But the use of a simple two-color fabric created "a clean, lovely look," Douglas says. In short order, her Aunt Zelina introduced the rule-breaking French chintz to the American market.
Of course, Aunt Zelina just happened to be married to Roger Brunschwig, owner of a famous French fabric house. Mrs. B, as Douglas calls her aunt, was an accomplished decorator who orchestrated Brunschwig & Fils' growth from the 1930s through the 1970s.
Like her aunt, Douglas has a fabulous eye and a deep love of textile history. In Brunschwig & Fils Up Close, she delves happily into the stories behind toile and chinoiserie and the persistent influence of India's Tree of Life pattern. And she shows how some of her favorite Brunschwig patterns - there are 20,000 to choose from - are being used in museums and homes around the world.
Close readers of Douglas and Irvine's 1995 book Brunschwig & Fils Style will find one delicious surprise in this new volume: The Lafayette bedroom at Mount Vernon is not what it was.
Ten years ago, Douglas reproduced a period toile for the bed hangings and curtains. Then, in 2003, a letter surfaced in which Lafayette described his room as having "indienne" fabrics, a reference to Indian-inspired cotton prints with intricate pen work.
Douglas turned to a French fabric archive for an appropriate print to reproduce. No sooner were the curtains hung on Lafayette's bed than she found another sample of the same print.
"I realized mine was faded," she says.
In the 18th century, yellow was a particularly fugitive color. Which meant that green also was vulnerable to fading, because the only way to create green was to overprint yellow on blue. Douglas had given Mount Vernon a fabric that had a pattern of exotic blue and red flowers. It was pretty, "but without the green, not as lively," she says.
On her recommendation, the curators voted to redo the room with the new print she had uncovered.
In addition to being steeped in history, Douglas has her finger to the wind about decorating trends.
"We're at the tail end of the beige-and-white era," she says, not without regret. "People are welcoming brighter and sharper colors." She's also anticipating a return to floral prints.
"I even see chintz creeping back," Douglas says.
For some years now, the trend has been to choose solid colors for sofas and upholstery, and relegate prints or plaids to pillows.
"I think things are turning the other way," Douglas says. "People are selecting prints for their curtains and upholstery, and using solid colors as an accent."
Although the slipcover craze of the 1980s and '90s has waned, Douglas is personally an enthusiast.
"When I was growing up, my mother always had summer and winter slipcovers," she says.
In her own country home, she's religious about changing her decor with the seasons. In her dining room, for example, she trades her summer blue-and-white chair covers for her winter set, a salmon-colored damask-like weave.
"I even change the curtains," Douglas says. Her white summer sheers, edged with blue trim, are replaced by a cream, green and red stripe that looks cozy in the winter.
That sort of personal style is, as it has always been, the secret to decorating success.
"Today, people are trusting their own judgments, and they aren't afraid of mixing things up a bit," Douglas says. "Decorating is less solemn and more fun."
Chintz in a drawing room? Antiques in a contemporary loft? Mrs. B would be thrilled.