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A Love for the Classics

by Tammy Adamson-McMullen

Interior design is full of ageless classics, from gold candlesticks, Blue Willow china, wingback chairs and tufted velvety ottomans to crystal chandeliers, gilded wallpaper, Turkish rugs and silk damask draperies. These and so many more classic elements have filled homes generation after generation and continue to gain in popularity. In fact, many design experts believe that consumers' affection for the classics is reaching an all-time high.

Suzanne Ashley, director of product development for Seabrook Wallcoverings, has identified a trend she describes as "Nostalgic Chic." The trend is full of classic and romantic inspirations that are comforting to consumers in that they recall days gone by.

This sense of comfort is important because, "We live in a world that is chaotic and unstable right now," Ashley says. "Our economy is struggling, unemployment is still high, gas and food prices are soaring, and the Middle East is exploding in unrest."

Nostalgic Chic creates a firm foundation as we move into the future, she adds, noting that classic colors in this trend include frosted almond, warm taupe, brown-cast rose tones plum and purples pushed toward mauve values. These colors, often found together in heirloom fabrics (think about antique satiny bedspreads), are readily available in many of the linens currently on the market.

Classic Colors and 'Bling'

Deep, rich colors on the one hand and neutrals on the other often have been hallmarks of good classic design.

In the first category, a whole range of purples have become strongly grounded in home design this year and are reminiscent of  shades popular in past eras.

Benjamin Moore has identified a purple it calls Vintage Wine 2116-20 as one of the top home-decorating colors this year, as well as Royal Flush 2076-20. The company notes that these two shades of purple work especially well with neutrals or fashionable grays, such as Smoke 2122-40. According to Sonu Mathew, the company's senior interior designer who blogs about color and design at, this last color is a subtle blue-gray best described as "an update of spa blue with an injection of sophisticated and seasoned gray."

Barbara Schirmeister, color and design consultant for Hunter Douglas and a member of the Color Association of the United States, has noted that there is a "back-to-basics attitude" about emerging color and design trends.

As part of this attitude, the blue family is expanding in home décor and includes a whole range of hues including those she describes as "old-school blues" that are classic and preppy. For design inspiration here, imagine a blue button-down Oxford shirt.

Shades of cream also are on the rise and often appear with the purples and blues that designers are highlighting. To understand these color pairings, you don't have to look any further than at the bath linens and accessories currently found at retail, with color pairings of off-white and spa blues as well as darker creams and mauve-like rose.

Whatever their influences, classics tend to have an aura of elegance about them. This aura is particularly appealing in the current economy, some designers suggest, in that they bring a little pizzazz into homeowners' lives. For that reason, metallics are hugely popular, as are anything that sparkles and shines.

Among the most popular design elements in home design right now are gold finishes, from matte to polished; shiny, velvety textures; decorative glass and beaded crystal; and mirrored surfaces. This holiday season, in particular, you can expect to see a lot of candlesticks, vases and serving pieces that have mirror-like finishes and swirls of gold, reminiscent of the Old World.

"Bling" actually can help blend classic elements in a room to those that might be a little more modern, suggests Terrell Dinkins, an interior designer and president of Posh Interiors LLC in Atlanta and CEO of Pink Door Decor, an online home accessories boutique.

As an example, Dinkins notes that she recently was called upon to help a client redesign a dining room that had both a classic crystal chandelier and a modern, transitional wooden table. To bring the room together, Dinkins added clear hardware at the window that echoed back to the chandelier. The mixed glass and wooden elements, which recall the "water" and "earth" elements of feng shui design, now create a balance in the room, she reports.

In her own home, Dinkins has a baby grand piano that has set the stage for the decor in the rest of the room. Dinkins also has designed around a grand piano for one of her clients. Set off by deep, gold draperies that puddle to the floor and rich fabrics in similar colors, the room is classically opulent but, as she notes, can easily be changed in the future with a few alterations. In rooms that have a classic centerpiece, "You can keep a traditional, classic look or change out the accessories to get an entire different look," Dinkins says.

Holding On

Experts report that classic design is seeing a resurgence not only because of the economy but also because most people have some type of classic piece in their homes. While the economy has a role, nostalgia for old relics also plays a part. As a result, many people are deciding to hold on to what they have and then design around those pieces.

Regardless of the reason, keeping a classic piece—or choosing to buy one in the first place—is good common sense, Dinkins suggests, because it can withstand the trends of time.

To fit into a more modern redesign, classical pieces sometimes need a minor update, but this is often easily accomplished. As an example, Dinkins notes that she recently had a client who had an old bench her father had given her and that she wanted to incorporate into a new design.

"We redid the piece by reupholstering it and repainting the legs of the ottoman," Dinkins says, noting that she believes in the value of holding on to favorite pieces and traditional furnishings.

Is there a difference between "classic" and "traditional"? Dinkins suggests that we shouldn't get too bothered about the terms, since one person's "classic" is another person's "traditional," and the terms tend to be used interchangeably.

What matters most is that homeowners hang on to those items that have meaning to them. Following your heart by preserving a well-loved piece is the essence of true classic design, according to the experts.

Helping clients find their true style is why Dinkins went into interior design in the first place. As she says, "If people can walk into a room and have something that feels like their own, then I feel good."


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