Monday, October 24, 2016

Fabric: What Is Damask?

There are so many terms when working within the world of fabric and often clients may have heard of a term without truly knowing what it means. If you've ever wondered what a "damask" refers to, read on...

Created using one of the original five weaving techniques, damask comes to us from the fifth and sixth centuries in the Middle East. In fact, the fabric name "damask" comes from the city of Damascus, which was on the Silk Road. Thus the fabric was disseminated around the world, eventually, and naturally, ending up in Europe. After the ninth century, damasks became scarce, but history sees them pop up again in fourteenth century France where the fabric name as we know it today was first used.

Damasks are a type of Jacquard (previously here) and feature some kind of figure, usually symmetrical, like an Arabesque or a floral. The warp fibers are shiny (these are the fibers that run up and down) while the weft fibers (those that run left to right) are matte. This gives damask a quality that makes it ideal for tone-on-tone color palettes. Another characteristic of damask fabric is that is is reversible...there is no "rough" woven side. For this reason, the use of damask is very common for tableware like napkins and tablecloths.

Here is a bolt of a tone-on-tone damask fabric.

This photo illustrates a tone-on-tone damask with its sides folded back to reveal the contrasting--and reversible--underside. You can see how the light pattern becomes dark and the dark background becomes light.

Since damask is a fairly sturdy fabric, it lends itself nicely to upholstery. Because of its history and look, it fits beautifully in a traditional scheme, or on a period piece of furniture like the Louis XV bergère and foot stool, and then the fauteuil seen below.

And here we have the most common usage for damasks: napkins and tablecloths.

So you can see that damasks are elegant, stylish, and refined. And to evoke a romantic European sense, set a table with damask cloth and napkins for your next dinner party!
Happy designing!

Monday, October 17, 2016

History of Furniture: Memphis

For this installment of the History of Furniture, we jump back just a few decades to the 1980s to examine the furniture/interior/art movement phenomenon known as Memphis.

The name might be deceiving: the movement has nothing to do with the southern city in the United States nor the ancient city in Egypt. Arising in 1981 from a group of designers in Milan, Italy led by architect Ettore Sottsass, the name of the group is derived, surprisingly enough, from a Bob Dylan song, "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." Tired of functionality only, Sottsass aimed to create a style that incorporated a sense of playfulness and sensuality.

Retail consultant Bertrand Pellegrin recently--and hilariously--described Memphis as a "shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price." And he is not too far off. Take a look at the riot of color, mostly primary, and the big blocky shapes. 1980s design was certainly bold and nothing historically illustrates this more for us than Memphis. Angularity, asymmetry, geometric shapes, and thick overexagerated lines make up the Memphis look which is a mash-up of movements like Art Deco and Pop Art, including styles such as 1950s Kitsch (hence the stylized fake granite on laminate) and futuristic themes.

One of the most iconic designs from the movement--and perhaps the poster child for post modern Milanese design in general--is Ettore Sottsass' Carlton piece. A set of open shelving and a very small set of drawers is presented in a spiky silhouette that recalls cuneiform writing--it is at once a bookcase, a dresser, or a room divider and is often described as all three.

This graphic, thick-lined style also recalls another artist working at the time, Keith Haring (previously here). The fake 1950s granite laminate on Sotsass's Casablanca Sideboard even resembles a small Haring pattern, and the form recalls many of Haring's dancing figures. Indeed, many Memphis pieces would have benefited form being covered with Haring's signature black doodles.

California sculptor, artist, and designer Peter Shire created the Bel Air chair for the Memphis movement which was featured prominently on the cover of the most widely distributed book on the group (authored by Barbara Radice). Notice how the back of the chair incongruously sports what appears to be a beach ball.

The First Chair created in 1983 by Michele de Lucchi is minimal by Memphis standards yet just as bold and graphic...

...and would look great paired with de Lucchi's Flamingo Sidetable.

Marco Zanini's Dublin sofa harks back to furniture designs from the 1950s.

