Watching a great movie or listening to powerful music in quality surround sound is a marvelous experience—it fills the air, thrills the ears, penetrates the body and envelopes the listener or viewer so that the music or the cinema experience becomes infused into the depths of the being. It can be a thrilling, transcending experience. So it is with beautiful interior design.
As we surround ourselves with great design, impeccably executed,
the soul is swept into the realm of the interior, affecting attitudes
and behavior and setting a stage for events and actions appropriate
to the purpose of the space.
SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH STYLE
One of the greatest material and emotional joys in the life of someone
who loves comfort and beauty is the ability to coordinate all the
furnishing elements in a room to create a complete whole that becomes
larger and more significant than just the sum of its parts. Such
a room truly is a complete whole. A finished interior where all
the elements work as effective components and mesh together has
a dramatic effect on the attitudes and actions of its occupants.
Through the use of materials and elements, finely designed rooms
evolve into masterpieces of living art. “Living,” because
people do live, work, connect, dine, communicate, worship, shop,
obtain services or perhaps relax in interiors created by design
professionals. These activities are all part of life; hence, they
all form rooms where people live. As people are affected by their
surroundings, for better or for worse, it is worthwhile to study
how to create interiors in which the environment becomes a pleasing,
uplifting, effective and motivating space.
HARMONY IS THE GOAL
Harmony is acknowledged where an interior is so well-coordinated
that it seems to have naturally come together as a cohesive whole.
Thought and care are evident in the fluid composition from wall
to wall, from ceiling to floor. In interior design education, harmony
is accomplished through the use of two sub-principles. These are
unity and variety.
Unity is the creation of an interior in a unified style,
historic period, mood or theme. It is the glue that holds the space
together in a way that it makes sense. The identification of a theme
is something that can require a bit of thought, and sometimes words
can establish how you or your clients should feel in the interior.
For example, a traditionally styled interior may be described in
words such as elegant, lovely, dignified, refined, handsome, high
quality, formal, exquisite. In the room illustrated in the first
photograph, the pale yellow striped wall covering and straight,
trimmed silk draw draperies on a metal designer rod establish an
authentic, formal Neoclassic/early Empire feeling. This is further
established by the English Neoclassic Adam fireplace mantle. This
mantle is a significant architectural feature, combined authentically
with the recessed wall niche and framing white woodwork to establish
a Formal Traditional theme. The other backgrounds are equally supportive
of this theme—plain plaster ceiling, wood plank floor, French
Neoclassic Aubusson (flat tapestry) rug with delicate designs.
Variety ensures that the composition will not be boring,
but rather interesting. These principles are evaluated according
to the elements of design: space, form, line, pattern, texture,
light and color. In this same Neoclassic interior, variety is seen
in selecting a discriminating balance of furnishings from the Formal
Traditional styles: French Rococo console (background), armless
fauteuil chair and fireplace screen, the tall Neoclassic tea table
and sleek low Neoclassic magazine-laden end table, and Empire glass
etegeré/library cabinet are prominent selections that echo
the background elements.
The furniture focal point is the Chippendale camelback sofa, a Late
Georgian piece, upholstered in an Oriental-inspired climbing vine
motif. This is appropriate because during this period, from 1751
to 1790 (which overlapped both Rococo and Neoclassic French Periods),
imported Chinese fabrics were much sought after for Chippendale
pieces. Note that the Chinese elements are also seen atop the etegeré/library
Rococo and Neoclassic elements are also seen in the accessories—the
mantel features a Rococo object d’art, while the Rococo over-mantel
mirror is framed in a straight Neoclassic style. The chandelier
has small curved metal pieces and is a combination of the Rococo
curves and straight sconces of the French Neoclassic period.
The room is a whole entity, both unified and with variety from major,
related influences, skillfully blended and arranged.
SURROUNDED WITH ASIAN
Another fabulous example of surround style is seen in the next photograph,
the Asian influenced bedroom by New York City designer T. Keller
Donovan. Taking a cue from blue-and-white Ming Porcelain, this fresh
room has a sharp and classy quality in every selection. These are
the unifying elements. The variety is created by the hand of the
master. A skillful balance of toile fabric placement—on the
Country French sofa, the continental screen and the tailored bed
skirt form just enough repetitive pattern.
These blue-white applications are balanced with quality white bedding
and upholstered headboard, neutral gray walls behind a large white
Chinese porcelain vase and a delightful variety of Oriental ginger
jars. A touch of the south Asian seas can be found in the light-diffusing
window shadings, an updated, clean effect of the original Asian
bamboo shades. Add sisal floor mat and large tropical plants and
the viewer is wholly transported to Asia!
SURROUNDED WITH COLOR!
Another dramatically effective room is seen in the last photograph,
an intensely intimate library by ASID interior designer Jaime Drake.
The color scheme holds this room together in harmony—sensuous
red contrasted with a clean white paint, and balanced with taupe
The French doors allow for much-desired natural daylight, but are
treated with a window film to protect against fading. At night,
a Roman shade to match the walls can be lowered for cave-like coziness.
Creative details delight the eye with variety—most notably
the scalloped mirror that enjoys a new life reflecting beautiful
accessories as a coffee table surface. Other items that give the
room variety include the use of one-of-a-kind handsome pillows.
This room has a sense of surround style, encompassing the lucky
occupant in a luxury of color, form, pattern and contrast. Yet the
unifying elements are profound and rich.
CREATING SURROUND STYLE
As you create surround style, remember the key elements:
• Choose a theme based on a time in history, a place, color,
a great piece of art or an architectural detail.
• Plan ways to establish the theme through several elements
of color, style, pattern or furniture.
• Look for creative ways to incorporate enough variety to keep
the interior interesting without losing focus of the unity.
• Hold fast to the idea that the room should envelope the visitor.
Upon entering, one is immediately and willingly swept into the theme
and feels at one with the effects.
• Keep it beautiful and uplifting. One should feel that the
interior was a rewarding experience and will long to return.
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.