We have a place here in my city where youth and young-minded adults go to play indoors. Its called Extreme Competition. The idea is that you take your date, friends, birthday party or other group and have a riotously good time in an ear-splitting noisy atmosphere where larger-than-life inflated slides and places to jolt your body are at your command. You and your friends can shoot each other with paintballs and, hey, I guess it doesn’t get any “funner” than this.
Personally, I’m past all that, but I understand where the
youth are coming from on this idea of extreme—we are searching,
not just as youth but also as a nation, for something to satisfy
us. And “taking it to the extreme” (whatever “it”
is) seems to be the answer for many seekers today. It really doesn’t
get any better than this. And since this idea of “extreme”
is the newest socially correct description of feeling emotions and
satisfying physical desire, let’s run with the idea—but
on a different plane.
The idea of extreme, to an adult, may have different, less positive
connotations than to today’s youth. Extreme can be a negative
word in the interior design world, one that has lost its limits
of good judgment. So let’s use a word that has much more positive
implications to mature customers, and one that will enhance your
vocabulary as a professional. That word is exquisite. According
to Merriam-Webster, these definitions apply to exquisite: “(adj.)
1. Excellent in form or workmanship 2. Keenly appreciative 3. Pleasingly
beautiful or delicate 4. Intense.” That last definition—intense—comes
closest to today’s use of extreme.
As a noun, exquisite means: “An overly fastidious individual.”
Now, that overly fastidious person, according to the dictionary,
is someone who is “overly difficult to please” or “showing
or demanding excessive delicacy or care.” Right now you might
be smiling (or moaning) as you recall clients who fit this description
precisely. There certainly are people who demand exquisite elegance,
many of whom are excessively difficult to please.
Taking this idea to a more universal level in today’s world,
shouldn’t everyone who can afford professional design services
be entitled to at least a dash of exquisite elegance—something
to make their lives feel a little more special and wonderful and
meaningful and rich?
If you answered “Yes” to this question, you are a champion
salesperson as well as an accomplished design professional. You
probably also like people, even the hard-to-please ones. Taking
the attitude that “you deserve this” not only will win
you more clients, more sales and more satisfaction, it will also
win you client loyalty and friendship. They will adore you because
they are longing to hear this, and your verification of their inner
desires makes them feel validated.
This is at the heart of exquisite or extreme elegance—creating
that special look through fine design and decorative detail that
spells soul-satisfying beauty for that very special person: your
Elegance is an elusive noun. It is refined graciousness. It is tasteful
richness of design. To some, elegant may mean lavish. Lavishness
is one direction of extreme elegance—taking furnishings to
the limit. It is the Victorian philosophy of “if a little
is good, a lot must be better.”
In lavishly elegant interiors, complexity of line, pattern, color
and texture are the goal. It is the saturation of the senses. It
is a look of organized clutter, of layering the furnishing elements
that suggest one’s ability to afford a greater amount of goods,
thereby achieving a status of sorts. Lavish interiors may be dark
in color value, enhancing the layering effect through shadow and
depth. It also may be brightly colored, with sensuous hues, bold
patterns and elaborate trimmings.
This idea of lavish elegance is a time-proven direction that has
its roots in English estates from the 1700s through the present
time. Its philosophy began in the landholder class, a duke or duchess,
a lord or lady or other landed gentry whose manor houses were palatial
in size and filled with collections of fine and decorative arts
that spanned several generations.
To the English, an “undecorated look” is one that is
simply handed down from one’s predecessors and to which you
added your own stamp of personality. It is important to note that
these inhabitants were lonely people. They lived in houses whose
roofs were measured in acres, and whose gardens were parks, and
whose neighbors only called occasionally. There was no phone, no
media entertainment, no connection with the outside world, and far
less pressure and stress. These grand estates with their over-furnished
interiors were the comfort, the friend of the aristocracy.
The question for us as we help our customers is, what are their
needs? Do they need this kind of comfort against loneliness? Or
is the average upscale customer of today in different circumstances,
one where over-stimulus will generate excessive stress in an already
For people whose lives are full and busy and who long for beauty
things but don’t have time to dust them, restrained elegance
often has the greater power. This philosophy is the power of the
understatement, the frank exposure of each element rather than its
Exquisite elegance can be appreciated from every vantage point,
from every opinion. It holds up under scrutiny. It is the elegance
that comes with discriminating good taste. It is the result of knowing
when to stop, which is short of excess.
With the influence of Pacific Rim design philosophy, many of today’s
Western design professionals have become more confident in producing
interiors that have a serene quality. Serenity should be the result
of restrained elegance. This kind of interior will promote feelings
of security, appreciation for quality and gentility without being
overbearing or insistent. It is much more open to interpretation
and can be applied to a broad range of design styles.
Retrained elegance is exquisite because it eases the burdens of
life through light colors, fewer furnishings, thoughtfully placed
elements and understated colors and textures. This new direction
in elegance is based on lighter tones and more open spaces. It is
the Oriental philosophy of “less is more.” This ideology
can mean less decoration is more mental space, or less clutter gives
more emphasis to focal point elements.
Perhaps the most potent form of the less is more philosophy is this:
“Less items means more money, more detail, more exquisiteness
available for each item—more attention to detail.” It
means more quality for fewer things. It means less “stuff”
but of higher quality as opposed to more stuff of lower quality
because the budget must be spread thin. It is, in short, a new way
of looking at life and how we fill our environments.
Illustrating this article are examples of restrained elegance. Creating
simpler interiors has become a major design movement. It is a furnishings
direction that is becoming more universally appreciated for lifestyles
of this 21st century. Restrained elegance is also more attainable
and has the advantage of being easier to maintain, as not everyone
wants hired help to clean his or her home. It is a look that de-stresses
and gives comfort and serenity—qualities that more and more
people are seeking in today’s hectic, insecure world.
Both of these directions, lavish elegance and restrained elegance
can be exquisitely beautiful. Understanding what they do for the
psyche will empower you to create a look that is appropriate for
J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at
Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including
Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction,
3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window
Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.