At Home

Electic furniture collection creates a designer dilemma

September 13, 2013 

It’s better to be really different than a little off. That’s why this distressed wood table pairs well with this sleek, black-framed mirror. Having the scale right is important, too.


Three days of packing. Nine hours of bonding with three movers. Two days of unpacking and furniture arranging. Ten broken fingernails, two bandages, 12 Advil and one icepack.

And I’m in my new home. Not only that, the new place – another home I’ve staged to sell – was show-ready 48 hours after the movers drove off. It’s detailed down to the vegetable bin.

If I’ve done my job right, the buyers will never suspect the sweat and swearing. To them, the place will look as if it fell into place as effortlessly as snow on a winter’s evening.

Yet like every home, this one had its decorating challenges. The 100-year-old Southern plantation style house came partly furnished. Certain rooms, I was instructed, were to stay furnished as they were. Others I was to decorate with my stuff. Thus, my skills were tested as I tried to make two styles, as different as New York and Southern France, blend.

The home was furnished with some midcentury modern pieces, sleek black and clean-lined, with accents of deep chocolate brown and aqua. My decor leans Old World European and mixes warm wood tones with golds, burgundies and peacock blue.

I like both looks and color palettes. I just wasn’t sure how well I would like them together.

How would my brown dining table’s curved carved legs sit alongside black straight-lined pieces? I was about to find out.

Many designers have told me that the hardest design style to pull off is not contemporary, traditional, ethnic or rustic. It’s eclectic, a mix.

“Why is this so hard?” I asked Chicago designer Bill Godley, who’s been pulling together sophisticated eclectic looks for decades.

“Because it’s easy to make an eclectic interior look like a mishmash,” said Godley, “but it’s also my favorite style because you can create a look that no one else can imitate.”

Getting my space to work took more trial and error than usual, but when a combination worked it made all pieces involved look more interesting.

Though tricky to pull off, Godley offers these rules for creating eclectic interiors:

Watch the scale . Though important in every interior, getting scale and proportion right is especially important in eclectic rooms. Scale matters both in how the pieces relate to the room and how pieces relate to one another.

Play up contrasts. It’s better to be really different than a little off. For instance, under a slick black-framed contemporary mirror, I put a distressed white wood table with curved legs. Godley agreed it was a good move. “Clean lines in contemporary pieces mix very well with more ornate pieces.”

Balance the mix. You can have three pieces of Chinese furniture, three modern and three Italian provincial as long as the mix is balanced.

Blend pieces throughout the house. Mix it up in every room. “Otherwise you look like a furniture store and that’s a disaster,” said Godley.

Find the common thread. This is often color, which can be a great equalizer. The existing decor at the house I moved into had a lot of aqua tones; much of my furniture has greenish-blue tones, too. I played up those shades with art and accessories to help unify the space.

Build bridges. Leather works in almost any interior and is a great transition fabric, said Godley. “And there’s nothing wrong with putting leather on a period piece once covered in velvet to create contrast within the piece itself. Pillows can also work as glue in a room. “I’ve done rooms where pillows are the main item that pulls the space together,” he said.

Pull back. Though it’s always important to have well-edited accessories, it’s even more important in an eclectic interior to have fewer pieces that make a big statement, that emphasize lines and that don’t just fill spaces.

Have courage. “You see these cookie-cutter rooms all over suburban America, where those doing the interiors would never deviate from one style, because it’s so much easier,” said Godley. “I know that sounds harsh, but it’s just so boring.”

At least no one can say I’m boring.


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