Seeking Sanctuary

By Lindsey Townsend

For the well-heeled, creating a home means developing a distinctive, one-of-a-kind haven: one which reflects the owners’ personalities, passions, and outlook on life. And while comforts such as handmade rugs, velvet draperies and European antiques may seem inconsequential in a country recently rocked by terrorism, those in the trade say that such luxuries become even more meaningful during times of crisis.

“America has to rise up out of the ashes and do what they do best, and that is to live beautifully,” said Blue Harris, A.S.I.D., owner of Blue Designs Interiors and Antiques in Dallas. Harris, who works primarily in the Park Cities and Highland Park areas, had an epiphany after the September 11 attack. While on appointments that day, she initially felt overwhelmed by how inconsequential her work seemed. Then a client called. “She and her husband had talked about the awful events that had transpired, and they had decided to go ahead with their plans. They felt it was even more important now to make their home a beautiful and peaceful sanctuary that gave them joy.”

Whether they’re mammoth Mediterranean stucco mansions in the suburbs or cozy, gracious Highland Park residences, the key word that describes upscale decorating trends today is eclectic. “Matching cocktail, soft and end tables have given way to a mix of styles, structural components (wood, glass, stone, metal) and uses,” said Bob Cheek, Texas director of merchandising/marketing for Gabberts Furniture and Design Studio. “Interior design has become much more fluid and personal.”

Home decorating is no longer about reproducing a look seen in the pages of “House Beautiful”; it’s about capturing an owner’s individuality by combining styles that showcase interests as well as history. Many high-income people who travel frequently collect modern art, glass sculptures or exotic artifacts they bring home to rest comfortably next to cherished family heirlooms like great-grandmother’s heirloom antique lace tablecloth or r or china set. “You just don’t walk into a room anymore and find that everything matches. It just doesn’t make it as interesting,” said Barb’ra Reynolds, A.S.I.D., owner of Reynolds Interior Design in Dallas.

Reynolds, who designed LeAnn Rimes’ home, said that the biggest change she’s seen among high-income clients is vivid use of color. “No more white walls! People used to be afraid of color, but not anymore,” Reynolds said. Tuscany-inspired earth colors such as russets, terracottas and siennas are popular, as areTuscany and Mediterranean titles in soft earth tones--anything that creates an aged, Old World look. “In Europe the tile installations are often irregular, and the handmade, irregular look adds charm and authenticity,” said Julie Reynolds, A.S.I.D., owner of Julie Reynolds Interiors in Dallas. Many newer houses with 15 foot or higher ceilings also feature spectacular domed ceilings painted with trompe l’oeils or Tuscan valley prints.

Faux finishing and hand troweling are still popular techniques for well-dressed walls, along with handmade wallpapers that offer distinctive elements such as random pieces of fiber or grass. Handcrafted faux finishes, elegant trompe l’oeil, and woodmolding wainscoting looks can now be achieved using high-end coverings.

The two decorating styles that are the most popular in upscale homes right now are Continental and Casual Elegance, according to Gabberts’ Cheek. Both take inspiration from classic design, incorporating architectural details in moldings, hardware, door panels and silhouette. Each also includes elements of stone, (marble, travertine, fossil stone) along with various metals and exotic combinations of wood-often in individual pieces.

The primary difference between the two is the palette. Continental case pieces, which are often interpretations of French or Italian designs with a Mediterranean flair, incorporate solid wood and exotic veneers in warm antique patinas of brown. The coordinating upholstery receives inspiration from the colors found in antique tapestries, while soft chenilles and woven tapestries are the fabrics of choice.

By contrast, the fabrics and finishes of Casual Elegance are much lighter, though no less formal. Furniture pieces are also generously scaled and use either lightly bleached wood veneers (often glazed with silver or gold) or faux-finishes to look like stone or actual stone. Upholstery fabrics are usually silk or damasks in metallic tones of bronze, silver and gold. “The look is grand, yet comfortable,” Cheek said.

Another look in demand is French Country, characterized by Provencal florals, French calligraphy, toiles and other types of documentary prints. Old, faded French blues and greens, on painted finish French furniture that’s peeling, creates the coveted “passed down through the generations” look.

Harris, who shops worldwide, loves to mix old pieces such as antique French chairs with modern elements such as a handmade English contemporary checkerboard rug. “The point is to make every one of your own collected pieces distinctive and wonderful in its own right,” she said.

Traditional design, meanwhile, remains a staple in many millionaires’ abodes. Updated architectural influences such as such as Greek key motifs and antique stone masonery, paired with opulent damasks, scrolls, and bouquet florals are ever-popular. “Formality will never die,” said Harris. “If you do it right, it never feels stuffy or overdone.”

While high-end homes have historically boasted beautiful, heavy drapery, many upscale customers now routinely rotate window treatments in summer, using light, sheer cottons for draft curtains and adding button slipcovers to pillows to lighten the look. Other classic, less structured looks hot at the moment are billowy silk draperies with trim and upholstered fabrics in patterned chenilles and woven tapestries.

Many upscale homes now routinely use a mixing of materials throughout the entire house, employing liberal use of tumbled marble, granite and natural stone. Kitchens boast luxuries such as wine cabinet closets accented with wrought iron gates and stainless steel, tumbled marble countertops, stone backsplashes, and commercial-quality appliances. The outdoor garden room is also a focal point in many high-end homes. They often boast fireplaces, fountains, and cushy, oversized living room sofas and chairs underneath their covered patios.

Whether they’re of modest means or millionaires, all homeowners are looking for three things when it comes to their home: style, value and comfort, according to Lauren Bryant, marketing director with Urban Home in Dallas. “Most people want their homes to be a refuge from the rest of the busy world. Sometimes that means a simple environment,” Bryant said.

She’s seeing a trend towards understated elegance, as people downsize to reduce clutter and sensory overload. When it comes to turning in after a long hard day, though, less is never more--even for minimalists. “No expense is spared when it comes to luxury bed linens,” said Bryant.