Big room needs bold statement Design: In a large, formal room used for entertaining, go for an environment that's exciting as well as elegant.

January 25, 1998|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

I'm about to refurnish our home's large living room. It's the place where we regularly entertain large numbers of guests. What kind of seating would you recommend for a space that needs to be fairly formal in its styling? My own preference is for traditional interiors, but I'm not opposed to a mixing of styles.

I'm glad you're open to a combination of looks, because that's the direction I would recommend that you take. My suggestion is to make a bold design statement that will result in an exciting as well as elegant environment for your parties.

Be bold in your choice of both furniture and colors. Pallid pastels won't produce the ambience you're seeking. And the furniture should be classically influenced, regardless of whether it's traditional, modern or -- better yet -- a combination of the two.

The Empire-style sofa shown in the photo is the sort of major seating piece I would choose. It's obviously intended for sitting, as opposed to lounging. People tend to "perch" on this type of sofa, which is the standard posture for conversations at large parties.

For the accompanying pieces, the best option would probably be pull-up armchairs in a similar design. A compatible modern style -- one reflecting art deco influence, for example -- would be appropriate as well.

Bunching some tables near the chairs will enhance the room's functional quality. And placing a large, modern glass coffee table in front of the sofa will help frame this centerpiece while also creating an interesting combination of styles and surfaces.

Even though your room is large, you shouldn't add lots of bits and pieces. Even a spacious setting can easily be made to look overcrowded. I would instead introduce a few large-scale accessories, such as a painting that covers most of a wall.

The sofa in the photo is a reproduction of a period piece attributed to William King Jr., a cabinet-maker who worked in the Georgetown section of Washington between 1815 and 1825. King had been commissioned by President James Monroe to assist in replacing White House furnishings that had been destroyed by British troops during the War of 1812.

The Baker Furniture Co. manufactures this reproduction as part of its licensing agreement with the Williamsburg Products Program.

The sofa is accented by more than 1,000 brass tacks. Its double-scrolled arms, hand-carved rosettes and meandering grapevine carving give the piece a distinguished sculptural form. Because it makes such a strong statement, such a piece is an ideal initial choice when furnishing a formal living room. A setting's overall design can arise organically from this sort of firm foundation.

Some of the finest interiors in our country's history were created in the South. And that tradition lives on, as witnessed by the ability of many contemporary Southerners to produce settings that are both tasteful and highly decorative. Combining those two characteristics in a single room is no easy feat, and is a testament to the region's respect for the past.

The South's pride in its aesthetic achievements is apparent in the unusually large number of regional magazines devoted to Southern styles in the arts and interior design. Americans living in other sections of the country, however, often have little knowledge or appreciation of this aspect of the South's legacy.

But that may be about to change, due in part to a show entitled "Furniture of the American South." This first major exhibit of Southern furniture in more than 40 years was on display last fall in midtown Manhattan. A much larger version of the exhibit can seen at the Dewitt Wallace Gallery in Williamsburg, Va., through December 1998.

As an accompaniment to the show, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has co-published a book-length study of early Southern furniture. It was written by curators Ronald Hurst and Jonathan Prawn. For further information on the book and related programs, call the foundation toll-free at 800-603-0948.

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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