Don't confuse revival of classical looks with clutter


March 06, 1994|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Sharp contrasts have become the norm in these challenging times of protean fashions, in both clothing and home furnishings. It's no longer surprising to see pure grunge and the stripped-pine-and-antlers look side by side, particularly in settings created by the terminally trendy. At the same time --and possibly in reaction to that sort of thing -- classical designs are being embraced by more and more people.

I count myself among those who find lasting appeal and comfort in such elegant but not at all flamboyant interiors. Yet I'm not entirely pleased to see classicism gaining so much popularity. Many recent converts appear not to understand the elements that raise the style beyond a cliched caricature. Often, too, the classical look is confused with the clutter associated with the English country house.

To my mind, this style can be most effectively and authentically adapted to today's tastes by thinking of the impeccably tailored English gentleman of pre-World War II vintage. He's predictably attired, it's true, but his outfit also exhibits just enough flair in its texture, fabric and accessories so that he never appears dully turned out.

How, then, can this look be created in a residential setting? With considerable caution, but also with the assurance that your home will always be in style.

While classicism is based on Greco-Roman forms, it has typically been reworked in order to reflect the preferences of a particular era. That means updating the colors and proportions and, today, giving the whole thing an eclectic spin.

The most relevant model, in this regard, may well be the neo-classical English interior, which is indeed an expression of eclecticism, encompassing both sparse, symmetrical surrounds and homey chintz extravagance.

The theory and the method behind such interiors are presented in particularly lively and attractive ways in "The Classic English Interior," a book written by Henrietta Spencer-Churchill and recently published by Rizzoli. It's a pictorially lavish volume brimming with simple as well as complicated examples of this style.

The photo I've chosen from the book represents one of the more restrained settings. In place of wall-covering or mirrors, the designer of this space hung a grouping of classically inspired architectural prints. Please note that the prints need not be of museum quality in order to achieve the intended effect.

They must, however, be properly framed and matted, then arranged in a pattern appropriate to the size of the wall.

In this case, the wall itself has been painted in a faintly marbled manner. And to further enhance the symmetry of the ensemble, the windows on either side of the fireplace have been bordered by pilasters. That classical touch, by the way, is the only treatment required for framing such a beautiful view.

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