Ruling the Roost

Regal and rural, roosters and hens have pecked their way to the top in home furnishings, appearing on welcome mats, ceramics, pillows and linen.

Focus On Design

May 14, 2000|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

Home design has met with a bit of fowl play. And the culprit is pecking its way onto our welcome mats, into our living rooms, onto our tabletops and into our gardens.

Animals and insects take turns as nature mascots in our homes. Over the years, we've embraced geese, butterflies, dragonflies and frogs. This year, roosters rule. "People find roosters very warm and friendly," says Sally Conley, assistant manager of the Kellogg Collections, a home furnishings store in Baltimore.

Roosters have been gaining popularity in her shop for about a year. "Animals are just really hot," she says. "It used to be pigs, it used to be bunnies."

Judy L. Hillman, owner of the Milk House, a home and garden store in Towson, has a simple explanation for rooster appeal. "It's a nice looking bird," says Hillman, who adds that the kitchen is the ideal roost since eggs and other culinary items relate to the bold bird.

Roosters have been perennial icons of the French countryside, sometimes depicted on ceramic ware known as faience or quimper. In American folk art, the rooster often turns up as a centerpiece of hooked rugs or as wood carvings.

"The emergence of the rooster comes with 18th-century weather vanes," said Stacy Hollander, senior curator of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York. Those weather vanes were associated with churches or places of worship and introduced as religious symbols. Rooster weather vanes perched on rooftops were believed to ward off evil.

Today, the appeal of the rooster and hen weighs in as much with the times as it does the form itself. The image of a farm rooster crowing at dawn has struck a nostalgic chord.

"It's something we've romanticized," says Harvey Pranian, owner of Harvey's Antiques in Evanston, Ill., and a specialist in American primitive furnishings. "There's a sentimentality about rural America."

"Roosters are extremely graphic images," Hollander says. "They make such wonderful silhouettes, lending themselves to sculptural interpretation."

Besides the familiarity of form, the colors draw us, particularly the dramatic black-and-white-feathered bird with its fiery red crest and wattle, dynamically depicted in a life-size (23 1/2 inches tall) ceramic crafted in Italy for the kitchen catalog, Sur la Table.

Perhaps most of all, the birds convey warmth, and that's why a single accent can be powerful.

In addition to antiques and one-of-a-kind art, there are plenty of hens and roosters in a range of categories from which to choose. These birds are most at home in European and American country furnishings styles.

Shop around, and you may be surprised at the wealth of sources.

Tiffany & Co. spotlighted rooster-themed earthenware serving pieces in its spring catalog; the delightful renderings display a childlike naivete. Horchow Home and Neiman Marcus also have shown rooster tableware and linens. There are rooster magnets for the fridge (Paragon). Hand-painted, needlework and tapestry pillows abound. Country Life's wallpaper and border (Chanteclair II), depict colorful roosters on a white field.

Saks Fifth Avenue has shown roosters on furniture, including barstools and an elegantly hand-painted cupboard. Specialists in French furnishings sell cherry armchairs with rush seats whose backs feature medallions of subtly painted hand-carved roosters.

A recent introduction at the High Point, N.C., furniture market featured a handsome painted cupboard from the Roberta Schilling collection, whose panels of antique lumber recycled from South American farmhouses are fancifully decorated with roosters. Furniture prices range from less than $1,000 to several thousand dollars.

The Ballard Designs catalog shows a rooster lamp next to a globe on a table topped with a linen cloth decorated with butterflies and tulips. A doormat is another friendly option. The French Country Living catalog features a hand-stenciled fowl on a hand-woven coconut fiber mat in a demilune shape, which adds grace as well. It costs less than $25.

Sun staff writer Tamara Ikenberg contributed to this article.

Some sources for finding the boss bird

Ballard Designs

1670 DeFoor Ave. N.W.

Atlanta, Ga. 30318


Country Life

P.O. Box 19641

Irvine, Calif. 92623, 949-757-3600

French Country Living

10205 Colvin Run Road

Great Falls, Va. 22066


Horchow Home

P.O. Box 620048

Dallas, Texas 75262


Neiman Marcus, P.O. Box 650589

Dallas, Texas 75265, 800-825-8000

Sur La Table , 1765 Sixth Avenue South

Seattle, Wash. 98134-1608


Tiffany & Co. 727 Fifth Ave.

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