One of the few – very few, actually – good things about the months following the holidays is that it’s time for big sales on home furnishings and bedding. Thank God! If, like myself, you live in the Northeast, you became somewhat sullen about a warm, dreary Christmas Day and rainy New Year’s, the arrival of daily home furnishing and fashion sales catalogues has become a thing of beauty. (I really should get out of the house more!)
For those of us who may have packed on an extra pound or two (or twenty) over the holidays, the look for spring in both fashion and furnishings is lean, clean and green. (We should all applaud ourselves here right now for being able to achieve at least one out of three, folks.) Yes, it’s time to pare down, in more ways than one!
While you’re poring over the catalogues from Pottery Barn, Macy’s, Ikea, Thomasville, Ethan Allen, and your local mom-and-pop furniture stores, stacked up next to them most likely are the catalogues from Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Dillingers, Delias, Abercrombie & Fitch, Loehmann’s and more. Your local department stores have also been keeping the postal service busy as well, featuring ads on both spring clothing and new and sale furniture. This month’s issue of Vogue alone must have been two inches high, chock full of dramatic, breathtakingly beautiful ads of (mostly) spring couture and accessories.
I’m assuming that the consumer nation worldwide is growing more than a little tired of boiled wool, houndstooth, grey flannel, quilted jackets and vests, to say nothing of suede boots and huge leather hobo bags. Much like a tray of Christmas cookies, these heavy, wintery looks literally and figuratively weigh us down. Spending a day and a half perusing Vogue could be the equivalent high of 20 mgs. of Paxil for those of us who have seen way too much fleece, wool, and heaven help us, even cashmere.
We are also quite tired of lugging out the goose down comforter to throw on the bed each night, of inching the thermometer up little by little, of weeping silently as we pay our gas and utility bills, of ‘nesting’ in our own apartments and houses when the high temperature for the day will be an eye-popping 12 degrees…Spring is not that far away, thank goodness. And now is the time to ‘lighten up’ both our wardrobes and our homes.
Take a look at designers’ visions for spring: dark, skinny jeans are still hot (darned it!), as well as polished tops, well-constructed Bermuda shorts in earth tones (the kind that you can wear to the office with opaque tights or really, really tanned and toned legs underneath), and the classic, clean lineage of Chanel, Dior and Galliano continues to live on. Remember the gowns worn by the stars at this year’s Golden Globes? Straight lines, little fluff, lots of silhouettes, cool (as in not warm) colors such as the St. John strapless grey ruched gown worn by Angelina Jolie. Not a Bjork in sight that evening! (Well, there was that Nicolette Sheridan number that looked like her stylist had wrapped her in black packing tape before she stepped out of her limo, but that’s fodder for perhaps another article.) This was a night chock full of godesses in more ways than one.
Sophisticated black gowns with beautiful ruching and lines, lemony yellow strapless gowns, a touch of peach here and there… Airy, well-defined looks for spring are in, thank goodness. Turn away from the light of Donatella Versace, with her explosions of gold lame and leopard print on every moveable body part; you’re heading in the wrong direction there. Versace must truly believe that we all live the Miami night life in a town that apparently has a daily temperature of 90 degrees year round and the main occupation for a large number of its population is clubbing. Well, Donatella, sweep away that wall of bleached extensions and listen up here girl: we don’t want to wear a gold long-sleeved shirt., or even a sleeveless one.
Or a gold skirt. Or a gold lame dress. Or a huge gold shoulder bag that proclaims “I have money but absolutely no taste! I spent more money on this bag than the entire cost of a school breakfast program for several small Kentucky towns!” We want the lightness of the nature of spring itself. We want to feel unencumbered. We want to look lean and mean (mean mostly because we’ve dieted outselves past the point of oblivion and are still really, really ticked off about that.) And the casual wear, sportswear and couture designers are giving us just that. Simple sells – it’s as ‘simple’ as that.
