Quality — The New Bling
In uncertain times, buy for longevity
Ask any designer about new trends in interior décor and you”ll hear one word: Quality. “My clients are moving away from unnecessary excess to elegant simplicity,” says interior designer Ashli Mizell. “They want quality, not quantity. And they place a high value on the ultimate luxury—personal service.”
A Tennessee native, Mizell is quickly building a reputation for her eclectic approach. She fearlessly combines mid-century pieces with French “40s, Moroccan, or Japanese. “I might mix a vintage Dakota Jackson parchment goat skin dining table with a contemporary Italian chandelier from Aqua Creations.” Don’t mistake eclectic for clutter. Mizell’s look is clean and tailored. Before opening Ashli Mizell Design in Philadelphia in 2002, Mizell worked in New York for almost a decade, catering to the high-end, luxury market. “The cadence of Philadelphia lends itself better to the intimate process of establishing relationships with clients,” says Mizell, whose work was featured in Spectacular Homes of Philadelphia by Panache Publishers.
Dane Décor owner Drew Hamilton views the economy as the indicator of current interior design trends. “Our customers do not want to throw good money after bad. They want products that offer great value and will last,” he says. Sales in leather sofas and what Dane Décor calls “stressless” chairs have increased. “Our Ekores recliner, made in Norway, is the most comfortable recliner in the world,” Hamilton says. Not to be confused with the bulky, plaid recliner your father sleeps in, the Ekores recliner is a sleek, sexy chair that calls to mind Sharon Stone, not Archie Bunker.
Dane Decor was begun by Hamilton’s mother, Gloria, in 1973, and is now a third-generation family business that features products from France, Italy, the US, and Canada, as well as Norway and Denmark. New styles include multifunction sofas that offer the option of head and foot rests and new patterns in micro-fiber upholstery. “Herringbone micro-fiber is gaining ground over solids,” says Hamilton. But when it comes to color, black and white is still a winner. “Our snow white leather sofa is very popular.” It’s a lovely time of year to check out its Downingtown showroom housed in a church built in 1863.
When Dee Pizzino, Design Center manager at Ethan Allen in Chadds Ford, told me that Ethan Allen had a “quiz” on their Web site to help customers determine their style, I was intrigued. And skeptical. Over the years, my preference in interior décor has run the gamut from Art Deco to Shabby Chic. I did not think that any online quiz could tap into my inner Martha Stewart or, as the case may be, Bette Midler. The mechanics of the quiz were quite simple. Two photos flashed on the screen at a time, I just had to pick the one I liked best. After several seemingly unrelated choices, Ethan Allen’s site informed me that my style is Villa—”romance reinvented, refined without fuss, inspired by French and Scandinavian design.” They also suggested I might like their Loft line—”Fashion-driven, clean shapes, punches of color.” Oh, my God. They got me! Checking out their other styles, from Glamour to Global, it seems they got everyone else, too, from the industrial minimalist to the urban nomad.
“We are a design center more than a furniture store now,” explains Pizzino. “We still carry the traditional, formal lines, but we also have a wide variety of contemporary pieces. If you come to our showroom, you won’t see everything matching like in the past. You”ll see antiques mixed with contemporary, an eclectic look.” Not only can you preview designs on the Ethan Allen Web site, but you can communicate with a member of their design team. “You can ask if your floor plan is correct online and, if you don’t live near one of our design centers, you can request a designer to visit your home.”
After an initial tour of the showroom and a home visit from a designer, clients return to the Ethan Allen Design Center for a presentation that includes high-tech wizardry. “We have a large-screen TV where clients can manipulate and move their furniture. We can also show them how different fabrics will look on the sofa or chair of their choice so they can see how often the pattern repeats.”
Going forward, Pizzino says the color trend is in two directions—bold and neutrals. “We are seeing sofas in light, neutral tones and colors that pop being used on walls, rugs, and pillows.” She also forecasts “lots of leather” and textured fabrics more than patterns. “Most of our customers grew up with Ethan Allen furniture,” says Pizzino. “They appreciate that we are a unique company that manufactures everything in the showroom, from sofas to lighting.” She points out that the company’s sofas are hardwood with sinuous coil springs, and customers have the option of upgrading from all-foam to down-padded cushions.
