Eclectic design. A thoughtful collaboration between different furniture styles or a decorating free-for-all? What do you think, Designers? Frankly, I’m not sure anymore, so I looked it up and Webster’s said, “Composed of elements drawn from various sources.” Gee, that was unsatisfying, so I went online and asked for the definition of “eclectic design” and several sources said basically the same thing: “…it is a planned design scheme with furnishings that relate to each other through color, shape, finish, texture or scale.”
That’s it? That tells me I can throw a random assortment of mismatched furniture in a room, paint them all red (so they relate), and that is good eclectic design? Or a room full of furniture shaped like a football, or really teeny, tiny furniture… that’s simply not enough of a guideline for such an important, game-changing trend to be executed properly.
Excuse me while I climb on my soapbox. Okay now, my point is where is the emotion here? Why wouldn’t this set of application “rules” include “should have a similar feeling” in the eclectic choices you make? Am I the only one who has to tag my designs with a mood projection so that when I’m looking at finishes, accessories and furniture, I can quickly assess its compatibility with the surrounding elements?
Think about past trends like the Tuscan look or Shabby Chick and the prolific accessory business it spawned. Nothing was spared that ochre antique or weathered white finish. God forbid we should hunt down a real vintage birdcage or invest in an antique Italian oil jug when they were pumping these illusions of authenticity out so cheaply.
I digress. My point is that our clients want atmosphere in their home. If asked, “What is the feeling you want in here?” they may just say, “Oh, make it warm and inviting.” But what they are really thinking is, “I want my guests to walk into my kitchen and feel a mild day in the Tuscan countryside where we will spend a leisurely afternoon visiting over wine and pasta al fresco next to the grape arbor.” They want to feel something and they want their home to project that feeling to their visitors. I say add it to the list.
Lately, I’ve frequently been stopped in my tracks by pictures of confusing room design claiming to be eclectic. For example, this airy room setting on the right has a beachy feel. Maybe it’s the Sisal rug or the starfish on the table, but the white-on-white with a pop of coral says “fresh” to me. Then you see this huge dark presence looming over the room. Who invited him? This lovely vintage breakfront full of old books looks as natural in this room as wearing a civil war costume to a beach party. Maybe if painted periwinkle or apple green with a white interior and less serious accessories it would blend in better and forgive the fact that it is freaky tall.
The primary reason I believe we need more guidelines is that this is not a trend that will run its course and then fall out of fashion. This is a trend that has given us permission to disregard the soul of good design, creating an atmosphere. If any chair goes with any chair and any light fixture can hang over any table, then the best we can expect emotionally from any eclectic room is the initial shock of seeing another rule broken. In the room above, luxurious Leontine monogram linens dress this bed with a padded silk taffeta headboard and matching bed skirt and a Thayer Coggin “X” bench sits at the foot of the bed. Hmmm, it needs artwork. I know… molded plastic panels with a mirrored finish from the 70s will really complement that bed!
That bedroom is an excellent example of the potential slippery slope of an “anything goes” attitude. Everything doesn’t go with everything, period. You have to be sensitive to the feeling you are creating and only invite furniture and accessories that will enhance your intended atmosphere. This, by the way, is not always easy to do. It’s disturbing to sit in a totally decorated room and feel nothing, like the bedroom above where you don’t know what to feel.
The amazing refurbished barn to the right, with a raised living space, first floor, center, makes an architectural frame around this eclectic mix of furnishings. Unified by food colors, this modern pumpkin-orange slipper chair is relating to the classic Bergere chair in tomato-red mohair. The mid-century coffee table relates to the 17th century oil painting, both with “century” in their name. The bottom line here is that nobody is talking. The pieces do not do each other justice and the individual charm of each piece sits dormant. It looks like furniture waiting on a loading dock to be picked up.
Eclectic design could be exciting, with a whole new world of combinations to create, provided that the basic principles of design are respected within the concept. Different is good. The contrast amongst the different styles is exactly what highlights the individual beauty of each piece. The merits of one particular chair could be lost in a room full of antiques. However, when paired with a modern table, the chair and table are each suddenly more exceptional.
One eclectic application I love is this grand contemporary home built in the round with a main sky-lit hallway where rooms branch off. The strong bold architectural design feels futuristic to me—like a passageway on the Star Trek Enterprise. What softens this potentially sterile environment are these pieces from the past: a distressed statue from the first century greets you at the top of the hall, a smattering of weathered queen Anne chairs act as docent, while the key piece, a dresser circa 1900, looks like it was found in an architectural dig. This eclectic application is rich with texture and history, making this foyer an interesting space.
To the right is another room that makes sense to me. It’s like a nature play… the tree trunks play the table base, the giant sea urchin is starring as the chandelier, Hansel is lending the 18th century Italian chairs to the production and the apple blossoms are playing in the background. This whimsical collection of organic elements is charming and becomes legitimate due to the sophisticated color palette.
Tell me Designers, what do you think of this “Cattelan Italia” ad below? Good or bad eclectic design?
Lastly, when it comes to staying current on design trends, exploring what’s new and to finding inspiration, I don’t go to the Internet. I refer to print publications. Always have. I trust the longtime editors of Elle Décor, Veranda, House and Garden, etc., to have integrity and what I read is what they say it is.
The Internet is an open forum with no quality control. It is stuffed with closet decorators who decorated their own home and now they have a website. I see some whacky room that an energetic wanna-be has posted and I think, OMG! Is sponge-painting coming back? No time for that nonsense. These last two images are from such a website. When searching for “eclectic design” this list of six different “eclectic” rooms came up. Here are two examples:
Formal Eclectic Living Room
This formal living room has a mixture of both traditional and modern contemporary furnishings. The upright piano is very traditional, yet the artwork on the wall above it is quite modern. The corner china cabinet, chair, coffee table and area rug are all very traditional while the fireplace, window treatment and ceiling design give the room a modern look. The color red is repeated in the artwork, valance and area rug.
This traditional looking brick fireplace has an eclectic display featuring a traditional pendulum clock with matching brass candle holders. These vintage accessories are mixed with contemporary accents including an Asian figurine, a crystal and porcelain egg, a modern glass vase with elegant pink orchids and a house plant in a brass pot. The brass and live greenery help tie it all together.