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Iconic design: Some elements of interior décor never go out of style

By Sally Kilbridge
For Steamboat Homefinder
Rugs that can seamlessly adapt to any interior style tend to feature traditional, symmetrical patterns such as curling leaves and repeated diamonds, often with a bold central medallion (Photo by Getty Images)

Legend has it that in the 18th century, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield commissioned a piece of furniture that would allow him to sit upright without wrinkling his suit.

Design trends come and go. Even such once-pervasive styles as feature walls, Edison bulbs, and shiplap have seen their popularity wane. But there are some elements of interior décor that never go out of style. These classics have been essential components of beautiful spaces for generations, and should look just as fresh in 20 years as they do today.

Subway tile

These simple 3-inch by 6-inch rectangular tiles have been around for more than 100 years, first used in New York City’s underground stations, and subsequently seen in bathrooms and kitchens around the world. Designers vary the classic running bond layout by using the tiles in herringbone patterns, introducing contrasting dark grout, varying the finish with metallic and tumbled marble, and supersizing the tiles, all while maintaining the classic proportion.

Wainscoting

In the 14th century the Dutch began covering the lower part of their plaster walls with wood panels to guard against scuffs and scarring. And the treatment has never gone out of fashion. Options range from inexpensive beadboard to custom hardwood panels; the former works best in narrow spots such as baths and hallways, the latter in rooms where there’s space to stand back and admire the effect. 

Blue and white ginger jars

Designers have been crazy about chinoiserie accents since the 17th and 18th centuries, when European manufacturers began producing their own interpretations of East Asian artifacts. Louis XV and King George IV were both champions of chinoiserie pieces in their palaces. Ming-style blue-and-white patterns became enormously popular, especially on ginger jars, originally used to store spices and now a staple of designer interiors.

Stainless steel appliances

Some contrarians grump about the fingerprints and smudges that come with a kitchen full of stainless steel. But it’s unlikely that the popularity of these appliances, originally inspired by industrial kitchen equipment, will diminish in the near future. Ubiquitous in upscale homes for 25 years, stainless steel is easy to clean, germ-resistant, and has about a 75-year lifespan. If you’re looking for the next big thing, black stainless steel may soon enjoy its moment.

Gilded mirrors

 Mirrors have played a role in home design for centuries. Originally made from blown glass, and a sign of enormous wealth, they were used to lighten dark interiors before the days of electricity, most spectacularly in the Palace of Versailles’s Hall of Mirrors. Whether placed above fireplaces, hung between windows, or used on a gallery walls, a gold framed mirror — rococo, Empire, sunburst, convex — adds instant luxe and polish. 

Tulip tables

By placing a round tabletop on a single curved pedestal, Eero Saarinen eliminated the forest of table and chair legs (he called it a “slum of legs”) common in most dining rooms. Authentic Saarinen tulip tabletops have been made in laminate, wood veneer, granite and Arabescato marble (an alternative to Carrera marble), while the base remains cast aluminum. Over 60 years after its invention, companies from CB2 to Ikea have replicated the basic design in both round and oval forms.

Animal print accents

Animal prints have been heroes of home design for centuries, from English hunting lodges, when the hides were most likely real, to Hollywood’s glamorous 1930’s Regency era to Ralph Lauren’s gentlemanly lounges. Often considered neutrals, zebra rugs, leopard-spot pillows and cheetah-print footstools work in both minimalist spaces and rooms rich with color and layers.

Oriental rugs

Whether an antique Persian Tabriz or a Turkish kilim, quality, hand-knotted Oriental rugs don’t just hold their own over the years, they can increase substantially in value. Pieces that can seamlessly adapt to any interior style tend to feature traditional, symmetrical patterns such as curling leaves and repeated diamonds, often with a bold central medallion.

Rice paper lamps

Historians have dated the earliest paper lanterns to 150 B.C. China.  But it took sculptor Isamu Noguchi to turn these objects into the globe-shaped icons that illuminate countless first apartments and minimalist dining rooms. Noguchi’s lamps, which debuted as sculptures in 1951, consist of a bamboo frame wrapped in washi paper and are still made by hand in a Gifu factory. Because Noguchi couldn’t patent the design (it was too close to the traditional lanterns), design studios around the world produce their own models. 

Chesterfield sofas

Legend has it that in the 18th century, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield commissioned a piece of furniture that would allow him to sit upright without wrinkling his suit. The resulting couch, with high, curved arms, button-covered tufts and plump cushions, is conventionally done in polished leather. Recent iterations sometimes streamline the curves and use fabrics such as jade linen and fuchsia velvet for a totally modern interpretation.  


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