Designer Richard Taylor mixes diverse elements to good effect in an ever-changing decor

EXPERIMENT IN ECLECTISM

April 21, 1996|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Richard Taylor's house is a work in progress. But then, in the 18 years he's lived there, it's always been a work in progress.

You might think that someone who designs other people's houses for a living would want his own to be a showplace, perfect down to the last detail. But that's not necessarily so.

"Most designers use their house as a lab," says Mr. Taylor, whose firm is Taylor-Siegmeister Associates. "I'm always fooling around with things."

The result is a home that's charming and surprisingly au courant. Surprising because the city rowhouse was built in 1815 and is filled with antiques. (It and the whole row of houses were designed by architect Robert Carey Long Jr.)

You could argue that a house of the '90s is comfortable above all else, and that's certainly true of this one. One could say that to look truly contemporary, the design shouldn't be contemporary -- instead, eclecticism will be the guiding principle. And so it is with Richard Taylor's home: Chinese porcelains and Federal chests co-exist happily with sisal rugs and art posters.

A few years ago the hues of his living room were subtle, mostly taupes and browns. With his most recent redesign, Mr. Taylor says, "I wasn't bashful about color. I wanted a very warm feeling."

He hired Jamie Kraft to faux finish the walls, which involved first painting them what Mr. Taylor terms "a garish pink," then removing much of it to create a soft, warm coral with lots of texture.

The pleasingly proportioned living room is high-ceilinged and full of light. Japanese blinds made of woven grasses can be lowered when the sun is strong. Over the marble fireplace and elsewhere in the room are bold woodcuts by Carol Summers and large vintage art posters.

A celery-colored contemporary sofa with fat down cushions, a coffee table of wood and iron, and the sisal rug mix effortlessly with traditional seating and antiques. The design is so artfully done that nothing looks out of place -- or out of period.

It's a room, Mr. Taylor says, that evolved over a couple of years. The effect is of well-loved pieces that just happen to go together beautifully, rather than that of a highly designed room.

"I like a mixture," says Mr. Taylor. "Not all antiques -- then it's like a museum. But old things soften a room."

Totally contemporary, he feels, is only appropriate in an office or other commercial setting. When he does design a contemporary house for clients, "a wonderful armoire or antique chair always creeps in."

Mr. Taylor's living room is on the second floor, along with a powder room (about to be retiled, painted and papered) and a charming room in the back that functions as a sitting room and study. The living room isn't formal, but this room is downright cozy.

In the summer a cucumber magnolia tree in the back yard creates a pale green canopy for the room. The Bordeaux red of the walls is picked up by accents in the dhurrie rug and the upholstery of the chairs. This room is also a gallery for Mr. Taylor's vintage posters by Jules Cheret, Georges De Feure and Alphonse Mucha. An early 19th-century oak armoire holds a small bar and the stereo.

The two main rooms, the small hall and the powder room make up the whole of the second floor in the narrow house. You would never guess there were such light-filled rooms upstairs when you first enter Mr. Taylor's home.

The downstairs is low-ceilinged, dim and cozy, with exposed beams in the back room that give it an informal, almost country-home feeling.

Mr. Taylor had wanted to put a marble floor in his small foyer, but the structure couldn't support it. Instead he had artist Janet Pope paint faux marble tiles on the original wood floor. He designed them himself in black, brown and cream. There's just room for a handsome, 1815 Italian-style Biedermeier chest to the left as you enter.

"I really bought it because it's the same date as the house," he says with a laugh.

To the right is the formal dining room, which is lighted almost entirely with candles. Its most striking feature is Mr. Taylor's superb collection of majolica.

"I love the green of majolica," he says. "I started by picking up a few plates and it sort of got out of hand. I'm fascinated by porcelain and ceramics."

Much of the house, in fact, is a showplace for his collections of china. In the back room upstairs he's grouped his porcelain pieces on the mantel: Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and English pieces -- they work together in spite of their different origins because each is blue and white.

More of his china is on the mantel in the back sitting room downstairs, while one favorite piece has pride of place. The oval plate, hand-painted with a rabbit at its center, is hung like a picture right above the fireplace opening.

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