Japanese designer Masanori Umeda met Sotsass while the pair were working for Olivetti, and Sotsass invited him to particapte in the Memphis movement. Umeda came up with "Tawaraya," a boxing ring conversation pit. The second photo shows the original Memphis group piled in the middle of this creation in 1981!

Certainly the most whimsical piece of Memphis furniture is the six-bulb Super Lamp by Martine Bedin which can be trailed along like a dog on a leash...your own little pet lamp!

Happy designing!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Revisit: Four Easy Steps For Autumn Décor

Since it's that time of year again, let's revisit a post from 2013 about autumnal décor:

This is the time of year when the air chills, days grow shorter, and we turn to our indoor lives. Since the temperature is dropping, we desire warmth and comfort, we desire insulation from the elements, and we desire to cocoon ourselves in special places that allow for beauty and contemplation of the season. Below are four very simple--and inexpensive!--ways to bring a touch of autumn into your home.

1. Nature
This is the easiest, fastest way to achieve a rich, fall texture in your home. And there are a few ways to work with nature.

A trip to the produce section of your local supermarket will yield a bounty of decorative objects. Think of buying a bag or crisp red apples to put in a basket or on a wooden platter as a centerpiece for a table. Pick up a selection of pumpkins (large, medium and baby pumpkins) and gourds to arrange on an end or hall table. Red or purple grapes and fresh cranberries can be put into decorative glass bowls or vases. Even things like stalks of Brussels sprouts, artichokes, or deep hued purple eggplants can be effective in centerpieces or tableaux. Another wonderful element to use in autumn décor are nuts: walnuts, Filberts, hazelnuts, pecans... just pile them up in an amber colored glass dish or scatter around a table setting.

A trip to the florist or nursery can provide you with some beautiful autumn color in the form of cut flowers like autumn colored chrysanthemums or potted orange marigolds. You can also find dried flowers and greenery like hydrangeas or eucalyptus to use in vases or other containers (I have a lovely antique ceramic German beer stein that gets some dried hydrangeas around this time of year.) Many places sell colorful Indian corn as well to add to the mix.

Finally, the most accessible way of obtaining natural elements to use is to forage! Autumn leaves, twigs to bundle or gather into bouquets, pine cones, sheaves of wheat or grasses can be found almost anywhere. Keep your eyes peeled and if you see a pretty fallen branch with a bit of moss on the sidewalk, snap it up!

2. Candles
Candles add a wonderful ambiance any time of the year but they seem especially appropriate in the colder autumn and winter months. Display pillar candles on a platter surrounded by nuts and pine cones, put them in lanterns, arrange a bunch of candles of varying heights with apples and mini ceramic pumpkins on a dining table. If you have a non-operational fireplace, candles look wonderful grouped in the firebox, giving the same visual cue as a log-burning fire.

3. Texture
For added interest, turn to earthy or rich textures:
* woods like oak and birch (candle holders, branches, bowls)
* burlap (a rustic table runner or cloth)
* velvet (pillows, drapery)
* blankets or throws in thick woven materials or faux fur
* rich patterns like paisley (pillows, throws, rugs, tablecloths or runners)

4. Color
At this time of the year, we are naturally surrounded by a rich palette: rust, crimson, purple, russet, mustard, forest green, umber, sienna...Use these hues as inspiration for objects in your own home.

It is easy to change out pillows, add some earthenware vases, and display some autumn colored fruit.

The addition of a throw and some white mini-pumpkins along with branches and dried vines in rustic jugs on the mantel above a warming fire sets the stage for fall.

Warm autumnal tones and a large scale paisley print look cozy and inviting.

Branches with brilliant rust and brown leaves placed inside honor the crisp days of the season. Notice the blanket of leaves, apples, and a gnarled piece of wood at the foot of the arrangement.

Gourds, decorative mercury glass pumpkins, an antler, and lanterns with glowing candles make a textural, interesting grouping. Image from Pottery Barn.

Branches and a selection of pumpkins in various hues are displayed with antique rakes in an almost minimalist tableau.

