Monday, February 8, 2016

History of Furniture: China

Since today is Chinese New Year (we start the Year of the Monkey!), I thought I would share some traits, shapes, and characteristics of Chinese furniture for this installment of The History of Furniture.

Early in their culture, the Chinese sat on the floor or mats like the Japanese (previously here) but as time passed, low platforms turned into couches and chairs. It's generally agreed that this development most likely had something to do with the spread of Buddhism into China and accompanying figures of the Buddha on raised platforms. The idea of being not only figuratively but literally elevated, of being honored, and of being above others was translated into seating that was more and more raised off of the floor. Special guests, dignitaries, and noblemen were naturally "above" commoners who remained on low platforms or on the floor.

The first raised seating was a platform that became a daybed, eventually gaining carved side panels and an "entrance." Such daybeds came to be very complex enclosures, nearly like little rooms unto themselves.


Lest you think it was all supine lounging, below are two examples of chairs I have written about before in my "Know Your Chairs" column (seen here). The first is the Chinese Yoke Back Chair which originated during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE) and is characterized by a simple, elegant structure with fluid lines, balanced proportions, and concealed joints using the then-new-to-China method of mortise and tenon construction.

The Yoke Back Chair has a back whose design is based on the shape of an oxen yoke, which is a wooden harness put over the shoulders and around the head of oxen or other strong farm animals to pull a plow through dirt.


The Chinese Horseshoe Chair also originated in the Ming Dynasty. It uses a slightly different shape than the Yoke Back, that of a horseshoe.


The following Horseshoe Chair actually folds so it can be taken outside or on a journey so the master and mistress could be comfortable anywhere they go.


Speaking of outdoors, the barrel or garden stool became very popular in China during the Song Dynasty and was originally made from a variety of hardwoods that stood up to the elements. Later the stools were made from ceramic and decorated with lotus leaves, fish or birds, and pastoral scenes.



A common motif on not only garden stools but ceramics of all kinds is the lucky cloud design. Thought to be created between heaven and earth, clouds were looked upon with special significance and thought to represent the celestial realm.


On the ceramic plate below, you can see stylized clouds swirling around the dragons on the rim. In Chinese mythology, it was thought that dragons were able to create clouds with their breath.


As with most any subject, this is just a brief overview as we did not even touch on any chests, cabinets, or cases, as well as metal working. That could be for a future post so stay tuned!
And I wish you "Gong Xi Fa Cai"--or in English, Happy New Year!


Happy designing!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Layering Modern On History by Fiorito Interior Design

After my clients bought a sweet 1920s classic California Spanish bungalow in the Rose Garden area of San Jose, they came to me for some design guidance. We toured the empty house and I asked them what their style direction was and what they were thinking of doing. The heavily ornate, dark wood moulding and trim is original to the house and I naturally assumed that they would want to keep them.

But I was thrilled when they identified themselves as modernists, liking clean lines and a lighter color palette. So we chose a strong white for all the dark trim and a warm neutral for the walls. With that canvas, we began layering on contemporary furnishings but with a sense of luxury that still feels traditional enough to sit in such an historic house. Remember Design Mantra #1 (at right): Contrast brings interest. And modern lines next to the arched windows and elaborate moulding from the early part of the last century is a wonderful juxtaposition.

Custom drapes in a plum-colored Kasmir fabric set the tone for the color palette in the living room. Sumptuous ripplefold panels hang from a ceiling mounted Architrac allowing the full height of the arched window to be enjoyed from inside. The fireplace received a coat of a slate blue color from Kelly Moore. A comfortable sofa with mid-century lines plays nicely with a custom ottoman and a custom rug from Dalyn. And finally, discreetly presiding over it all, the Re ceiling light from Visual Comfort offers a bit of elegance without being fussy.


With white trim, the dining room feels larger, lighter, airier. Custom drapes in a Kasmir fabric hang from Robert Allen drapery hardware. The rough teak pearl finished top contrasts beautifully with the gleaming stainless steel base on the Bernhardt dining table. And the Ziyi chandelier from Visual Comfort adds stately drama.


Happy designing!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tile Terms: What You Need To Know

Interior design is chock full of related specialties and sub-sets of specialties with their own world of nomenclature. Tilers are no exception and if you have ever talked to a tiler, you may have heard some unfamiliar words or terms.

When you pick a tile to go on a shower wall or kitchen floor for instance, the work is not over!

Before any tile ever goes down, a tiler must think about the area and what will be done there. Every application needs some sort of surface or substrate under the tile. This is called a sub-floor and in fact is not only used for tile but for any floor at all. Hard wood, laminate, and carpet all need to go on top of a sub-floor which is often made of plywood.

But special attention needs to be paid to wet areas like showers and tubs which need to protect against moisture and possible mold from the water that will be on and around the tile. This is usually in the form of what is often called backer board, a material that looks like sheet rock but is actually made from cement. Brand names include HardieBacker and DuRock by USG.


In showers, the next layer is often a waterproof membrane to further protect against moisture. A bed of mortar needs to be laid before any tile can be applied. This mortar is also called thinset and goes on top of either the waterproof membrane or onto the cement board. This is the glue that holds the tiles in place.

Now tile is ready to go down and another consideration at this point is how far apart the tiles can or should be. The space between the tiles is what will be the grout line. I personally like the smallest possible grout line--the point after all is the tile, not the grout!--so that means spacing the tiles as close as they can get. Tile spacers come in different shapes and sizes which allow for different grout lines. The most common tile spacer looks like a little plastic plus sign.


