Fringe BENEFITS

Trim lends personality to a room and adds drama to the furnishings.

Focus On Decorating

October 06, 2002|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

All the trimmings complete an entree and make a meal more festive. But when it comes to decorating, there are widely varying appetites for trims.

One camp sees garnishes on upholstery, curtains, bedding and lamps as a visual feast to be devoured. Another view is that furnishings dripping in ornamentation are like too much salt, which can ruin a good recipe.

In moderation, trims can add to an interior. The French have a word for it: passementerie, which describes a sumptuous style of silk trimmings that graced the palaces of Louis XIV, XV and XVI.

Passementerie was a symbol of wealth. In the 17th and 18th centuries, gilded furniture often was festooned with tassels, bows and rosettes -- the more icing, the better. Although the French perfected the art, ornamental silk passementerie also was known in Renaissance Italy and was found on papal vestments as well as in the homes of nobility.

"Trim is something that can make a piece very elegant or very tacky, depending on how much you use," says Ted Pearson, vice president of Rita St. Clair Associates, an interior design firm based in Baltimore.

Decorative trims, as with any ornamentation, go through cycles of popularity. In the 1980s, no window went bare. Most were swathed in layers decorated with grand flourishes. Upholstery also reaped all sorts of fringe benefits.

Today's designs are less fussy. Finishing touches can take the form of fringe, tassels, beads, braid, ribbon, cord and gimp -- a flat, narrow, woven tape often used by upholsterers to camouflage and decorate seams.

Curiously, the same trims sometimes appeal both to those who fancy traditional decor and those who crave contemporary styles. Look closely, and you'll see that almost every chair or sofa has some sort of piping or flat welt to camouflage areas that are seamed.

Most often the edging is sewn from the same fabric and blends regardless of whether it is a solid color or print. But when a contrast color is chosen, it makes a bold punctuation. A recent ad for Sure Fit, a company that sells slipcovers, was eye-catching in its simplicity. It featured a slipcovered sofa as hot as its Tabasco red fabric and sizzling with white piping.

How much of a decorative punch the trim delivers depends on the two (or more) colors or whether a solid color is teamed with a pattern. Black outlining the contours of a white chair is more expressive than a subtle black piping on a black-and-white toile curtain.

Another option is to use a fabric in three-dimensional shapes. In a fall catalog, Gump's By Mail featured a lamp with a contemporary steel base and silk shade covered with silk roses. It's a surprising dichotomy, but one that could find a home in a traditionally decorated bedroom as easily as an urban loft.

Tone-on-tone adornments can lend sophistication to a piece of furniture. Designers who prefer neutrals love the subtlety of teaming a silky fringe on the skirt of a chair or ottoman cloaked in a woven material such as chenille.

Donghia Furniture / Textiles, a company known for high-end contemporary style, introduced a line of metallic hand-woven trims recently. The braided cords and fringes feature real copper and silver threads, which shimmer in the light.

A common approach in traditional decor is to pull several colors from a printed fabric to create a companion trim. At the high end, designers have threads custom matched to fabrics, clearly a pricey option.

Suzanne Houles was inspired by ethnic influences from Provence in the design of the Cordelia collection for Houles, a Paris-based manufacturer of luxury trimmings sold only to the trade. One example features a large double tassel tieback and fringe in vivid hues teaming olive green, coral and amethyst. An intricately woven slender braid with a floral pattern is a stylish border for the edges of a pleated gingham lampshade.

Houles, vice president and creative director of Houles Worldwide, favors bold color, especially in her Nicodecor collection. The midpriced group of trims, fabrics and other design accessories was created for the do-it-yourself market.

"Designers are mixing textures, blending fabrics and introducing exciting colors to create less serious environments," says Houles.

Laura Foster Nicholson took a playful approach with a line of brocaded ribbons and trims, another means of making furnishings more fancy. A Chicago-based weaver who designs tapestries, she took some of her larger motifs and translated them to minifriezes featuring trees with a strong Arts and Crafts look and chard, whose lime green leaves seem to leap from a deep purple ground.

A single embellishment, such as one of Nicholson's patterned ribbons along the middle of a table runner, beautifully dresses a plain fabric in a fun way.

David Bright, a spokesman for Robert Allen, a furniture and fabric manufacturer with many coordinating trim collections, says that interiors are taking more cues from fashion.

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