Interior decorator Ellen Sarafian, owner of Dezins Unlimited in Wilmington, is starting to see an influx of brighter colors and bolder patterns. “I saw them in Europe many years ago from companies like Osborne and Little and Designer Skills in the UK,” says Sarafian. “American vendors like Robert Allen are offering them at a lower price point. These are color combinations you would not expect, such as turquoise with orange.” Looking at Osborne and Little’s Web site, I noticed a lot of shocking pink combined with magenta and chocolate, as well as jade with citron and raspberry.
Sarafin, who lived in Dublin for eight years and worked with well-known designers there on historical restoration, enjoys working with architecturally historical properties in Chester County. “People don’t want a lot of clutter these days, they are limiting the amount of items in a room, but they still want a lot of punch and impact,” she says.
Dee Maher, who runs the Design Studio at Ligne Roset in Manayunk, agrees. “The majority of our clients are looking for livable, neutral tones for their larger, investment pieces. We are using a lot of wool, leather, micro-fiber, and textured fabric in a neutral palette, then adding an ottoman or small chair in a bold color or metallic finish.
“Jewel tones have translated into cooler colors such as grey/blue, charcoal, rosy purples, cooler lime green, and lemon yellow,” she says. “They are not bright, they are livable.” Based on form and function of French design, a new line at Ligne Roset is Confluences—modular seating with soft edges, curved corners with organic, free-form shapes. “We are also excited about our new reproductions of mid-century modern furniture by Pierre Paulin and a retro arm chair by Pascale Morgue,” says Maher.
Reflecting the eclectic aesthetic, Maher says, “Our clients like to mix modern pieces with transitional or traditional. Each piece is commissioned and a lot of artistic creativity goes into the design. Unlike in the US, in Europe furniture designers are celebrities,” says Maher. Ligne Roset added the services of their Design Studio in 2008 to provide customers with “full-blown design services.” This includes working with clients on kitchen and bath design, window treatments, and home consultations. “We show full-color renderings with elevations of pieces so clients can make decisions about placement, color, and upholstery.”
When times are uncertain, people tend to gravitate to the tried and true. “We are a traditional company that has been around for over 100 years,” says Patti Zimmerman, design consultant at Thomasville in Wilmington. “Our customers are interested in quality and longevity. They could buy a cheaper sofa but they are willing to spend a little more to get quality.”
What most people don’t know about the Wilmington showroom is that it was recently sold back to corporate. “As a result, our pricing went down 25 to 30 percent. People who were given a previous quote come in and think we are running a sale. We’re not, but our everyday pricing is lower,” says Zimmerman. Echoing the consensus of other interior designers, Zimmerman says, “The biggest trend is to make your home look collected with finishes that are related, rather than matching.”
Speaking of matching, all Thomasville collections are manufactured in their North Carolina factory and run for a long period of time. “Customers are notified when a collection is being retired so they can add a piece if necessary,” says Zimmerman. Thomasville’s most popular collections are Hills of Tuscanny, Fredericksburg, and Rivage. Zimmerman recommends starting your design search online, then coming into the showroom. “Our design service is complimentary. We visit your home and help make decisions about furniture placement. We measure your rooms, then put your floor plan on the computer so you can visualize different placement options.” These days, customers tend to decorate one room at a time, often taking a year to phase in a complete bedroom or living room. “Our customer is very educated,” says Zimmerman. “Even the men know all the terms from watching HGTV.”
Clutter is out. Pack away all the tasseled pillows, frou frou items, dust collectors and objects that have no function. Better yet, sell them on Ebay.
Neutrals are in. That floral patterned or striped sofa you bought in the 1990s? Cover it with natural linen slipcovers in a nubby texture.
Mix and match. If every piece of furniture in a room is from the same “set,” move it around or replace a piece with something from another era, mix contemporary with antique.
Punch it up. Add a strong splash of color—turquoise, raspberry, lime—with an area rug, throw cushions, or wall paint.
Go Organic. No matter what your style, add decorative elements that have an organic, earthy feel. Natural woods, minerals, animal skins, grass cloth.
Move it. Without spending a dime, you can give your home an entirely new look by re-hanging your paintings, mirrors, and photos. People will notice the difference but won’t guess what you’ve done. The same is true with re-positioning floral arrangements.