Why is this such a hot button issue for me? We’ve lived in a truly lovely, large home for the past fourteen years. I also happen to be married to a man who views both fashion and home furnishings in literally the same way: if it aint’ broke, don’t fix it. I honestly have the oversized college sweatshirt that he bought for me when I was pregnant with our first child (who is now twenty!) What was fashionable both in clothing and home decorations and style fourteen years ago has thankfully changed. However, those changes have not made an impact on my own home. I am personally stuck living in a home that looks like my 84 year old mother’s best friend decorated it. (She’s 86!)
A Victorian floral love seat in the entrance foyer, paired with a flat-backed hall rack that I have had a hate-hate relationship with for the past ten years. (When I removed the love seat yesterday to vacuum the rugs in the room, I begged my blithering spouse to consider how great the room would look with ‘less furniture’. ‘Hey, I think it looks great just the way it is. Are you planning on getting rid of anything in there? You’d better let me know if you are, ’cause I like this stuff’ – hence, blithering.) The wallpaper in our master bedroom brings tears of despair to my eyes. It’s a huge, huge room with really cool crown and dentil molding. The original owners went with a hunter green and burgundy look: the carpeting is hunter green, as is all of the molding and the interior doors. The wall paper above the molding itself is a floral nightmare in shades of – what else – hunter green, burgundy, and white.
We have a triple window that looks out over the back yard; the drapery for this huge window is (again) a floral pattern in shades of ‘hunter green, burgundy, and white’ that doesn’t quite exactly match the wallpaper, thank God, but comes pretty damned close. (Did I mention that the interior window sills are painted hunter green as well?) On a small scale, I can’t begin to imagine what this would look like.
Thankfully, the room is large enough to contain a king sized bed, two nightstands, an armoire, a mirror and full sized dresser, a (hunter green) recliner and side table, plus the computer stand with printer stand from which I work. Aaaaagh! It was much worse, if you can imagine that, before I removed the very heavy drapes from the window and left just the valance up on the windows. Again with the ‘aaaagh’!! In an effort to make the room look larger and less cluttered, we recently got rid of a queen sized sleeper sofa that had been in the room since our youngest daughter had gone through that “I want to sleep with mommy and daddy” stage. (That’s probably why she’s our youngest, if you get my drift!)
This is, sadly, the longest time we’ve ever lived in the same house.(I have always loved the adventure of moving and re-doing a new home.) As is my husband’s trademark, he had all of the rooms on the first floor painted in what he tenderly refers to as ‘resale beige’. It was only last summer that I whined long and loudly enough to get him to paint our kitchen a really neat shade of dark avocado green. The room looks amazing! (It was that crummy beige look before). As a final parting blow as to how bad his decorating sensibility is, he painted all of the kitchen, but STOPPED at the wall that leads out into the hallway. (That section remains the beige color from hell). To say that it looks odd is an understatement. I dream of getting him out of the house long enough that I can furtively continue the paint color for the balance of that wall. (He’s retired – could you tell?!)
One of the coolest new looks in spring furniture fashions is leather furniture (sofas, chairs, loveseats) in light colors. (Those of us who own cats or dogs with rather scruffy nails may wince at this idea.) There is nothing quite like the feel of leather – soft, buttery, and with that awesome ‘leather’ smell. (Those of us who also belong to PETA may have some moral problems with this issue, here, as well.) For anyone who does appreciate leather furniture, the ‘new’ looks are quite interesting. While black appears to have lost favor (except, I guess, in attorneys’ offices and banks), the new tones of leather are white, beige, cream, yellow, peach, dark orange (I know there’s a name for that color, I just can’t for the life of me remember what it is), and celery (yes, celery!) Most of these pieces are sectionals, which means that you can add or remove seats to accomodate your own digs. Arms are rounded, curved, squared off, or in some cases, nonexistent.
