Interior Design Ideas: Eclectic Interior Design
AN ECLECTIC TASTE
When all is said and done, most people — including most professional designers — are happiest or at least more at ease with a rather eclectic look. It is, after all, only natural: you like a bit of this, a little of that, and maybe a touch of something else. One can draw an analogy with cooking: the most interesting dishes are an amalgam of different influences, the alchemy of the various flavours producing a delicious synthesis.
It is precisely this sort of mixing that makes decorating so exciting and varied, and which gives you such scope for your imagination. After all, purist decoration of whatever period by definition has to be fairly predictable. There are only so many early 18th-century styles —or, for that matter, available pieces. The same can be said of any other period. However different the backgrounds, the walls or the window and floor treatments, there cannot be any ‘shock of the new’ or even ‘shock of the different’, because, despite any overall beauty of the design or of your collection, the purist approach restricts you to ideas that have been realized a million times before in every combination imaginable.
Eclecticism, on the other hand (and if well done), is a real art. You mix periods and nationalities of furniture, paintings, sculptures, materials, objects and lighting to create, from all the disparate components, a whole that is completely harmonious. And it is an art of endless permutations. You can mix furnishings of different periods, linking them together with the best of modern background materials: beautiful cottons and wools, matting and tiles and wood. You can use 20th-century furniture in conjunction with classical Roman sculpture, 18th-century gouaches, Expressionist paintings and 19th-century oriental rugs. Other combinations are modern Italian, fifties, and classic Scandinavian furniture with a fine collection of photographs and folk art; abstraction and early oak; or Japanese lacquer, together with matting and Regency.
What you need to be successful when decorating eclectically (and make no mistake: if you are unsuccessful the results can be disastrous) are a sense of form, scale and colour, courage, most definitely a sense of humour and a willingness to experiment. One of the great things about the eclectic style is that it need not be at all costly, for any sensitive eye will be gratified by a judicious choice of colours and thoughtful juxtapositioning of even the most inexpensive of items.
In living rooms almost anything can be used — but there is one proviso: key or anchor pieces, such as sofas and armchairs, should be as comfortable as possible. However idiosyncratic or curious the general assemblage of furniture, paintings and objects, much of the interest and vivacity will be lost if it is impossible to feel physically comfortable in the room.
However different from each other the elements of a room might be, there should be some sort of common denominator — some theme — to unite them all. This is most usually colour — used as a harmonious background on the floor, the walls, or at windows and on some upholstery.
For instance, you might have a large old rug whose colours you could lift and repeat here and there in the room — in an armchair and a sofa, on an occasional chair, in some throw pillows or cushions, in the window treatments, the mounts or matts of prints, and so on. Or it might be that you paint the walls in a warm colour or a dark one, such as dark green, blue or red; any of these will act like the lining in a jewel box to show off your possessions, however disparate those possessions might be.
Another excellent background for a disparate assembly of furnishings is all-over white: white walls, white window treatments (shutters, perhaps) and a white floor (maybe tiles or bleached or painted floorboards). This approach generally makes everything look sculptural and three-dimensional. The use of coir or rush matting has a similar unifying effect, making a mixture of old and new, conventional and bizarre seem cohesive and right.
Interestingly, although rooms devoted exclusively to dining were a fairly late invention, the modern dining room is often the most traditional room in the house, with ‘Baronial’, late-18th-century, Regency or Victorian table, chairs and sideboard. Yet an eclectically furnished dining room can make for much more interesting eating — as long as it is remembered that the main purpose of a dining room is, of course, to provide a comfortable place in which to enjoy food, drink and conversation, and that any decoration should enhance the meal rather than distract from it. This means that background lighting should be soft and flattering, with specific lighting directed onto serving areas. Chairs, whatever their period, should be comfortable, and walls and floor and window treatments should act as a framework.
Since bedrooms are generally the most personal of rooms and are not usually on show to outsiders, they tend to evolve in somewhat haphazard ways. Thus, they are often the most eclectic room in the home. Very often memorabilia, photographs and small collections of ‘this and that’ jostling for room with books, mineral water, handcreams, make-up, hand mirrors, prints, small paintings, pillows and cushions, can all too easily — albeit charmingly — smother the actual furnishings. And this is nice for, with the best will in the world, it is less difficult to create a beautifully designed room than to keep it that way.
In fact, a precisely and carefully decorated bedroom, however beautiful, can look soulless and uninviting if it does not have its fair share of the detritus of personal life, which is almost by definition eclectic in nature. Be careful, though, not to accumulate too many bits and pieces on dressing tables and bedside tables. They could end up looking like a jumble of possessions and may distract from a well-planned decorative scheme. A judicious clearout once in a while helps to keep your bedroom clutter under control.
Studies and Other Areas
The time-honoured image of a study — somewhat battered leather armchairs and footstools, a well worn sofa, a flickering fire, a club fender, a capacious desk and shelves crammed with books — stems directly from the average ambience of the library in a typical 18th-century English country house. However, as that century drew to a close, domestic libraries changed: they turned more and more into general family living rooms, and men were forced into smaller versions of their grander libraries — their studies. Today, most studies tend to be somewhat eclectic, if only because, like the grander libraries of the past, they too tend to be family rooms, or casual smaller living rooms containing a desk and bookshelves.
Generally speaking, they are comfortable, cluttered, warm and informal, and more often than not they have a sofa that can be converted into a bed for occasional guests. The bookshelves may have a pediment or a Gothic curve, or be modern wall fitments with an integral working surface. The chairs may be of the capacious wing variety, or Charles Eames-style loungers. The rug or rugs could be oriental or calfskin or needlework. Whatever its varied ingredients, if a study is to be successful it must always seem warm and inviting.