'Decoration' is out, but don't despair: 'Ornamentation' is in for the '90s

October 25, 1992|By Rita St. Clair

Q: I generally like the pared-down look of contemporary furniture, but I'm also fond of detailing and decoration. Are my preferences irreconcilable? Or is it possible to find furnishings that combine these two types of design?

A: It is indeed possible -- now more than ever.

Many contemporary pieces are still devoid of decoration and have little in the way of detailing as well. (Incidentally, "decoration" has become a bad word to those who admire contemporary design, so it's now generally referred to as "ornamentation.") But you'll be pleased to learn that there is plenty of detail and ornamentation in the interior designs of the '90s. It often manifests itself in the patterns found on floors and walls as well as on furniture.

Take a look at the photo, which shows a small chest of drawers from Baker Furniture's "Pfister" collection. In many respects, this two-drawer piece is typical of contemporary design. It presents a simple silhouette, and has an undisguised structure that reveals where the legs are joined to the body and where the surface is fitted to the frame.

But you'll notice, too, that both the front and top of the chest are ornamented with a marquetry pattern in prima vera, rosewood and walnut veneers. A piece like this, with its subtle details and elegant yet simple hardware, is not unusual in today's high-styled interiors.

Contemporary furniture is again making use of the cabinetmaker's art. Marquetry techniques are but one example; we're now also seeing applied lacquers, carving and intricate inlays. All this woodworking is expressive of a modern design vocabulary that features geometric as well as curved and free-flowing patterns.

As a result of this trend, contemporary furnishings and interiors are finding favor with many people who previously would have insisted ontheir preference for traditionally decorative styling. At the same time, some disillusioned fans of minimalist design are admitting that a slick polished surface is no more user-friendly than the straight-back, carved settees of their grandma's era.

On all sides, therefore, the realization is growing that it's perfectly appropriate for a contemporary piece to feature ornamentation, and that it's OK to combine fashionable furniture and Victorian heirlooms in a single setting. And why stop there? To this mix can be added Oriental accessories such as Chinese rugs and Japanese screens.

This approach is known as "eclectic," and it's nothing new. All that's really happened is that we're reawakening to the pleasures of diversity, and understanding anew that design doesn't have to fit into a strict category in order to be beautiful.

/ Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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