Before you theme, you must dream


March 13, 1994|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Interior design, like many other fields, sometimes spawns new word forms that eventually enter general usage. The verb form "to theme" is one example.

Although it's now used mainly in connection with entertainment venues -- as in "a park that's been themed a la Disney" -- I believe the term actually was invented by a designer who was speaking of a themed interior. In truth, however, the concept rTC being expressed in this way isn't new at all. When King Edward of England created his outlandish palace in Brighton, and when William Randolph Hearst built his sumptuous San Simeon retreat on the coast of California, they were theming.

We mere mortals can theme as well, but only if we dare to break through certain barriers.

Giving concrete form to a favorite fantasy does take time and money because the needed elements will probably not be readily available. Theming also involves the revelation of some secret passion that many of us may be reluctant to expose. Still, wouldn't it be fun, at least once in life, to set aside a particular room for this form of self-indulgence?

How about a boudoir that looks like something off the set of "One Thousand and One Arabian Nights"? Or maybe a dining room done up in the style of a turn-of-the-century Paris restaurant?

I'm not talking about historic reproductions, but rather free-form adaptations. The idea is to use color, texture and furnishings in ways that will evoke a certain atmosphere. In order to theme, you've got to dream.

I don't want to give the impression that themed interiors have to be exotic. They can be simple, charming and completely functional.

Kids' rooms, in particular, readily lend themselves to themed alternatives to the typical bed, desk and chest-of-drawers combination. One example is offered in the photo, which shows a girl's bedroom that's been made to look like a vestige of the late 19th-century American West.

The walls were paneled up to 40-inch height with oak strips that act as head- and sideboard for a trundle-type bed. The paneling also demarcates a work environment that recalls a Midwestern office of the 1890s. Different functional areas -- for sleeping, studying and for storage -- are further defined by the types of furnishings used in each of these sections.

Accessories and decorations are important in creating a theme for a room. Here, the large clock, hat rack, drawings, signs and other Western-style artifacts heighten the suggestion of a certain time and place. Appropriate wall covering and hooked rugs help lasso the parts together into a coherent whole.

Note, please, that none of this theming interferes with the room's functions. This remains a practical space as well as a setting that's responsive to one girl's fantasy.

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