Designers are inspired again by the great lines and good looks of classical style

OLD IS NEW

May 15, 1994|By Elizabeth Large

Inspired by the archaeological excavations at Pompeii and elsewhere, 18th-century interior designers in Europe and later America enthusiastically embraced both the spirit of antiquity and specific classical motifs. Since then, classical revivals have come and gone, but interest in the style has never completely died out.

Perhaps in reaction to the clutter, ruffles and flounces of recent trends like English country, balanced and classically proportioned interiors are beginning to come into their own again.

Strong, simple shapes are turning up in the newest furniture styles. Manufacturers like Henredon and Marge Carson are putting out whole lines of neoclassically inspired pieces. The influences range from decorative elements like Greek key borders to fluted column bases for coffee tables. Furniture with classically inspired lines works in today's eclectic settings because its symmetry and good form mixes well with contemporary pieces.

Interior designers are using columns, pilasters and pediments to create architecture in rooms that don't have their own.

Locally, trendy restaurants such as Sfuzzi and Liberatore have trompe l'oeil antique ruins and Roman decorative elements in their interior design.

Designers are putting classical motifs on drapery fabrics, wall coverings, upholstery material and trompe l'oeil designs. Look for sun, moon and star designs, Greek keys, lyres, medallions, swags, columns, festoons, acanthus leaves, palms and vases.

And where better to look than Baltimore, which House Beautiful editor Peggy Kennedy calls "the hub of neoclassicism in America"? Baltimore was a center for the classical revival in the decorative arts, furniture and painting in the 19th century. In the past few years both the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Maryland Historical Society have presented major exhibits on the subject.

Here are rooms by five local designers. Each interprets the classical spirit in very different ways -- with geometric balance and classical lines, perhaps, or with a bold and witty use of Greco-Roman motifs -- but all with a respectful nod back to antiquity's forms and ideals.

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