Striking Stripes

Bold, sassy and versatile color bands add energy and flair to rooms

Focus On Home Design

April 10, 2005|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Supersized, medium or skinny, stripes are a resonating fashion presence, especially in home decor.

And although their history spans thousands of years, the latest batch of bands looks fresh.

Bold in scale and in an unconventional marriage of colors or placement of their defining lines, these new stripes have something to say. Changing the face of a variety of surfaces, stripes are everywhere, from Neiman Marcus to Target, running up, down and across everything from clocks to martini glasses in eye-catching combinations.

"The particular teaming of colors is not what we're accustomed to seeing," says Margaret Walch, director of the Color Association of the United States. "These are fun stripes that lend a kind of energy to the design. That is what is exciting."

To one leader of the stripe evolution, who colorized a series of bar codes to fashion his own company logo, the pattern always looks fresh.

"I'm crazy for them," admits designer Todd Oldham, who reports close to 75 stripe combinations in his furniture line for La-Z-Boy, including one with 18 colors. "Stripes are a pattern that never goes out of style.

"Stripes are a bit magical - shape shifters, so to speak," Oldham says. "They are not alienating - to just about everyone. And they range from the most conservative pinstriped suit to circus clown pants. That's quite a spectrum."

Indeed, when you want to make a design statement, there's nothing quite as sassy as broad stripes. Take a simple white sheet, add a mega-striped pillow sham and duvet cover, and you've transformed a bedroom.

Just how smashing stripes are relates to proportion and color. Teaming up happy neon-bright citrus hues such as lime green and orange elicits an immediate wow.

In the home, stripes are popular because of their enormous versatility.

"In a way," Oldham says, "stripes can function like solids. You can put together a jaunty stripe with a pattern."

Stripes are good team players, harmonizing nicely with checks, toiles or florals when colors are compatible. Royal Doulton took an unconventional palette of pink and chocolate for a partylike smorgasbord of stripes, polka dots and solids on its Jubilee dinnerware.

Stripes also can keep company with other stripes - in the same or different scales. At West Elm, the appliqued indigo and periwinkle striped border of a crisp white organdy shower curtain, for example, is echoed in coordinating two-toned banded towels. Neither is overpowering.

Standing alone, stripes can deliver knockout punches. In smaller doses, they lighten up an interior's ambience.

"It might be a bold move to bring something so ornamental into a room," Oldham says. "But even a small striped piece adds a little oomph."

As a decorating tool, stripes are powerful and capable of physical deception. A painted or papered vertical stripe on a wall fools the eye with the illusion of height. Run the stripe horizontally, and it tames a too-tall space, stretching it to appear wider.

Decorating guides warn about stripe widths: Too gutsy risks "shutting down" the space. Too wimpy will simply come off bland. On upholstery, low-key stripes will all but disappear, along with the shape of the piece, whereas robust bands will punch up the silhouette.

Stripes sometimes are pulled into their own patterns. An area rug featured on the cover of an Expo Design Center catalog introduces curves like roads snaking around and over primarily horizontal stripes, creating a dynamic focal point.

Designers fond of stripes point to their gender neutrality, as both men and women like them. With the vastly different looks they can deliver - from homey country styles in toned-down washed looks to elegant urbane silks, from comfortably elegant traditional to edgy modern - stripes are ultimately direct.

"The stripe is, of course, in nature," Walch says. "It's almost a warning signal - the bee, the snake. We use it in road markings. The effect is: It gets your attention."


B&B Italia USA: 800-872-1697 or

Expo Design Center, a Home Depot company: 800-553-3199 or

Horchow: 800-456-7000 or

Marmoleum: 866-627-6653 or

The Natural Light: 800-331-3898.

Williams Sonoma Home: 888-922-4108 or

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