Taking the road less cluttered Home: Designer Tricia Foley manages to combine romance and minimalism.

January 07, 1996|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Tricia Foley has a romantic vision of home, which is not surprising since she is a contributing editor to Victoria magazine. But what is surprising is that Ms. Foley also is a minimalist.

"When I studied interior design at Parsons [School of Design]," Ms. Foley says, "there was a very strong Bauhaus influence."

Ms. Foley has managed to reconcile the less-is-more philosophy, with its often cold interiors punctuated by leather, steel and glass, with the fuzzier, softer looks of gauzy window treatments, comfy sofas slipcovered in natural linens, or woods with time-worn patinas.

Her design credo has taken more than 20 years to evolve, and she has named it "the natural home." It embraces a variety of design styles, including Shaker, Japanese, British Colonial and an uncluttered version of country. The common thread tying all the styles together is simplicity, and it reflects a lifestyle rather than period decorating or a trend.

She sums up the philosophy in her book "The Natural Home: Living the Simple Life" (Clarkson Potter, $22.50). The book has catapulted her to prominence in the home design field because it sheds light on areas of concern to most of us: How do we downsize our living spaces, eliminate clutter and not become bound by possessions?

As a student of art and architectural history, Ms. Foley had a strong base in decoration, ornamentation and period styles.

"But I'm a career person living in New York City," she says. "I don't like to pretend I'm living in another era."

Still, she has always loved collecting pretty things, sometimes old ones. "In college on Saturday mornings I'd be out antiquing and picking wildflowers."

She got her bachelor's degree in art history and photography at State University of New York at Fredonia, but was a social worker and teacher before finding a niche in home design. She was a stylist and editor for other home-furnishings magazines before settling in at Victoria, where she helped develop the magazine's romantic style.

About seven years ago she opened a home-furnishings store in Long Island, where she grew up, so she could spend more time at her weekend house. The shop, which she still runs, epitomizes her philosophy. Simplicity is the keynote; nature, with its colors and textures, is the inspiration; comfort is the object of furnishings; and easy maintenance is a necessity.

A quiet corner in the living room of Ms. Foley's weekend home, a small 1846 classic Cape Cod cottage, illustrates the point. An all-ivory color scheme sets the soothing, relaxed tone. A sofa slipcovered in khaki sits next to a wicker table holding a candlestick lamp, a crock filled with wildflowers and Queen Anne's lace, seashells and a pair of baby shoes. A Queen Anne-style chair painted white is dressed with a delicately flounced gray-and-white-striped seat cover.

A painted white mantel is inviting, warmed with a mix of old and new. The sconce is a salvaged piece in a classical shape, painted Williamsburg buttermilk. A silver urn is an old cigarette cup that Ms. Foley uses for flowers or pencils.

"I think the mix is important," Ms. Foley says. "These are elements I have found in my travels that I love."

There's plenty of room within her broad definition of simplicity. There may be the tone-on-tone, quiet patterns of damask, or there might be a subtle stripe. A stripe might even dominate, as in the den of a friend's apartment on Park Avenue featured in her book. The walls and ceiling are tented in a classic navy-and-white ticking hung on hooks.

"It's a great way to add interest, if there's not much architecture," Ms. Foley says, and it's a wonderful way to hide walls that are in bad shape.

Her bedroom in the country is sparsely furnished with a mahogany sleigh bed from the 1820s. The bed is made up with muslin sheets and draped with mosquito netting. Similar in feeling is her city bedroom. Here the walls are covered in a beige-and-white stripe. Again, the bed is netted.

"I love them," she says of netted beds. "I prefer them to fussy bed draperies. It's rather ethereal and a finishing touch that's easy and affordable."

The bed is made up with white linen sheets. A skirted chair and table are the only other pieces of furniture in the 6-by-9-foot room, punctuated by wicker baskets that are there not only for look but also for function, another important element of her design.

Ms. Foley also likes to use pattern to expand spaces. In her sister's kitchen in a '20s vintage Connecticut farmhouse, the linoleum was peeled up and replaced with a gray-and-cream vinyl covering.

"It's practical -- low-maintenance -- and by painting the trims and furniture white, we gave it an open look."

The look now is crisp and inviting. Shirting stripe wallpaper adds a touch of pattern. Blue chambray staple-gunned to the painted tag-sale dining chairs introduces color.

It's clear that although Ms. Foley favors the use of white on white, color is not ruled out for the natural home. The inspiration, after all, is nature.

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