Screens capture attention

These accessories can better define space and add decoration

September 16, 2006|By Jessica Berthold | Jessica Berthold,Allentown Morning Call

Whether you want to divvy up rooms in a large loft, add privacy to a bathroom or hide a clunky radiator, floor screens are a tried-and-true tool for decorating and defining your space.

And it's easy to find one that suits your needs and style. Big-box retailers and small design boutiques alike offer this charming accessory - also called a folding screen or room divider - in every color, price and material, from the most delicate of rice papers to the most robust of metals.

Screen sales at Home Decorators Collection, a subsidiary of Home Depot, have risen steadily over the past couple of years, with 2006 sales numbers expected to eclipse those of 2005 by several hundred thousand dollars, says spokeswoman Heather Pyle.

D&D Home Furnishings in Whitehall, Pa., has seen screens move off the showroom floor more quickly in the past year, says designer Kristi Lisiecki.

The appeal of screens has increased lately as loft-style homes and apartments become more popular, and as more people seek to use the same room for different functions, such as the bedroom as an office, Lisiecki says.

"You see screens being used in almost every room of the house now," she says. "Just as there are thousands of kinds of sofas you can buy, the same is true of screens."

The traditional way to use a screen is as a divider of open space. You can indicate the separation of a dining area from a living room, for example, by partially unfolding a paneled screen between the two. Unfolding two screens from opposing walls is another tactic, especially if you want to create more of a clear division between rooms, says J.T. Norman, a designer at Accessories, Etc. in Bethlehem, Pa.

"In homes where the kitchen flows into the living room, you can put a screen on each side to mark the space," Norman says.

For a more modern look, pull apart the screen panels and hang them from the ceiling at different levels, Norman says.

Screens are often used to fill in "dead space," such as the area behind a curved sectional sofa, a living room corner or the landing between two floors. They are also a quick means of establishing privacy, perhaps for a guest sleeping on the living room couch.

They can be used on rowhouse or townhouse porches as a baffle from neighbors or to create a zone of personal space in that most private of rooms: the bathroom.

"Some of these homes today have huge bathrooms with a commode in the middle of nowhere," says Norman. "Stick a screen around that thing."

For telecommuters who don't have an office at home, a screen can separate a desk from the rest of the room where you work, be it a living room or a bedroom. The desk is thus out of view in the evening, when you want to relax - and, conversely, the bed or couch is out of view during the workday, when you wish you could relax.

Screens are a great way to hide something unsightly in a home, like a clothes hamper or an inoperable radiator. Those made of natural materials, such as bamboo or rattan, can be used outside, perhaps to hide an air conditioner or garbage cans.

Pliable screens, rather than those divided into panels, are especially useful as concealers because they can be molded around an awkward shape. To make a screen look more intentional - and less like you're hiding something - use it as a backdrop for a vignette, says Andrea Mathias, a designer at Ethan Allen Home Interiors.

"By placing other things in front of it, whether it be a small bush or an urn or a little chair, you are establishing the screen as having a reason to be there," Mathias says.

A screen-based vignette can also add drama to a room that's lacking in architectural detail, Lisiecki says.

The utility of screens is easily matched by its aesthetic potential. In addition to adding color, texture and interest to a room, a screen helps set its tone. A sunroom with flowered furniture seems more tropical when it's offset by a fun wicker screen; a modern living room with muted tones can be punched up with a colorful, abstract screen.

Floor screens also add height to rooms that are dominated by low-lying furniture, drawing the eye to the oft-ignored space in the upper half of a room. In homes with lots of wall space or high ceilings, you can hang a screen on the wall as a creative and affordable alternative to paintings.

"When you have an open room with big, long walls, you don't want to hang a series of paintings on it because it looks like an art gallery," says Mathias. "A screen helps break things up."

Asian silk screens with hand-painted designs are good candidates for art pieces, as are more modern, vibrant specimens, she adds.

Be careful not to use a screen to decorate a wall that's too small, however, as it is likely to overwhelm the space. Also avoid using them on walls that are filled with pictures, mirrors and clocks, Lisiecki says.

Screens aren't just for people who live in breezy urban lofts that could double as dance halls. Small-apartment dwellers can also use them to make the most of their space.

Mirrored screens can make a room appear larger. Wooden screens can act as walls for hanging photos, artwork and plants, if a home doesn't have enough flat surfaces. You can also find screens that are made to double as CD holders, bookshelves and bulletin boards at most big-box retail stores.

For renters, who are sometimes forbidden to paint their walls, screens can add color to the home without drawing the ire - or financial penalties - of the landlord, Lisiecki says.

Jessica Berthold writes for the Allentown Morning Call.

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