This casual table setting includes cinnamon sticks on forest green glass mugs (a lovely touch), apples, pine cones, leaves, and a coarsely woven cloth in natural hues of linen and taupe.

I set my Thanksgiving table every year with some gourds, red leaves, and a dried floral arrangement studded with eucalyptus, dried lotus pods (I love their shape) and pheasant feathers. I also use my grandmother's pressed glass turkey candy dish filled with an assortment of nuts (although some years, it holds cranberry relish!). Photo by Jeff Fiorito.

Bare twigs in simple glass cylinders (available at any craft store or florist) are anchored by what looks like a mix of wild rices. Berries, moss and lichen covered branches, pine cones and mini pumpkins complete the festive look.

Hazelnuts act as vase fillers for copper mums. Brilliant.

The simplicity of a single leaf on a white plate still expresses the richness and bounty of the season.

Now that you are acquainted with some simple, available ingredients, I hope you are inspired to gather some of these elements and honor the textures, smells, and sights of the season. And remember my helpful guidelines for creating a tableau, previously here: think about the shape your grouping makes; include tall, medium, and low objects for a variety of levels; odd numbers work best; and most importantly, contrast brings interest (rough next to smooth, light next to dark, large next to small).

Have a wonderful autumn and happy designing!

Monday, October 3, 2016

It's Fireplace Weather: Terms To Know

Now that summer is officially over and we have begun our journey into autumn, it is feeling a little like fireplace weather. And over my decade of working in interior design, I have noticed that often people might speak about their fireplaces but don't know what to call parts or areas, while others use different terms for the same object. So in an effort to offer some clarity, let's walk through some of the major parts of a fireplace.

The central and most important part of a fireplace is of course where the fire itself is located, the firebox. This is sometimes referred to simply as "the box." Fireplace boxes can be lined with brick, fireclay, metal, pretty much anything that is fireproof (obviously).

The next area of importance is the hearth. This is the area in front of the firebox and it too needs to be fireproof if you have a live fire. This ensures that popping embers from the firebox will not start a fire. For this reason, a hearth needs to be at least 18" deep. If you have a gas insert instead of actual burning logs, the hearth should still be made of a heat-resistant material since many of today's gas inserts give off a tremendous amount of heat that can still cause damage.

A hearth can be flush with the floor or as close to that as possible. Or a hearth can be raised. In the case of a raised hearth, the structure can turn into a bench!

Now we come to the fun parts of the fireplace: the fascia of the mantel can be clad in a myriad of stone or tile choices (again, any non-combustible material that covers at least 6" from the edge of the firebox), and of course the mantel shelf (people often refer to this simply as "the mantel") can be wood or metal. The shelf is a perfect spot for collectibles, art, and holiday decorations. See my previous post about Mantel Inspiration for a brief overview of what can be done to incorporate rich design into your fireplace.

If you don't have a mantel, you can add a floating shelf which offers a very sleek take on a standard fireplace.

On very traditional fireplaces, the mantel sides can also feature carved or fluted panels which are referred to as legs or pilasters. And the last large piece of a fireplace is what is called the breast. This is the structure that covers the chimney and flue. This is another perfect area for some extra embellishmnet. Traditional fireplaces might feature a material on the fireplace breast that is the wall material in the rest of the room. But modern fireplaces can be clad in tile or stone, often all the way to the ceiling.

But wait, there are some areas of your fireplace that you can't see! The chimney is the structure that rises from the fireplace itself and the flue is the duct, pipe, or opening that allows smoke to rise up and out of your home. If you have a gas insert, the flue can be directed either up or off the side to vent outward but if you have a log-burning fireplace, smoke only rises, so it is imperative that your flue go straight up. You most likely also have a flue cover that allows air to flow up when opened. Because burning natural materials coats the inside of your flue with creosote (a tarry by-product of burning wood), it's good to have a professional chimney sweep clean your fireplace at the beginning of every cold season.

Happy designing!