Shades of the future

December 29, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Beige is boring. Taupe looks tired. Neutrals are simply yesterday's news. Get ready for 1997, the Year of Living Dangerously -- at least as far as color is concerned. We surveyed designers, trend analysts, editors of shelter magazines, CEOs of companies and color forecasters to find out what we'll be seeing new for the home in 1997. Just about everyone mentioned color: bold, bright, vibrant colors. Not interested? Skip the next section and keep reading. We have more trends, countertrends and trendlets for you -- including what's downtrending. That's industry jargon for trends that have reached their peak and are beginning to fade. (Not much that was "in" this year will be exactly "out" in 1997 -- trends come and go more slowly in the home industry than in fashion.)

Making spirits bright

This time of year, we all need a little more color in our lives, and manufacturers will have it for you -- in everything from electric mixers, sheets and china to sofas and wallpaper. Kitchen appliances will be decorative accessories simply by virtue of their color. The only question is: Which colors? Here experts disagree a bit.

The trend: Techno-brights. Color that packs a punch. Sizzling orange, electric blue, acid green. Call them '70s retro or just plain fun, but whatever they are, these dazzlers aren't all-natural. "These are colors designed to cheer you up," says Bette Kahn, spokeswoman for Crate & Barrel.

The countertrend: The shift is from warm, earthy tones to cooler colors, but these are still soothing shades that remind people of nature. And within that range, the movement is from greens to blues, according to Michelle Lamb, publisher of the industry newsletter Trend Curve. Nature is still a strong influence, she says, but "Less green; more cloud, water and sky blue."

The counter-countertrend: Green is bigger than ever, even if it is peaking. "Look for herbal greens, jade tones, more intense greens and aqua as a bridge to blues," says Cynthia White, color forecaster for Cotton Inc.

What looks old is a white-on-white room. There's still room for neutrals as a staple rather than a trend, but punctuated with bright color: a lime-green pillow, an iced-tangerine accent clock.

Designs for men

Color isn't the only story. Masculine designs have been an important influence in the home furnishings industry in the past few years -- from over-scaled lodge furniture to collections influenced by menswear, such as Alexander Julian's Home Colours.

In 1997, look for a new femininity in home design. We saw it at the whole-sale home furnishings market at High Point, N.C., this fall. (These are the designs that will be in the stores this spring.) Two of the most talked-about collections were by female designers: Barbara Barry for Baker Furniture and Sandra Nunnerly for Lane.

Both collections offer scaled-down pieces with more delicate lines, sensuous curves and dressmaker detailing like piping and buttons. It's feminine but not fussy furniture, leaner and cleaner but not meaner.

"The lodge and rustic looks are going back to Yellowstone where they belong," says Linda Jones, a consultant to the home furnishings industry. "There's starting to be a hint of 'dressed up,' but it's not overly formal or opulent."

Two exceptions to down-scaling: Beds will continue to be oversized, the focal point of a room that is fast becoming a second living room; and the chair-and-a-half is coming on strong.

And more femininity: After a decade's absence, romantic

Victorian designs look fresh again. "On the surface, Victorian feels like the antithesis of 1990s style," says trend analyst Michelle Lamb. "It is traditional, uses darker woods, relies on femininity, is ornate and calls on formal roses. But in reality, Victorian is a glimpse into the future."

Even in country, a style that may never peak, there's a shift to the feminine. Country French with its more romantic shapes like cabriole legs and scalloping will be strong.

Architectural digest

But don't give up on clean lines yet. Lamb predicts that Scandinavia and Japan will influence contemporary styles in 1997 "with clean lines, references to nature, balance and symmetry." Look for more geometrical shapes after years of "soft" contemporary.

The interest in classical, architectural elements is continuing. You'll see it in dramatic accessories, such as pedestals used as an accent or mosaics on just about anything.

"There's lots of activity in anything with an ancient reference," says Mary Taylor, president of the Accessory Resource Team, an industry trade organization.

Columns, woods that have an antique look to them (although not heavily distressed), antique finishes on brass, furniture that looks as if it has a lot of history attached to it, urns -- all are going to be key in '97.

Domestic bliss

The biggest home furnishing trend of the decade is probably the importance of the home as safe haven and all that implies. This trend isn't going away. Think of it as the Three C's: comfort, coziness and convenience.

This means that:

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