Do you remember the last time you really dressed up—black tie, tux with tails, or a black dress with pearls or formal floor-length gown? Do you remember how you felt? Sophisticated? Handsome? Beautiful? Ethereal and romantic? Maybe even dramatic or fabulous? It is a special, wonderful feeling to be all dressed up.
Dressed to the nines is an expression that is defined as very fancily or formally dressed; wearing very showy or splendid clothing. This phrase, dressed to the nines, is first recorded in the late 18th century in poems by Robert Burns. Where did it come from? One potentially accurate theory is that the British Army’s 99th Regiment of Foot was renowned for its smartness, so much so that the other regiments based with them at Aldershot were constantly trying to emulate them—trying to equal “the nines.”
Although being dressed to the nines isn’t a daily affair for any of us, we can do something to help our customers or clients experience that special feeling whenever they have the desire. We do this by creating interior spaces that are “dressed to the nines.”
A dressed-up room contains upscale touches of luxury. The result is a treatment, and hopefully, an entire interior that thrills the senses with flawless attention to detail. An interior dressed to the nines is sharp and handsome or exquisitely beautiful. It elevates the mind and the senses. Yet how do we accomplish this lofty end result?
FINE DESIGN FIRST
In interior design we often evaluate design by categories.
• Fine or excellent design is uplifting, even inspirational, impeccable and high quality
• Good or fair design is appropriate, generally pleasing and acceptable
• Average or mediocre design is bland, uninspiring, un-motivating and often mass-produced
• Poor design is disappointing and inadequate
• Bad design is silly and repulsive.
What we seek to achieve in dressed-up rooms is fine or excellent design. This may begin with a study of formal historic period design to observe how the most elegant interiors in history have carried off the high-end fashion of the day, and how gorgeous styles in history influence gorgeous styles today. It may also begin with a study of theory and application of the principles and elements of design, which then become second nature as criteria for creating the exquisitely beautiful design applications.
All elements of design—space, shape or form, line, mass, texture, pattern, color and light—are evaluated and compared to one another based on the principles of design. No single designed product exists in a vacuum, as all parts or furnishings of a room are seen by the eye as an entirety. Thereby, it is difficult to declare an entire interior to be fine or excellent design if the window treatment is beautiful but the rest of the interior needs serious help. Or, on the contrary, if the window has been treated without regard to the theme of the room—it may be a finished look that is not compatible and, hence, not appropriately selected.
CREATING FINE DESIGN
To create fine or excellent design, we begin with a body of criteria—the principles of design—to be used as a checklist:
• Good proportion is based on time-proven theory of parts in relationship to other parts (as within the window treatment itself) and parts to the whole (as in the window treatment to the wall and to the room). We use scale as a determiner: larger treatments in larger spaces; modest or restrained treatments in smaller spaces.
• Balance in formal rooms tends toward perfect symmetry (formal or symmetrical balance) where both sides are identical. Informal or asymmetrical balance, where each side is different although balanced, is used less often in dressy rooms. Radial balance is seen in swags and arched treatments.
Perfect balance is often also perfectly proportioned—not too long or short, wide or thin, but the size and shape that is the perfect size. This is often accomplished when the design professional has garnered education of styles and through a serious study or evaluation of beautiful treatments, and by training in the use of designing software tools. These three approaches—understanding style, evaluating and tools of the trade—combine to assist in developing a sixth sense of good proportion.
• Rhythm is where the eye moves from point to point smoothly or rhythmically. It is seen in transition: lines, colors or materials that connect the eye without interruption.
This can be done through repetition established through a repeated color, pattern, fabric or shape; alternation where a sequence of two or more colors, patterns, fabrics or shapes repeat in an orderly and pleasing fashion; opposition where repeated contrast of light and dark, straight and round create a lively sense of movement (Be careful with this one. Keep the source of light on the light side and try to avoid harshness of contrast and darkness at the window itself); or radiation seen in rounded shapes with concentric circles (swags, for example) or as radiating spokes from a central point.
• Emphasis and harmony often are hand-in-hand success stories in dressy interiors. A window treatment that draws and holds attention must also be in complete harmony with the theme, the style, the setting, even the ambiance of a well-designed interior.
A focal point is a focused area of interest, or a point of emphasis. In a room dressed to the nines, window treatments will be appropriately emphasized, but not overly emphasized.
THE SECRET TO SUCCESS
In history, as well as today, the judicious use of fabric and trimmings is essential to completing designs and creating high-end window treatments. Success seems to follow a pattern. It appears best to err on the side of restraint rather than to over-indulge. The use of many patterns, colors and lines in a complex composition seems to demean the value of the composition, rather than to augment it.
Attention to detail is the secret to success in fine design. Please do add those exquisite trimmings; do band, edge or trim the panels, valances or cornices; do select rich fabric and accessories; do use your signature dressmaker details. But do so with restraint and subtlety. If the trimming color jumps out and grabs the eye’s attention, then the treatment is necessarily cheapened. Better to use lower contrast colors and designs and let the eye hunt for the detail and be delighted to find it!
Let the viewer take charge of finding pleasure in the treatment and be empowered and rewarded by enjoying the richness of the treatment in a room equal to its dressed to the nines splendor.
Karla 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.