Design trend for the '90s brings the outside in


February 07, 1993|By Joan Jackson | Joan Jackson,Knight-Ridder News Service

It seems like the most natural thing in the world, this back-to-nature movement in the home that is shaping up to be 1993's hottest design trend.

Furniture makers slap the Lodge Look label on it and call it au courant. But author Barbara Aria says it is much deeper, more widespread than a rustic wicker chair or a cowboy bunk bed. And it is no passing fad.

"We are moving on from the kind of postmodern aesthetic, which very formal. We are moving into an informal style," says Ms. Aria, who has written "Outside Inside: Decorating In the Natural Style" (Thames and Hudson, $35).

"I see back-to-nature as a design philosophy rather than a design style -- design styles come and go. I think this will be fairly enduring," she says.

In a telephone interview from her home in New York, Ms. Aria says back-to-nature design will be everywhere -- and everything -- in the coming year.

"In city apartments and in country houses, hard edges are being softened with moss and twigs, leaves and grass, wicker and wildflowers. Whether through a simple arrangement of grasses in a straw basket or a collection of birds' nests, the outdoors is finding its way in and creating a new kind of environment," she says.

But milk cans in the kitchen? Straw mats on the floor? It seems in contrast to our high-tech times.

Not so, says Ms. Aria. "We are moving toward the 21st century with high technology coming into the home, particularly in terms of communications. And that's partly why we're moving toward something more natural as an antidote. The more we sit in front of computer screens, the more we need this other element to counteract it," she says.

In her book, Ms. Aria shows many examples of decorating for real life, using natural -- or at least surprising -- objects in comfortable, homey settings. These touches are beautifully illustrated by architectural photographer Steve Moore.

Here are some ideas:

* Evoking the outdoors can be as simple as bringing some elements from nature indoors -- a bucket of vines; a huge eroded rock; a bunch of pussy willows whose buds unfold day by day. Look in your garden for inspiration.

* Use your nose. If it smells good, bring it indoors. Use a eucalyptus branch to naturally scent a room. Lemon grass, grown in pots, adds a citrus touch to a kitchen. Cedar becomes aromatic in a steamy setting (the steam from a shower releases its fragrance). Dried flowers, herbs and potpourris should scent every room.

* Think about sound. A copper wind chime makes music as a breeze blows through open windows. Seashells evoke the sounds of the ocean. Small recycling water fountains produce the sound of a mountain brook. One interesting idea: the sound of water flowing across a sheet of corrugated metal set into the wall behind the bathtub. The water is recycled over the metal by a small pump within the wall.

* Choose a combination of brights and neutrals. Brown, beige, gray, creamy yellow, burnt orange and green are the "ground" colors against which the brights of flowers, berries and vivid minerals stand out.

Ms. Aria says these things suggest relaxed living.

"Just as a column of slender branches or a stack of straw cannot help but soften a highly structured setting, so an old wicker chair, or a table made from a slab of rough stone, sets the tone for a kind of informality."

The choice of furniture and fabric makes the difference, she says.

"There is a lot of new furniture and new materials around that are not refined -- wood that has not been planed and is still very raw, fabrics that are still very raw, and paints using natural pigments. They are all a direct way of bringing the outside in," she says.

A chair, for instance, made of pieces of found wood will add great interest to a room. "There will be unevenness and a quirkiness to it. That is much more stimulating to the eye," Ms. Aria says.

"Some people just like to collect things when they're outside -- fascinating forms such as seashells or tree trunks -- and use them sculpturally indoors in place of a painting or a sculpture," she says.

Her own favorites, for instance, are some large pieces of birch bark, which she has leaning against a wall. "They look very beautiful," Ms. Aria says.

All it takes is some daring and a little imagination.

"Some people might grow bamboo as a form of screening in a room, kind of a room divider, although it isn't easy to do. And DTC some people have grown ryegrass on their bedroom floor," Ms. Aria says.

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