The New Old World

Despite the deluge of minimalist magazine images as slick as a well-licked plate, there are countless reasons to remain drawn to traditional d├ęcor: Perhaps you grew up surrounded by antiques or antique reproductions; you marvel at the craftsmanship and delicious lines of an inherited desk (lamenting that it seems lost amidst a hodge podge of competing elements); you’re comforted by the style’s staying power and the feeling it creates of living well. Or perhaps you’re just puzzling over how to fit your traditional furnishings into a new, larger, or more open home.

And this is 2006, not 1806. You want to honor your heritage, but link it to real life -- your own life. Design today should make life easier, better, and more pleasurable. Enter: traditional style, enabling us to integrate a feeling of being grounded with the faster-paced new millennium -- if we only knew how.

Actually, times have never been better or more filled with ideas for defining today’s New Old World. Solutions lie in applying current style trends in a way that complements, enhances, and takes advantage of the sculptural lines and fine craftsmanship of traditional design.

Balance and Scale

Match the scale of each piece to its surroundings and accessories.

* To show off their best features -- a handsome profile or elegant inlay, for instance -- silhouette shapely furnishings like sculpture against a simple wall treatment. The wall should pleasingly frame the piece without dwarfing or crowding it. If older traditional furnishings appear out of scale in today’s larger homes, give them a prominent place in a more intimate area, such as a hallway, foyer, or even bath. A bedroom chest makes an elegant and practical hall piece; a tea table fits alongside a chair rather than in the middle of a room.

* Alternately, blend older pieces with new, classically styled furnishings designed for the scale of today’s more expansive spaces. The pared down, classic styling of Gentleman’s Quarters (TM) from Palmer Home, for example, complements antiques, or, used on its own, has a refined, authentic appeal. A soft patina and worn finish lend a sense of richness and warmth. The graceful sleigh bed, for example, has a baseball-stitched leather headboard for comfort, a low footboard for better television viewing, and is substantial enough to comfortably anchor a large room.


Reducing the number of elements in a room makes it more relaxing and draws attention where you want it. If it’s hard to let go of possessions, rotate them. Your life isn’t static, why should your house be?

* Set off traditional pieces by surrounding them with clean-lined or more modern ones. Unify a space with the continuous tone of a solid color area rug, sisal carpeting, or even wall-to-wall. A muted Oriental is updated and always appropriate.

* Soften a room with fabric. In lieu of a cocktail table, for example, the oversized Foxburg cocktail ottoman from Gentleman’s Quarters gives the eye a place to rest, absorbs sound, and finds multiple practical uses.

* Whether traditional or more modern, clean-lined, large-scale accessories are more restful than multiple smaller ones: large books, plump pillar candles inside hurricanes, or a large lacquered tray atop an ottoman. To unify small items into a larger visual whole, group like pieces together. If you can’t resist silver, select pieces with simple lines.


Whatever the style, color immediately changes the look of a room.

* Update classic looks with one of today’s bold, new colors: cool it off with a lettuce green or turn up the heat with pimento red.

* For a more subdued look, use a neutral color palette such as warm taupe or camel. Update it with crisp black or silver accents: lampshades, pillows, trunks, curtains, or a mirror frame.

* For unity, repeat the wall color in upholstery.

Lightening Up

The wealth of architectural elements can lend a masculine feel to classic design. Here are some ways to create a softer feel:

* Incorporate lighter, softer colors, such as the new light and icy blues.

* Include soft, floral patterned fabrics or an orchid in a clean-lined pot.

* Set off the lines of an intricately styled bed with simple, solid-colored linens.

* Avoid fussy details that compete for attention and create a busy rather than relaxed look.

* Relax a dining table with cane back chairs.

* Select softer, gentler artwork. Surprisingly, tropical motifs work well with traditional design (envision the palm-like tops of Corinthian columns).


Whether for a bed, tabletop, or room, layering creates visual depth and a lived-in feel.

* Add and delete elements in your different layers -- from floor covering to furnishings to accessories to lighting -- until you have an inviting sense of balance and dimension.


Finally, no update would be complete without adding the conveniences that make life easier. Mix in new furnishings for added function: stone tops that resist moisture, drawer liners to prevent silver from tarnishing, storage drawers and shelves, and of course, fully outfitted entertainment centers.

Teaming classical design with today’s pared down aesthetics allows you to imbue your love of tradition with a fresh spirit. Your space becomes more livable, more you. Welcome to the New Old World.

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