Attention to detail sets off ordinary from outstanding

November 28, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer Los Angeles Times Syndicate

In interior design as well as in architecture, attention to detail is often what distinguishes the ordinary from the outstanding. Thus, we need to know exactly what is meant by "detail" and how to give it the proper degree of attention.

When used by professional designers, the term doesn't exclusively refer to high-quality workmanship. We usually assume that a particular item will be well-made, regardless of whether it's manufactured by machine or by hand. For unless the materials have integrity, authentic detailing will be impossible.

This is actually one case where the specialist's vocabulary coincides with common usage. "Attention to detail" in interior design does indeed mean expending effort on all the little things that contribute to an overall look.

A well-scaled molding, a pretty fringe on a cushion or drapery, and a texture-like pattern on a wall are all familiar examples of detailing. The particular style in each of these instances -- whether flamboyant or understated -- is strictly a matter of personal taste. The important thing is that the chosen style must be correctly executed and tastefully incorporated into the room's design.

It's easy to fall for a detail and to disregard the consequences. Many people make the mistake of simply copying a detail they love without considering its relationship to the other elements in a given setting. Certain touches look great in a specific environment but appear out of place when transferred to a room that has a very different design.

Such awkwardness can be avoided by following a simple rule: Make sure that a detail's style conforms with the mood and character of the space in which it appears.

Detailing that's been done right might combine various decorative touches, such as a wallpaper border resembling a stenciled pattern mounted above the chair-rail, and neoclassical molding added to a black-painted table and gilded in an antique finish.

The wall might be sponged with paint to produce a distressed and antiqued effect. And the same technique might be applied to the wall sections below and above the border.

Such an assemblage would be eclectic, to be sure, but everything hangs together because there's a consistency to the styling, right down to the smallest element.

As I hope I've made clear, attention to detail doesn't imply fussiness or an obsessive concern with trivia. Instead, it means showing respect for every facet of a room's design and making sure that the parts add up to a coherent and attractive whole.

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