Next, think about how the cake would look without icing. It is true, "We eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouths." When we see icing on the cake, especially artistic, generous icing complete with color contrast and luscious pattern or texture, the cake becomes appealing—mouths water, and we cannot wait to savor it.
Interior design is like that, too. While covering a window, putting up sheet rock and painting it plain white or installing a wood floor is, unto itself, a good, solid solution, none of these are as wonderful as they can be without the right finishing touches: the perfect valance, great wall coverings with just the right texture or paint color, or an exotic Oriental rug. Likewise, sofas and beds can be covered with a single fabric, but think how much more beautiful they are when a selection of delectable pillows, perhaps changed seasonally, finish the look.
When the room contains not just the basics but is finished to perfection, the eye first beholds then our entire bodies desire to enter and enjoy the ambiance, to visit or live in the room. That is the goal we want for our clients. Even if your business doesn't sell all the finishing touches, consider recommending to them a professional who can provide them. You'll get the credit, and it always will mean repeat business. If the only company you can recommend is a competitor, then it's time you took a look at expanding your product offerings.
Let's take a look at ways you can take a good room and make it better—first at the window, then walls, floors, beds and furniture and accessories.
AT THE WINDOW
• Start with a great, functional treatment that provides light control and day and nighttime privacy.
• Determine if the room can use a fabric top treatment, side panels or fabric shade. Then observe the furnishings to determine style direction.
• Select a fabric that will pull together the colors and theme of the room—marry the elements, so to speak.
• Get out the decorative hardware catalogs and select just the right hardware. Be aware of scale as well as style: large scale (overall size) in large or tall rooms, small scale in smaller rooms and mid-size scale in mid-size rooms. Select a great rod, then consider all the marvelous resin products available to add splendor and richness or thematic fun to the room. This is a unique look that will set the customer apart and give her great satisfaction.
• Consider and suggest passementerie or trimmings for every treatment. These are the most luxurious finishing touches of all. They can tie together all the patterns and colors in a room. There are many levels of richness and formality in passementerie from very simple to elaborate. This is truly the icing on the cake for window treatments. If you don't want to draw attention to the trimming, then keep the entire trim on the face of the fabric. If you do want it to be noticed, put it on the edge where the fringe will extend beyond the fabric.
• Jewelry and accents are used in a room just as a well-dressed woman uses them—artistically, with discrimination and for appropriate effect. Decorative accents can add a thematic flavor not possible with trimmings and there is more leeway as to placement. Remember, exposing your client to these options and then being enthusiastic about their effect will often open the customer's mind to the delightful possibilities.
• Try banding or ruffling where appropriate, or line, edge or combine the two with a coordinating fabric.
• Silk floral designs used as swags or accents make excellent finishing touches in romantic, feminine rooms.
ON THE WALLS
• Select a wall covering combination and border that will establish a theme, then work with that theme to make every detail fit with it.
• Fabric can be used on the walls to soften the look, absorb sound, add pattern or texture that coordinates with the theme and give greater flexibility to the use of pattern. Fabric can be installed in any of several ways: flat as a direct glue-up (fabric finishing companies such as Schneider Banks can add a backing for this purpose), padded, upholstered, shirred, pleated and swag-draped, for example.
• Custom texturing with paint gives a unique look, as does custom artwork accents and original stencil-painting.
ON THE FLOOR
• Many companies have rug catalogs printed with retail prices that make a great add-on for a decorator without the necessity of carrying inventory.
• Designers and decorators often will accompany a customer to a rug dealership and select a few rugs to try out. The rug store will then deliver these for the customer's experimentation and approval. The designer or decorator can arrange for a commission, with the customer purchasing directly from the rug dealer.
• Design a rug based on the fabrics or wall coverings used in the room. Custom rugs are less money than fine Oriental rugs.
• Custom stencil work on wood floors also can echo the patterns of the fabric and wall coverings.
• Fabrics that are heavy, such as tapestries, can be used as borders in custom-made rugs.
ON BEDS AND FURNITURE
• A newer trend we are seeing in bed coverings is the use of multiple fabrics that all have a different pattern but work beautifully together—the bed skirt is one pattern, the coverlet or bedspread or comforter is another, and both plus others are used for pillows and accents.
• The piling-on of pillows is a continuing trend that is an effective artistic device. Where many pillows are used, they can be rearranged often for a different look every day.
• The bed skirt or dust ruffle has many design options beyond ruffled, pleated and flat styles. Try designing swags atop the bed skirt, passementerie at the hem, layering a chiffon or see-through fabric over an opaque one or layering a patterned fabric over a plain one. Be creative!
• Coverlets (short, over the dust ruffle, non-quilted) and comforters (short, heavily padded, quilted) continue to be important to the design scene, and the number of styles is almost limitless. With custom-quilted covers you can design where the stitches will go and coordinate it with a pattern in the room, or outline a pattern that appears on the fabric. White bedding is European and always considered classic.
• Don't forget the luxury throw blanket, a simple add-on but with potential for real comfort in the bedroom.
• Suggest seating in bedrooms—not just for sitting on to remove shoes, but for reading and relaxation with better back support than a bed can offer.
• With the availability of pre-framed artwork in catalogs there is no reason why a decorator or designer cannot add artwork to a window treatment sale. Check out the many Web sites under art companies and consider adding this to your product offering.
• Pillows are a standard accessory item, but consider also many other items that can be made of your custom-selected fabric: seat cushions, tissue boxes, waste can covers, picture frames, lamp shades, ribbons, bows, jabots and rosettes.
• Table covers with multiple layers are a beautiful accessory element that adds luxury and richness to an interior.
THE DISCRIMINATING EYE
The key to adding finishing touches is twofold. First, be aware of the options, add new sources to your offerings and be ready to show the samples or photographs from catalogs, sketches or installation photos of your previous work. Second, develop a discriminating eye. Look for the blank spots in a room design that would benefit from a touch of beauty, but remember that in great interiors some areas are not decorated.
This means that if there is a lot of decoration in one area of a room, there must be compensating blank or plain areas. The two must be carefully balanced so that neither is dominating, offensive, too much or "over the top." Remember, good design knows when to stop—just short of excess. This is true even for simple interiors. An excess of starkness is as offensive as an excess of decoration.
Discrimination is a skill that must be yours. Being a good judge of what is used and where it is used and how much is used is very important. Study rooms you believe are successful and notice the finishing touches and in what proportions they work together.
Finally, remember that today's customers are crying for a bit of luxury as a counterbalance to the high activity and high stress of the world and the workplace. Give them the comfort level and beauty they are seeking. Your job is truly worthwhile when you do.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics.