Ironically, the needs to be filled in city living fit many suburban and even country living scenarios as well. In fact, the city interior offers inspiration and confidence for furnishing spaces in many settings, inside the city and beyond its limits.
Manners and Manors
Urban living is considered high-style and sophisticated. The finest manners are expected, of course, in metropolitan dining, at the theater, in business transactions and in private entertaining. It is interesting that manners seem to be influenced by the interior setting, by the architecture and decor itself. Winston Churchill once stated, "We build our buildings, then they shape us."
Refinement in interior furnishings encourages graciousness in manners. Another way to put this, "When you treat people as though they deserve the best, they tend to live up to your expectations." This high-brow culture experience is best created with a manor approach to furnishing the interior. Some may see this as manners by intimidation, others as awestruck manners. Perhaps a better expression is, "Good manners as a result of respect, refinement and a commitment to gracious living."
In both the imagination and reality a manor is a grand, stately home set on a sprawling estate. Wealth is implicit, and no-expense-spared is the rule in planning and purchasing furnishing items for both the appreciation and indulgence of the owners and to impress others. This attitude also requires the finest of quality design plans to be executed. Beauty is implied in its highest and most cultured form, whatever the style.
Lifestyle is a determining factor of the overall theme. Where a person may have an extraordinarily busy schedule, simplicity of furnishings means less upkeep. "Less is more," an adage first coined by Louis Sullivan, an architect of city buildings, means many things. Among them less clutter means more efficiency, more freedom and less upkeep required. This philosophy is particularly appealing to the "techie" crowd-gadget-oriented, wired young and middle-aged professionals love this sleek international modern approach.
Conversely, metropolitan living also can mean a lifestyle where fashion, art collection, theater patronization and life generally is achieved by surrounding oneself in lavish cultural richness.
Floor and Wall Treatments
Like manor houses, hard flooring of stone, brick or ceramic is used although not so frequently. More common is wood floors, often overlaid with area rugs-Oriental, folk, Tibetan (the latest rage), European rugs (particularly French Aubusson or Savonneri) and Portuguese needlepoint rugs or needlepoints from China, which are far less costly.
Also often seen is wall-to-wall carpeting, and not just cut pile tufted textures but level loop or random sheer commercial carpeting, or broadloom woven carpets-Axminster or Wilton are very acceptable today. Carpeting can add great character, warmth and quiet to an interior, and pattern is wonderful for contributing richness, a historic element and allowing an artistic avenue to became center stage.
Patterned broadloom carpets are best in eclectic interiors or those with a traditional feeling where opulence is desired. For interiors with a clean, sleek modern or post-modern design program, plain and textured (no pattern) carpets and hard flooring are appropriate.
Wall styles in city interiors depend on the style of furnishings, discussed below. For sleek modern interiors, plain plaster walls with an occasional unique texture or architectural element such as glass block, stone or paint technique. For eclectic interiors, a variety of paint is desirable in an urban interior. However, where lavish themes prevail, walls often are heavily architectural-moldings, specialty paint techniques such as faux marble and faux wood grain paneling.
Wall coverings also are very appropriate, particularly when they coordinate with handsome textiles.
Rarely is there a time when any window, in a city or any other setting, should be left naked. Certainly there is a fabulous view that is even more dramatic at night, but the risk of burglary or personal harm is so real that a nighttime privacy window treatment is a must.
Both day and night treatments can assure both view and a degree of privacy through a top-down pleated or cellular shade. During the day, window treatments often must perform a dual role: screen glare to keep natural lighting pleasant while providing daytime privacy and perhaps even darken the room for media or sleeping sessions. Yet another consideration is softening or deadening city clamor and noise.
An alternative treatment-blind, shutter, roller or alternative shading mechanism-next to the glass should be the first and most important element in window coverings. In sleek interiors, one of these options likely is enough, although a double layer may be the ticket-two kinds of alternative treatments, one to screen and one to darken. Consider a two-in-one option for these interiors.
Next, draperies and top treatments should be considered to soften lines, absorb noise, provide security and enhance privacy. Side panels can be beautiful even in modern settings, although they do soften and absorb some sound, but not as effectively as full draw draperies. It is wonderful to see draw draperies returning to favor-and in a city setting the additional option of drawing draperies closed can mean extra lining and interlining for privacy, outside sound absorption and extra luxury inside.
Valances, cornices and decorative hardware are choices that add character and enhance the furnishing styles in an urban setting.
Three directions usually prevail in metropolitan homes:
• Contemporary international modern
Of course there is the occasional country, southwest or some other style interior, but here the three "classics" will be discussed.
• Contemporary international modern-This style was first embraced between the World Wars in Europe (hence "international"). Its origins began with the architecture we associate with city living-glass and steel, simple straightforward lines in a minimalist approach.
Furniture is structural-form is true to function ("form follows function") and usually artistic and sculptural. If it happens to be comfortable as well so much the better, but this isn't a requirement. This style features steel, leather, glass, high-gloss finishes, smooth surfaces, tightly- or exotically-grained woods and classic or timeless lines.
Furniture is respectable-you never really want to curl up in it, but it is handsome, clean cut, and may have designer names attached.
• Eclectic-These interiors are a unique, one-of-kind combination of furnishings that inevitably include some ultra-modern, some antique (refined or weathered) and some artsy, unusual items. The result is fascinating.
The key to success is twofold: Every item must stand on its own as a well-designed, wonderful piece worthy of praise and, in its own way, timeless in design; and eclectic interiors fit together in a hand-in-glove fashion. This takes careful attention to detail, masterful planning, and some delightful serendipity discoveries.
The eclectic interior is either the result of talented efforts by a seasoned interior designer, or it is a labor of love by the owner-occupant.
• Traditional-This style means furnishings from historic periods; specifically Early and Late Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian, plus European Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Biedermier styles. The graceful combination of selected elements from these periods results in an affluent, sumptuous, "I have arrived" and, granted, mature look.
Here long fringed draperies and full top treatments are a must, as are fine area rugs, upholstered seating, finely detailed wood furniture and artwork and accessories, which often include Oriental and European objects of art.
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.