Elegance requires more than money

DESIGN LINE

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

Despite what many people may think, "elegant" and `f "expensive" need not be synonymous. I've long noticed, in fact, that it doesn't take a bundle of money to make an interior shimmer with elegance. So how, then, should "elegant" be defined?

While not nearly as subjective a term as "good taste," this is another of those instances when two people might attach different meanings to the same word. I think, though, that nearly everyone will agree that "elegant" carries connotations of correctness and refinement of style.

That's the common characteristic connecting otherwise divergent 20th-century design movements such as Scandinavian and East Coast art deco. Despite their dissimilarities, a viewer wouldn't hesitate to describe both as elegant, because both exhibit a quiet richness so timeless it doesn't need to scream for attention.

Some of the design principles I have cited can be applied to almost any kind of styling in order to give it at least a touch of elegance. Simple, straight vertical lines, for example, will usually lead in the desired direction. Forget those 3-inch bull-nose table tops -- they're not going to take you toward elegance, I'm afraid.

The setting in the photo shows that elegance can be serene and friendly rather than austere and formal. Notice the verticality of the space, which results not just from the tall ceiling but also from the juxtaposition of low and high elements such as the photos and the plants. The low-slung McGuire chair and ottoman, constructed of stained bamboo and rawhide bindings, is likewise set alongside high windows and an exceptionally low chair rail.

This isn't the only way, of course, to create an elegant setting. But a pared-down interior can be a lot more elegant than a room stuffed with high-priced ornaments.

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