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`Mansion-style' decorating reflects glamour and luxury of the past

`MANSION-STYLE'' sums up the interiors of this season's crop of decorator show houses on display recently from Manhattan to Washington, D.C. Whether city townhouse or castle-by-the-sea, these dwellings are big and glamorous. Their grandiloquent architecture recalls the glitter and gold of ages past. Decorator show houses always involve a lot of show biz. They are full of fantasy, color, and pattern, and are a lavish display of furnishings and fabrics. They are fun to view and packed with ideas, and they are always popular fundraisers for worthy causes. Designers spend their own time and money to transform assigned rooms, glad for wider exposure of their talents, always hopeful of attracting new clients. They project decorating trends, and, for many, the ideas they generate are well worth the $10 or so price of admission. Highlights from this year's tour included:

David Barrett's sitting room-library at the Cobble Court showcase house, in which he used five different but color-related paisley designs in a room with both glazed walls and parquet floors in pomegranate red.

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Mario Buatta's traditional English country style drawing room at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House, done in a restful new wall color - a watery, bluish green like you see in swimming pools.

Bebe Winkler's fabric-draped space at Castles-on-the-Sound made notable by her use of tassels, braids, and trims, and pillows covered with antique tapestry and needlepoint. She says she detects a return to dressier finishing details and tapestry-like fabrics.

Jean Leonard, in her room in the same Gothic-style mansion, also used tapestry and needlepoint. ``Both are very classical and very English,'' she said, ``and both seem to be coming back in warm, dark colors.''

Albert Pensis's bright, crisp garret retreat at Chieftans, the showhouse in Greenwich, Conn., where his restraint put the room, in his words, ``at a livable level where one could sit down and feel at home and not feel that the decorating was trying to outdo Versailles.'' His palette was rose and blue-gray with green accents. The floor was handpainted faux marble, and the white-on-white shell design wallpaper provided a good foil for paintings.

The ``print room,'' created by Nicola Wingate-Saul for the Irish Georgian Society at the first International Decorators Showhouse in Washington, made waves. This decorative form was fashionable during the late 18th century and is now experiencing a revival. A print room is created by gluing prints directly on a wall, along with engraved chains, ropes, bows, swags, and borders.

As for fabrics, show chairman Anthony Brown says the trend was away from chintz - ``chintz has been done to death'' - and toward plainer fabrics and a late-Victorian look in brocades, velvets, and tapestries.

There were bleached pine and hardwood floors. The stone look was obvious in many rooms. Some designers preferred the real thing, others used Avonite, a new manmade polyester material that looks like quarried marble, granite, or onyx but doesn't scratch.

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Antique birdcages have become a favored decorative accessory as have architectural prints, old lace, paintings of dogs and other animals, and family photographs displayed in ornate silver frames.

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