
They should start by mixing belongings, Ms. Putman says. "If they like something from their grandmother, that can be the start of something very interesting.
"Someone who is very confused [about what they like] should keep it incredibly simple. If they don't like the fabric of their couch, they can put a beautiful linen sheet to hide the fabric and make things very nice and very sincere."