Here is a tile installation in a shower, showing spacers at the corners of the tiles, keeping them equidistant.


Part of the tile selection and plan should have been whether or not the edges of your tiled surfaces will have a rounded edge tile, called a bull nose tile, or if it will have some other kind of decorative edge detail.

Many tiles come in an edge style as well. This allows a nice finished look instead of seeing the ragged edge of a tile. You can see below how the rounded detail accomplishes this.


Bullnose tiles are quite traditional so if you are looking for something sleeker and more contemporary, you can use a Schluter edge which is a long strip of plastic or metal that sits partially beneath the tiles along the edge. The detail that is seen can be a color, or it can be a finish such as brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze, or even copper.

Here is an image of a Schluter strip being installed in a bathroom I recently completed for a client. This chrome edge caps off not only the filed tile in the shower but the decorative band that runs across the walls. It is a very convenient and clean way to finish off different kinds of materials at once.


We used this chrome edge not only in the shower but as a way to cap the same mosaic decorative band we used as a back splash at the sink. The entire project can be seen here in a previous post.


Once all the tile is set and the mortar has dried (it's usually best to wait at least 24 hours), the grouting process begins. This involves troweling on a paste that gets in between the tiles, sealing off the thinset and any access to the sub-materials that could cause mold or mildew. Grout comes in many different colors and can be coordinated with the tile so it does not stand out, or it can be used as a contrast. Choose carefully as this can be a make-or-break element.


Grout color can blend with the tile colors, giving a soothing appearance, like this luxury bathroom I designed for a client (previously here)...


...or it can make a tile choice stand out like this dramatic black grout on a traditional white subway tile.


I hope this helped to demystify tile, tiling, and tiling terms.

Happy designing!

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Essential Drink Table

A side table, an accent table, an occasional table, a drink table...this little workhorse is known by many names. But whatever it is called, it serves not only an aesthetic purpose but a practical one as well. They're often found in spaces where a full sized end table would be too much.

Such a smaller drink table can balance a seating area. It can be that exact, perfect little thing needed in a blank corner by a chair. And it can be a useful place to set down a drink, a cup of tea, a book...

Look at the little black drink table next to the golden chair in the home of Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent. Unobtrusive, yet it fills in a space, adding some visual interest while being useful.


And here are a pair of silver beauties--one is next to the Eames La Chaise lounge chair at rear left, and between the two chairs in the left foreground.


This purple ceramic table is a nice shape and illustrates how such a small addition to a room can bring another layer of color and texture. The sheen looks nice against the matte and organic materials in the space which offers a nice design counterpoint.


Spot the drink tables in the photo below.


A bit of shine brings life and glamour to a room.


Furniture designer Katy Skelton's One Drink Table is a perfect example of the versatility of a side or drink table. Her table has a 7" top, perfect for a single drink and glasses, or for a vase of blossoms to liven up a corner.


This is the stunning Roen side table by designer Craig Van Den Brulle. It is available in a high-polish bronze or high-polish aluminum.


Interlude makes this sweet little Argo drink table with a petrified wood top on a polished steel base. Because of the nature of the natural material, each one is fascinatingly different.


Tom Filicia designed the handsome Solvay table of balanced circles for Vanguard. It's available in a variety of finishes.


And this gorgeous specimen of marble and iron is the Celeste accent table from Arteriors. It looks like it could be right at home at the historic Glass House designed by architect Philip Johnson!


Now that I've drawn your attention to the ubiquitous drink table, you will probably see them popping up everywhere!
Happy designing!

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Cushion Is A Cushion Is A Cushion

Right? Well, not really. As usual, in interior design, there are so many terms and styles for things that seem like they should be simple. Take the humble cushion. If you've ever noticed the construction of a cushion you might have seen the following shapes.

The most common cushion or pillow type must be the "knife edge" cushion. One look at this style and it is easy to see why it has that name. A knife edge cushion can have just a simple seam where the fabric is sewn together, as seen below.


Or a knife edge cushion can have what is called a welt. Also commonly called a cord--or sometimes referred to as "piping"--a welt is a piece of rolled fabric that trims the edge of the pillow. A self welt is one that is made out of the same material as the cushion or pillow.


But look how fun a pillow can be with a contrasting welt. If done with light and dark colors, the effect can be very striking, looking like a bold outline.


A knife edge cushion can be a little plain so to add some elegance to a pillow, try a Turkish corner where the material is pinch pleated into a discreet fold. The overall look is softer and more luxurious.


Another common cushion and pillow style is the box edge. Instead of sewing two pieces of material together to form a seam, a box cushion has side panels that give it a top, a bottom, and four sides, just like a box.


A flanged cushion is one whose edge extends beyond the seam, as seen here. The flange can be of the same or different material.


Sometimes the material used for the flange can be gathered into a kind of ruffled look that lends a feminine or country appearance.


Pillows can also be trimmed or edged with a variety of fringes, tassels, and pom-poms.


A bolster pillow is mostly used for decorative purposes. It is usually seen at the ends of a sofa, or as part of a pillow arrangement on a bed. The example below in silvery velvet is a bolster with a darker welt and a button tufted end.


When you go cushion shopping, keep an eye out for these styles.
Happy designing!