The leather is either tufted (for a more formal look) or smooth, and optional leather seating arrangements include individual chairs (high-backed or arm chairs), love seats and really great ottomans that can serve as a ‘coffee table’ and provide even more seating in tight quarters. You can dress up or down the look of leather furniture by using matching leather or contrasting fabric colored pillows as well; you could even change the looks of your leather furniture by bringing out the ‘springier’ colored fabrics in warm weather, storing away darker pillows for cooler days (or days when your guests will include children). It’s a look that’s analagous to that All-American fashion staple, the shirt/wrap dress, popularized by Diane von Furstenberg (whom I believe is also the mother of CNN’s Anderson Cooper, but again, another day, another article!) The basic style of the shirt dress remains the same, but the fabrics are the true reflection of the season. Long the darling of women who travel for business or pleasure, the jersey wrap dress made a big return to fashion popularity about two years ago, and shows no signs of decline. Like leather (or even ‘handmade’ leather-like) fashions, the look for the fashion classic wrapdress is a timeless staple; like leather furnishings, you’ll pay more for your purchase but it will last you for quite a long time. Again, it’s the colors that define your choice.
Another interesting trend in furniture is the styling of coffee and end tables. These now tend to serve dual purposes: the coffee tables have drawers, unlike former styles of bone-crunchingly contemporary glass and brass/silver tables which were not only a pain to keep clean but also somewhat dangerous when coming into contact with a small child’s head or other sensitive bodily parts. The newer looks in tables have a utilitarian approach. Not only can you store items in the coffee and end tables drawers, a lot of the new looks feature both tables as being high/tall enough that you can store things under them! We’re talking about adding more seating again here, folks. Benches or even cubes are stored beneath the tables, waiting to be pulled out if more room is needed. These ‘extra chairs’ can be either of the same wood as the larger tables, or made of a contrasting or complementing fabric. Either way, this new style is great for apartment-dwellers and families who extensively use their family or living rooms, but want a cleaner, softer look, instead of stuffing it with bulky extra chairs.
Take a look at the handbags that some of the top designers are putting on the spring sale block. One of my favorites is a bag by Marc for Marc Jacobs. (My youngest daughter received one as a holiday gift; it came directly from the Manhattan store in its dust bag, with the price tag – $1,180.00 – still attached. Needless to say, the bag is STILL resting comfortably in its dust bag so far.) This particular bag is a fan-shaped hobo style shoulder bag; primarily constructed of a lightwash denim blue fabric, the bag’s handles and trim are all in white leather. It’s a pretty big bag (about 14″ wide), and has the mandatory inside zippered pocket (below the Marc Jacobs logo tag), plus three separate little compartments, each suitable to hold a set of keys, a cell phone, and your Ipod. What’s even niftier is that the outside of the bag has three separate zippered compartments as well; if you need a place to stick your lipstick or lip gloss, your reading glasses, change or whatever, there you go!
For such a really beautiful bag, it’s pretty utilitarian too. I’m also smitten with the Botkier summer bags as well. What I’ve always liked about Botkier’s styles is that they hold an awful lot of stuff in a bag that doesn’t look like a suitcase. The first thing you notice about a Botkier is its rich, luscious leather (oops!). My own ‘winter’ Botkier is a really beautiful caramel colored bag made of goatskin, with a suede interior. Like the Marc Jacobs bag, it has several well-thought-out interior zippered and open compartments. It also has two side compartments as well, each with a turn closure. Spring and summer handbags, especially the hobo/shoulder bags, have become objects that are both gorgeous in appearance and extremely functional in making the most of their space.
You can bring a bit of spring’s softness to your furnishings by alternating those ottomans or storage cubes in the tables: clear off the tops of the tables and dress it up with a simple glass vase and one or two long-stemmed buds. If you have enough of the fabric cubes, consider a quick reupholstery job on them with a new, more exciting color or design. The concept of having ‘extra storage’ that’s elegantly hidden away in both home furnishings and handbags is a really ‘hot’ new trend. While we’re on the subject of tables, have you taken a look at what’s now being offered as tables for the large plasma and flat screen televisions? Instead of bulky wooden three-unit ‘entertainment centers’, manufacturers are whipping out two-shelf long, low tables, many of them with plexiglass or glass tops. (You rarely used those extra ‘entertainment center’ bookshelf units anyway, didn’t you? They seemed ripe for having to fill them up with DVD’s, CD’s, and (in our house, at least) trinkets, just to make them look not quite so empty.
