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Old World meets mid-century: Can the looks live together?

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From page HS4 | September 13, 2013 | Leave Comment

Three days of packing. Nine hours of bonding with three movers. Two days of unpacking and furniture arranging (uh, before you put that down, could we try the armoire upstairs?). Ten broken fingernails, two band-aids, 12 Advil and one icepack.

And I’m in my new home.

Not only that, the new place — another home I’ve staged to sell — was show ready 48 hours after the movers drove off. It’s detailed down to the vegetables bin. I have the circles under my eyes to prove it.

If I’ve done my job right, the buyers will never suspect the sweat and swearing that took place offstage. To them, the place will look as if it fell into place as effortlessly as snow on a winter’s evening.

Except it didn’t.

Like every home, this one had its decorating challenges. The 100-year-old Southern plantation style house came partly furnished.

Certain rooms, I was instructed, were to stay furnished as they were. Others I was to decorate with my stuff.  Thus, my skills were tested as I tried to make two styles, as different as New York and Southern France, blend.

The home came with mid-century modern pieces, sleek black and clean-lined, and accents of deep chocolate brown and aqua. My décor leans old world European and mixes warm wood tones with golds, burgundies and peacock blue.

I like both looks and color palettes a lot. I just wasn’t sure how well I would like them together. How would my brown dining table’s curved carved legs sit alongside black straight-lined pieces?

I was about to find out.

I knew I was in treacherous waters. Many designers have told me that the hardest design style to pull off is not contemporary, traditional, ethnic or rustic. It’s eclectic, a mix.

“Why is this so hard?” I asked Chicago designer Bill Godley, who’s been pulling together sophisticated eclectic looks for decades.

“Because it’s easy to make an eclectic interior look like a mishmash,” said Godley, “but it’s also my favorite style because you can create a look that no one else can imitate.”

Getting my space to work took more trial and error than usual, but when a combination worked it made all pieces involved look more interesting.

Though tricky to pull off, Godley offers these rules for creating eclectic interiors:

  • Watch the scale. Though important in every interior, getting scale and proportion right is especially important in eclectic rooms. Scale matters both in how the pieces relate to the room, and how pieces relate to one another.
  • Play up contrasts. It’s better to be really different than a little off. For instance, under a slick black-framed contemporary mirror, I put a distressed white wood table with curved legs. Godley agreed it was a good move. “Clean lines in contemporary pieces mix very well with more ornate pieces.” He gave the example of a cabinet he got in Thailand. It’s heavily carved with imbedded with shiny stones. He has a mirror in a similar style. “I would never, never put that mirror with that chest,” he said. Instead, he pairs the chest with a contemporary Venetian mirror.
  • Balance the mix. You can have three pieces of Chinese furniture, three modern and three Italian provincial as long as the mix is balanced. “You have to really feel the overall ambience and be sure the mix is evenly distributed.
  • Blend pieces throughout the house. Mix it up in every room. “Otherwise you look like a furniture store and that’s a disaster,” said Godley.
  • Find the common thread. This is often color, which can be a great equalizer. The existing décor I moved into had a lot of aqua tones; much of my furniture has greenish-blue tones, too. I played up those shades with art and accessories to help unify the space.
  • Build bridges. Leather works in almost any interior and is a great transition fabric, said Godley. “And there’s nothing wrong with putting leather on a period piece once covered in velvet to create contrast within the piece itself. Pillows can also work as glue in a room. “I’ve done rooms where pillows are the main item that pulls the space together,” he said.
  • Pull back. Though it’s always important to have well-edited accessories, it’s even more important in an eclectic interior to have fewer pieces that make a big statement, that emphasize lines and that don’t just fill spaces. Mix looks in accessories, too. Put modern beside rustic.
  • Have courage. “You see these cookie-cutter rooms all over suburban America, where those doing the interiors would never deviate from one style, because it’s so much easier,” said Godley. “I know that sounds harsh, but it’s just so boring.”

At least no one can say I’m boring.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.

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