Even furniture can have a heart, or look like it, collections suggest

January 29, 1995|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

Decorating with heart, some say, is the soul of design. The result is a look that makes your home warm, cozy and inviting.

Furniture manufacturers try to deliver warmth in wood pieces with a hand-crafted look. They dig into history books for examples of chairs, tables or cabinets with charming details, and they distress finishes to give them instant age. Then they romanticize their collections with stories about how the furnishings might have been used.

Two recent collections, designed around the illustrations of Mary Engelbreit and Norman Rockwell, use art to achieve the same end.

Ms. Engelbreit designs greeting cards that appeal to 12 million people a year. She uses old-fashioned images of round-cheeked children in pattern-on-pattern backgrounds with gardens or furnishings reminiscent of your grandmother or great-grandmother. Some are laced with vintage quotations.

The cards have been so popular that they have led to other gift items, including calendars, posters and Christmas ornaments. Now Ms. Engelbreit has moved into home furnishings, licensing her work for wall coverings and fabrics, dinnerware, ceramic clocks and tiles, throws and quilts, place mats, teapots, and a book tying it all together, "Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion" (Andrews and McMeel, $24.95). Some of her limited-edition painted furniture soon will be available.

Many of her fans wrote to her, saying such things as, "I wish my house could look like the rooms on your cards."

"My own house does look like my cards," says the 42-year-old artist. This means that if there's a space, Mary Engelbreit can fill it. Her two-story home in a St. Louis suburb -- which she shares with her husband, Philip Delano, and their two sons, Evan, 14, and Will, 11 -- is a jumble of treasures accumulated from flea markets and antiques shops: knickknacks and gewgaws, prized collections such as antique children's books, and her own products, all tucked into every nook.

"I'm very visually oriented," Ms. Engelbreit says. "I like things where I can see them. Every room has some kind of collection."

Bookshelves, for example, don't just hold books. They display a collection of circus clowns, ceramic knickknacks and a crock blooming with paper sunflowers. With their colorful covers displayed face front, the books invite inspection too. Ms. Engelbreit also uses framed cards to break up the background of books.

A subscriber to a less-is-more look would be appalled, Ms.

Engelbreit admits. "The most annoying question is, 'Who dusts all this?' " she says. "You know when somebody asks, they don't get it."

Hearing her style called "cute" used to rub her the wrong way. "I thought, 'No, you're missing the point.' There's a lot more to it. There's a sense of humor. And it's a little more sophisticated than flat-out cute."

Yet "cute" probably is the adjective most would use to describe her Cherries and Checks design, delightful on a tablecloth. Or the pattern for All About Tea, an all-over design of colorful teapots on vinyl place mats (tablecloth and place mats are by Decor Home Fashions). Vinyl place mats start at $2.

One of Ms. Engelbreit's signature drawings depicts a chair filled with bowls, bearing the quote, "Life is Just a Chair of Bowlies." The pattern now graces a quilt ($90) and a coordinating pillow ($30), both from American Pacific Enterprises. The border on the quilt is available by the yard. The 50-percent-cotton, 50-percent-polyester Cherries fabric, available from Daisy Kingdom Inc., costs $5.98 a yard.

A cherry-covered ceramic teapot (Hallmark, $30) rounds out her recipe for good cheer. Her striped wall covering is from Seabrook; the pre-pasted washable coverings cost $19.99 a roll; borders are $18.99 per 5-yard spool; and coordinating 54-inch 100-percent-cotton sateen fabrics retail for $29.99 a yard.

Ms. Engelbreit never trained formally in art. Instead, she worked for an art-supply shop after high school, then for an advertising agency. She even had a brief stint as an artist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. At 22, she went to New York. When a book editor suggested that she do greeting cards, she was "hideously insulted." But she thought about it and decided there might be some fun in a different kind of greeting card.

Ms. Engelbreit feels that her illustrations appeal because they show life "the way everybody wishes it was."

The work of the late Norman Rockwell inspires similar feelings. His illustrations, which appeared on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post, have been called a mirror of American life. In them he depicted everything from the doughboys of World War I to man's first steps on the moon. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, Feb. 3, 1994, Stanley Furniture collaborated with five other manufacturers to create a collection based on 321 covers from 1916 to 1963.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.