In this article, we look at how the role our homes play in our lives has changed and, in particular, how home and leisure life help us cope with the information era-read that, "the era of stress." To begin, let's look back to earlier decades of this century and the evolution of the home.
From the turn of the century until the end of the 1940s the typical floor plan for a middle-income family home consisted of living room, dining room and/or dinette area, kitchen, a service or utility room (for laundry, etc.) and three bedrooms.
In the 1960s the idea of the rec room blossomed in large basement spaces where games (ping-pong, Twister) could be raucously enjoyed, records played on the phonograph and teenage parties carried off without stuffy adults complaining about too much noise. The 1970s saw an expansion of this idea and the family room began to appear on the main living level with multiple floors to accommodate bedrooms. The family room spawned the birth of the great room consisting of kitchen, informal dining area and family room all in one large space.
In the 1980s, the new room addition was the bonus room originally furnished with an upscale card table and comfy seating. It sometimes seemed this addition could be accessed only through the master bedroom or by stairs from the garage or service entrance as usually it was located in what once was storage space under the roof. Presumably the card table was for Dad and his buddies to play poker-the reclusive cave. As home designers played with the possibilities, the bonus room gave way to upscale family rooms, or roomy master bedroom suites.
Outside the home, from the '50s to the '90s, the scene rocked with concerts, live theater, movies on super large screens, entertainment parks (who has not been to Disneyland, Disney World, Sea World or a Busch Gardens, for example), cruises, luxury destinations and exotic vacations. These get-aways still are important for many, but for the mainstream a new destination has become equally, nay, more important: home
As we entered the Age of Information, many of us felt barraged, avalanched or overwhelmed by the constant stream of technology improvements and the newest gadgetry when we still hadn't quite figured out the old equipment. The flood of information has become so intense a new acronym has emerged: TMI-too much information.
We are exposed to constantly updated news, various media, advertising and knowledge that is more than one human brain can absorb. Yet a dichotomy has resulted. On one hand, we cannot even consider being without many of the new gadgets and the services they provide from voice messaging, caller ID, cellular telephones, computers, fax, e-mail, etc. But on the other hand, we long for life without the ever-present awareness that at any moment there will be an interruption, a demand of our time and attention. It makes us feel we always are at work, always on call and working too hard. So a rebellion has begun.
Many people are becoming successful at creating high-tech/low-tech interiors. These interiors are important to coping with the stress of today's imposed lifestyles. They give us all we need to stay in touch, to keep abreast, to be informed, to enjoy the conveniences of modern living, but also the opportunity to escape, to de-program, to stop working, to check out, to clock out, to- dare I say it?-relax! But before we get to how to create an environment conducive to leisure living a few other factors deserve mention.
People often are too tired at the end of the work day to go out to a concert or whatever the destination might have been. Many just want to stay home. We want to surround ourselves with things we love, and those we love, in an environment of satisfying beauty.
If we want entertainment, we have oversized televisions or media centers. We have Internet access and CD-ROM programs for our personal computers. If we get weary of the noise, the stimuli or the shallowness, we can click them off and turn to the home library, den, office, bonus room, cozy corner of the master bedroom or living room, family room or great room to unwind or to introspect. We can enjoy real people without the crowds, queuing and bustle of theme parks in the simple and lovely environment of the great room, the formal living or dining rooms, and the deck, patio or porch (the outdoor living rooms).
We want simple pleasures. We want rooms where we have control, where we can turn off technology and enjoy a piece of apple pie (who made it no longer is an issue), a soothing beverage and a warm and pleasant conversation. And we want to feel aesthetically fulfilled. We want our surroundings to be beautiful. This does not mean elegantly formal, although certainly it can mean that.
Creating the Leisure Environment
Casual elegance may be a buzz word worth repeating often to your customers. It's a phrase the bespeaks the look of the leisure-yet-lovely interior. By itself a casual interior may be filled with cottons, natural finishes and coarse, nubby surfaces, but not so with the casual elegance or leisure interior. This look is a rewarding, fulfilling experience for the harried, overworked, moderate-income to upscale client. It is created with thoroughly touchable fabrics and surfaces, each with a sense of identity and individuality. Leathers, washed damasks, velvets, textured sheers, prints with a three-dimensional look and unusual fabrics are examples of visual and tactile elegance.
Mixing materials such as alabaster, crystal or granite with an antiqued credenza for a surprising effect also is a direction to explore. Breaking the paradigm by looking at elegance in a new way is the key. Boldly blend upscale window treatments with hard flooring and folk rugs, upholstery with a lived-in look and fine art and objects that seem to be found rather than mass-produced.
Seeking the un usual or the exotic is a way we have to escape without taking a cruise, and we can relive it whenever we enter a room. Traditional furnishings, with deeply colored stains and a variety of finishes from the accepted high-gloss lacquers to the more antique finishes, are now a part of the upscale leisure mix.
A relaxed, yet sophisticated environment can be created by using neutral colors or neutralized yet rich colors-a soft, rich palette with bold accents, for example.
When helping a customer make selections, keep in mind "comfort comes first." Choose items that will require little upkeep, but at the same time will make rooms more pleasant to be in from the practical as well as the aesthetic point of view. Always plan for the ability to diffuse light at the window and suggest motorization for convenience. Complete privacy at night also may be a priority, and when it is don't hesitate to layer window treatments. A fully lined conventional draw drapery may be just the ticket for nighttime and inclement weather comfort.
Remember, leisure means a measure of luxury while establishing a relaxing mood. And that relaxing mood may be accomplished with just the right fabric, even in time-tested window treatment designs. Leisure at the window should have a sense of the familiar, which produces the feeling of comfort we are seeking. Where long side or operable draperies are not desired, offer a soft valance with a touch of indulgence-some passementerie, for example.
Mixing the styles of furnishings also can be an important part of creating the leisure look. When all the pieces and all the styles are matched, the result can be too stiff, too formal or too staid. The placement of unexpected delights that bring a pleasurable response is found in delightful combinations of furnishings, such as a large overstuffed chair and ottoman with antique pieces at their side.
Today people are choosing to create home environments that reflect their own sense of individual style and their own level of sophistication. And they need not sacrifice comfort to achieve beauty. In fact, it is just the opposite. Where comfort is the priority and beauty runs a close second, the results will be the right mix for people who are spending more time at home working, entertaining, unwinding and becoming their own person once again. A home with a beautiful, leisure interior heals, refines, sensitizes and fulfills us. And that's what we want.
Karla J. Nielson, Education Affilate 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.