If you’re a fan of the style, rest assured that the “Bordeaux” and “Queen Anne” styles of furnishings are still popular – just not as popular as they have been over the years. (A recent sale brochure featured all of the ‘newer’ looks in its first dozen or so pages; the larger, bulkier styles garnered maybe four or five pages at most, at the very back of the brochure. Most suites in these styles were bedroom and dining room.) There will always be a market for sleigh and canopied beds in polished dark woods. A look that continues into this spring is the increasingly popular white bedroom set. White furniture has traditionally been the look for a baby’s nursery and little girls’ furniture. The ‘new’ white bedroom, however, is a softer, creamier color than the stark look of Jack or Alexa’s first room, with its white on white changing tables, headboards, tiny dressing tables, and chests of drawers.
Again, the lines of the ‘grown up’ version of white bedroom furnishings is clean and well-crafted, with its inspiration coming from a lot of lifestyles: beach or resort homes, the Cape Cod look, and more than a little of the Martha Stewart influence. The color is not so much pure ‘white’ as it is ‘shabby chic’ – a bit of a whitewashed, handed-down-from my grandmother look. The bed generally has a large flat or arched headboard that actually has the appearance of beadboard, another decorating trend that’s really caught on in the last year or so. (Bead board is an adhesive covering that goes on like wallpaper; it makes the surface to which it is applied look very slightly ‘beaded’. Its most popular use is as wallpaper, it’s usually always sold in white or less frequently a creamy beige color, and the beauty of it is that is really dresses up a piece with character! Its lines usually run vertically, but it is can be found with horizontal beading or diamond shapes. Best of all, it can be used ‘as is’ as a wall paper, or it can be painted in any color that you choose. I myself am thinking seriously about buying numerous rolls and sneaking them into my own home; perhaps my husband will have a week-long golf trip to South Carolina soon!)
So much in praise of bead board – back to the white furniture trend. Nothing says spring or summer like a muted white bedroom set. Nothing opens up a small room like it. Plus, it’s very versatile in that you can accessorize it for each and every season. The tops of the furniture are generally in a formulated wood veneer such as oak, maple, rarely cherry (too ‘formal’ of a wood for this style), and sometimes are painted white or gold. (Word to the wise: Do not go with the gold. Don’t ask. Just don’t go there. It looks stupid and cheap.) You can get the full range of bedroom furniture in this style: headboard, dresser, mirror, desk, night stands, chair, armoire. The whole look is reminiscent of a summer bedroom in Old Cape Cod, or Maine.
Some of the recommended manufacturers I’ve found for this look are Thomasville and Ethan Allen, based on our own experience. (Our daughters all now have this style of bedroom.) The look is cool and breezy for the spring and summer, and cheerful and bright for both fall and winter. The good thing about this type of bedroom suite is that you can lighten up the whole look of the room with light, gauzy window coverings for spring and summer – single sheers in jewel tones set on a single drapery rod are a great idea. Come chillier days and nights, you can replace the sheers with pre-hemmed fabrics in tartans or plaids, or darker jewel-toned colors (amber, red, chocolate brown). While this style of bedroom furniture may not be quite the cup of tea for everyone, it really is worth considering. The lightness of the color and innate ‘shabby chic’ style are really very impressive. It IS kind of a bold step into a different direction. A lot of designers showed another bold step with the introduction of leopard-print dresses among both their winter and spring lines this year.
One of my favorite versions is sleeveless, with a rounded neckline and knee-length hem. The beauty of this dress is that it can be worn for every season: with a brown turtleneck and tights for winter, a short-sleeved black cashmere top for fall, and ‘as is’ for spring and summer, dressed up or down with a belt or jewelry, ballet flats or high heels, even slouchy boots. You can go wild with imagination with this simple, clean look: a black belt, a gold or silver toned belt, gold or silver jewerly, black or white jewelry, …whether it’s a white bedroom set or a simple print dress, put your own imprint on it! When you come across an innovative new look for spring, whether you’re looking to add some light, airy looks in your home or in your closet, go with it, put your own imprint on it and make it your own!