A room's background establishes tone

August 09, 1992|By Rita St. Clair

Backgrounds are very often a designer's first concern. That's because they establish a tone and a direction for an entire setting.

I find it helpful to think of a room's background as a sort of envelope. It sends a message while also enclosing all the contents. Careful attention must be paid to the background, which includes the walls, floor and window-covering, regardless of whether one is creating a palatial interior or something much more modest. The textures, colors and patterns chosen for these surfaces invariably will have a major influence on a room's overall appearance.

Let's consider the simple yet tastefully appointed setting shown in the photo. Although it's possibly more English than American in its styling, this is the sort of casual composition that exemplifies an old maxim: "Shabby elegance is the only real revenge against the ravages of fashion of whatever time."

Instead of the usual white-painted walls, this spacious room features a small-scaled wallpaper that wraps the scene in color and pattern. The Laura Ashley English wallpaper is known as Sweet Woodruff, a name as charming as its design. The pattern is so small for the space it envelops that the wall takes on a textured appearance. Such a background is most hospitable to a scattering of mirrors, small framed pictures and various odds and ends that clearly have been selected more for their personal value than for their museum quality.

Placed here and there on tables and on the mantel, these accessories look as though they could be moved somewhere else tomorrow or, equally, might just remain where they are forever. Visitors will not be made to feel that they must never pick up one of the curios. Because of the way they're displayed, the objects signal that it's OK to touch them and inspect them at close range.

The horizontal part of the background, that is, the floor, is made of random-width pine that has been bleached to a rustic hue. The armchairs placed on it are upholstered in a natural off-white textured cotton. The pillows and footstool are covered in a small blue-and-white check fabric that blends easily with the decidedly unpretentious background. As this room demonstrates, elegance in interior design can often be achieved through the juxtaposition of ordinary elements. What's most appealing here, I think, is the setting's authenticity. Mainly because of the way the background has been treated, the room seems to reflect the personality of its user. This kind of straightforward look almost always pleases me more than does the elaborate camouflage produced by the trappings of fashion.

+ Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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