Country decor gets a modern twist

Rough textures and vintage silver go well with sleek surfaces and less clutter

March 18, 2007|By Claire Whitcomb | Claire Whitcomb,Universal Press Syndicate

Shake off your red-checkered curtains and bring in Le Corbusier chairs. Country is going modern.

Not that it hasn't been a tad modern all along. Old gas station signs have always been a kissing cousin to pop art. And Shaker interiors are as pure and clean-lined as anything dreamed up by the Bauhaus, the German art school that so influenced modern design.

But the point being made by the authors of a new book, Modern Country (Gibbs Smith, $34.95), is that it's a good idea to marry country and contemporary pieces.

Wicker chairs go well with sleek black lamps, and painted furniture looks great with stainless steel. One supplies the heart, the other the edge.

If you've been seeing this look in magazines, it's no surprise. Modern Country is written by Nancy E. Ingram, a regular contributor to Country Home and Better Homes & Gardens, with M.J. Van Deventer, director of publications at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

"Mix it up and pare it down" is the authors' motto. They like the restful hues of monochromatic schemes, the calming look of clutter-free surfaces and the surprise of unexpected pairings such as an old farm table and 1930s brushed aluminum chairs.

One word of caution: The modern country look is relatively collection-free. If you love nothing better than scouring flea markets and estate sales, you'll have to think like a museum curator if you want to go modern.

Rather than displaying everything you own, set up temporary exhibitions. In spring, bring out everything red and white. In summer, switch to etched glass and seashells.

Remember that three things are often better than five. And any grouping of small objects will read as a single item, especially if they have a similar color scheme.

Modern Country shows one living room where shelves of a pine cupboard are filled with everything from bone beakers and English tea caddies to vintage silver.

Because these diverse collections have a muted palette of blacks, browns and grays, they blend together and make a single statement.

If you want to try the modern country look, here are some easy ways to begin:

Dress up a modern bathroom with vintage silver. Use a creamer to hold swabs, a sugar bowl to hold cotton balls. Or bring in an enamelware tray for cosmetics.

Go black and white. Combine black-painted wicker, an old white cupboard and a black Tizio lamp to give this quintessential color combination a modern country twist.

In the kitchen, make a statement with storage. Opt for open shelving or cupboards with glass doors. That way you can show off your glass and china and give your kitchen a light, airy, modern feel.

Be creative with your center island. If you find an old stainless steel cafeteria cart, use it as a central workspace. Or make your own island from an assemblage of chests and nightstands, placed back to back. To make them appear to be one piece, place them on a custom-made platform, paint them a single color and top them with one large piece of marble or granite.

Borrow an idea from your local deli and use the clips on a potato chip display rack to hold everything from family photos to guest towels.

Keep window treatments simple with matchstick or Venetian blinds. Or sew simple panels with vintage fabric. If you don't have enough of a fabulous print, add a contemporary stripe at the bottom.

Create charm with ceilings. When high modern ceilings are covered with bead board or salvaged fencings, they give a room a chic new look.

Hang tramp art or vintage frames without a picture inside.

Look for salvaged objects. Tin ceiling tiles can be used to surround a modern stainless steel stove. Reclaimed marble can edge a whirlpool tub.

In a home office, treat cupboard doors to a coat of black chalkboard paint and then use white chalk to list everything from birthdays to phone numbers. The chalkboard look is country, the black and white look is modern and the combination is eminently practical.

It's this combination of the hip and the homey, the cerebral and the heartfelt that makes modern country a look that's just right for today's modern families.

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