As I have passed on those wonderful words, I believe them to represent a basic truth: we want to be treated as though we deserve the best, and we all want to be given the opportunity to live up to those expectations.
There is, at the heart of most people, a desire to improve, to become better people. In our culture, we associate personal improvement with enhanced good manners, gentility, kindness and personal refinement. It is true what Winston Churchill said, "We build our buildings, then they shape us." It means that we are directly and irrevocably influenced by our surroundings in attitude and behavior.
This is precisely why today many upscale homes and nonresidential installations are being furnished in formal attire. Overall, there is a trend that indicates the shabby chic, dressed down, even frumpy casual look so popular in recent years may be waning in popularity (except for the 20-somethings age group). There appears to be a genuine new desire to have at least some area of the home that is really special—even exquisitely beautiful, perhaps with a commanding regal presence fit for a king or queen.
This kind of interior provides the proper background for events or evenings that are opportunities to dress up in our nicer clothes and don our best manners. More and more often people are opting for an evening out without going out. Frequently we want to be at home where it's elegant and safe.
This trend is more obvious in the upper-end residential interiors, where the occupants have the means to select virtually any interior design style they wish. Here are some of the reasons why dressing up our interiors has become appealing and important.
1. A return to refinement and order. Today's upscale homeowners—those with money and taste who are seeking professional design services—are generally at least in their mid- to late-30s. Many are in their 40s and older. Many are experienced in life and have tried other styles of living from the poor student years to beginning career stages and parenthood. This mature client may now seek to make a statement about where they are in life. Granted, some are materialist and worldly, so showing off seems to be a priority. But not so for the majority who are selecting furnishings for their own benefit and to create the lifestyle they want to live. For these the key is refinement and order.
Years of hard work and sacrifice now need to be switched to the payback mode. People are looking for a return on their investment, which is a home that is refined, orderly and downright beautiful. Many of these people no longer have little children, so this orderliness can be a top priority and can be maintained.
Often it is also a "control" issue. Many career and life-experienced adults want very much to own a home where they feel they are very much in control.
2. The sanctuary of home as a safe space. It is disappointing to realize that the 21st century probably won't be any less riddled with problems, strife and insecurity than the 20th century. Feelings of insecurity and fear about personal safety, almost to the point of paranoia, have become widespread. To counteract the news reports that so often disturb us, we need a place to go where we can feel a measure of peace.
The home is that place. It can be designed to be an aesthetically and psychologically safe place to dwell. Important are such features as completely private, remote controlled window treatments on every window. They are selling points that will assure greater peace of mind to the home dweller. Colors, patterns and textures that create a sense of peace and calm are surely possible. Generally, more fabric means more privacy and a more luxurious and psychologically safe environment. The increased use of textiles also can make a space quieter as it absorbs sound, contributing to a secure, safe feeling.
Homes that are beautiful, upscale, orderly and finished feel safer than interiors that are unfinished or poorly designed. Good design satisfies the psyche. Poor design disturbs. Formal design creates a higher level of security.
3. A real appreciation for beautiful things in a world with too much ugliness. A normal human reaction to war or tragic events that disturb us is to mentally turn away from them and to commit a greater diligence to creating personal lifestyles in which the beauty is as good as it gets. We need beauty to compensate us in times of emotional need.
This may be termed a pendulum effect, which is always predictable during the times following a crisis. The horrors we faced and stepped up to eliminate now need to be put behind us by making our lives better than they were before. It is also true that for the upscale market, few effects of a recession are felt personally. Even in times of financial crises there is a level of stability among the wealthy. Historically, many profited during World War II, for example. And today, with the recent stock market dive, the market for good interior design on the upscale front is as strong and stable as it ever was.
So how do you create an upscale look, a dressed up, formally outfitted interior? The answer doesn't necessarily lie in the complexity of the design (great formal interiors often are simple). In fact, there is a saying that good design stops just short of excess, so knowing when to stop is a key to exquisite design.
Here are a few suggestions for dressing up windows and interior furnishings for your clients:
• High key, lighter values are formal, especially when contrasted with some rich, deep tones. This idea comes from the fact that white objects are harder to keep clean, and those who can afford to keep their interiors clean can select all light colors.
Consider light colored floors, walls, ceilings and window treatments for a formal effect. This is known as a high key interior. Today they are considered most beautiful when a touch of mahogany or other dark wood is strategically placed. A touch of rich, dark value keeps the interior from feeling like it is floating away and prevents the insecurity some people feel in high key interiors.
• Deep, jewel tone colors (known as low key color schemes) coupled with complex designs, especially those of the Renaissance, Georgian or Empire Period, invariably create a formal effect. Always remember the passementerie for a finishing touch, and pay attention to details. Usually more accessories can be placed in this kind of formal interior than in high key interiors.
• Dressy interiors that are pleasing for an indefinite length of time are often those that are low contrast, meaning that all the hues are subtle, neutralized (toned down) and sophisticated. Often these mid-tone rooms use a bit of creamy white for accent, perhaps on the wood trim, as well as some darker values in the wood. The walls, window treatments and flooring, however, are more centered on mid-values.
The best approach here is a watercolor effect on the room. Use window treatments that soften the glare, are soft in appearance and absorb sound both day and night.
Both high key and mid-tone interiors often focus on the more slender styles of the Neoclassic Period. They may also reflect Contemporary Traditional and Transitional interior styles in which furnishings have no clear identifying style.
Whatever direction you and your clients choose, be assured that the upscale market will continue to revel in dressed up, formal interiors insulated against the ups and downs of the economy. The interior dressed in formal attire will be appealing for many years to come.
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. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.