Accessories for furniture make the well-dressed room

November 04, 2007|By Julie Scelfo | Julie Scelfo,New York Times News Service

At J. Roaman, a home furnishings store in East Hampton, N.Y., a painted white iron bed wears a giant charm bracelet over its left head post.

The bracelet isn't there because the bed wants for visual interest; it's already enveloped in a brightly colored quilt by Lisa Corti, a Milanese designer, and topped with four pillows, five throw pillows and a bolster.

The reason for the jewelry, according to Judi Roaman, a former fashion retailer who opened the store in May, is that furniture, like any carefully curated outfit, should express its owner's personality. "Accessories make the bed into who you want her to be," she explained.

The idea that furniture should wear jewelry may strike some people as, well, nuts. But the notion behind it - that the kind of personal style associated with fashion can and should be expressed through home accessorizing, in ways that go far beyond throw pillows - has become a guiding principle of the furnishings industry.

Decades after that industry began routinely drawing inspiration from fashion, the boundaries between the two worlds are starting to erode, as their philosophies, vocabularies and materials become increasingly hard to tell apart.

Fashion and home design are "collapsing into each other," said the New York furniture and interior designer Celerie Kemble, who has described her curvy new side tables as having "the insouciant kick of a flared hemline."

This coalescence was on view throughout last month's High Point Market, the huge furniture trade show in North Carolina. Henredon, a company known more for classic styling than for marketing gimmicks, introduced Debonaire, a $5,775 striated beige couch with a matching silk shawl - to be worn by the sofa - for $390.

At Julian Chichester, new coffee tables ($2,995) and living room chairs ($4,995) were wrapped in chocolate-brown faux shagreen, a material more commonly seen on clutch purses. Visual Comfort & Co., a designer lighting manufacturer, showcased lamps by Thomas O'Brien and Barbara Barry that featured beveled crystal, dainty pearls and white gold accents that could have come straight from Tiffany.

In showroom after showroom, consoles and sideboards in basic black or glossy white were adorned with gleaming objects that looked like earrings and pendants pumped up to match the scale of a room. Such accessories "make the room look warm and accessible," said Mitchell Gold, whose company, Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, known for its understated upholstered furniture, introduced mirrored-glass vases, crystal spheres and sculptural objects in polished nickel.

To be sure, furniture designers have often looked to fashion for inspiration. At various points, the animal prints, distressed leathers and deep ruffles that sashayed down runways have appeared, a year or two later, on upholstery, carpeting and other furnishings.

And ever since Bloomingdale's flagship store sold $35,000 worth of Ralph Lauren home furnishings the first day they went on sale in 1983, manufacturers have recognized the potential of names such as Giorgio Armani and Donna Karan to imbue armoires and bedding with cachet.

But the industry's current focus on accessorizing as a form of self expression represents a marked change from most of the last 50 years, when Americans typically strived for a living room of uniform style that looked as if it had been done by a professional. "Home design used to be so much about these old-fashioned rules," Kemble said. "It was about showcasing the accumulation of things that met a certain level of finish. There was an achievement in having that living room that nobody lives in - that you actually had gotten everything up to snuff."

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