Panel screens are functional and decorative


January 15, 1995|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Most designers have "trademarks" that make their styles readily recognizable. Mine, I am told, is the use of decorative screens.

I do love screens of all sorts because they are functionally effective and visually appropriate in many settings. Screens can be used to obscure an unsightly view, such as a messy kitchen pTC that might otherwise be seen from an elegant dining room. They are also perfectly suited for dividing larger spaces -- either temporarily or for long periods. And when mirrored, screens can make a small space look larger.

The screen is hardly a new invention. It was first brought to Europe from China in the late 17th century. At first, screens had a primarily decorative purpose, adding visual splendor and a sense of coziness to cavernous rooms in the homes of nobility.

Their functional advantages were important as well. A screen could act as an attractive partial shielding for private conversations in one of those large salons, known today as a "great room." Screens could also block the drafts that were a permanent feature of inadequately insulated homes in northern Europe.

Purchasers can now choose from a cornucopia of options. A screen's multiple folding panels may be painted, mirrored, papered or, as shown in the photo, covered in dark-colored cloth and trimmed with brass nailheads. The panels may also be framed.

The model shown here could be used either as a self-standing partition or as a backdrop to a seating area. In this case, a collection of prints has been hung on the fabric-wrapped panels, but they might also be left unadorned. A monochromatic screen makes a fine background for a sculpture or a decorative object placed on a pedestal. An awkward corner is an excellent place for this.

A dramatic-looking screen could even be hung on a large wall. Because of the museum-like nature of such a display, it's essential that the screen be of the highest quality.

Wall-hung screens also have functional merits. They produce an illusion of depth and visually enlarge the rooms in which they're situated.

Maybe you can now see why I rely so much on screens. They're among the most versatile, practical and, on occasion, unforgettably beautiful items in an interior designer's repertoire.

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