Bring a little romance into your decor

Posted: August 03, 2007

What we all need now is a little more romance in our lives - and inside our homes.

The outside world is awfully rough on our psyches. We're bombarded with unending e-mails, ringing cell phones, and frustrating commutes to and from work.

It's no wonder that many of us crave the kind of romantic comfort we see in movies. Candlelight. Champagne on ice. Soft colors. Feel-me fabrics. Dressing tables. Beds draped with fabric or mosquito netting.

Designer Florence Pion has done a bit of research on this subject. A few years ago, she asked her antiques class at Florida Atlantic University to name their favorite decorating style. The students, ages 22 to 48, overwhelming said they preferred "romantic."

"Each one said they wanted a romantic atmosphere with soft lighting and candles," Pion says. "In other words, the period was not as important as the feeling. At the time, they were all going to thrift shops, and they were in love with the past."

A new design book, Jessica McClintock's Simply Romantic Decorating (Rodale, $32.50), takes you through the steps to transform your home into a romantic nest.

McClintock includes everything from tips on creating beautiful backgrounds to advice on cooking, dining and entertaining.

And, if anyone knows romance, it's McClintock, best-known as the go-to fashion designer for old-fashioned wedding gowns and prom dresses. This book completes her foray into home furnishings, which includes designing furniture for American Drew, C.R. Laine and Lea Furniture, rugs for Loloi, and lighting for Minka.

"I just love to think of a room as a beautiful jewel box," she says in a telephone interview from her home in San Francisco. "Bring into it memories of historical references, and fine-tune it into a little jewel box with colors you like and paintings."

She also suggests classic elements such as wooden panels from older homes, architectural capitals in the corners of rooms, and painted details such as soft vines or cascading flowers. Colors are muted. Soft lighting comes from candles and sconces.

"With me, romance is all about the structure, the color, the fabrications I use, the furniture," McClintock says. "It's so overwhelming that many people don't know where to start."

As an apparel designer, she likes to start with swatches of fabric. She prefers soft colors that look natural and aged, nothing new or shiny. Think off-white, cream, rich taupe, or gold.

"Wood that has been lived on and walked on for 10 years looks better than wood just placed on the floor," she says. "A house that is lived in has beautiful pieces of furniture and experiences in romantic situations. You draw from the essence of older things."

McClintock suggests using glazes on the walls to make them look as if they have been aged, starting with sage, for example, and adding soft glazes such as gray lavenders.

Designer Barbara Maker says about 50 percent of her clients are looking for a romantic style.

"It's usually the master bedroom or bath where the woman wants something softer and more feminine," Maker says. "She is content if the rest of the house is more tailored."

If the husband objects, Maker points out that a romantic atmosphere is more conducive to inspiring intimate encounters.

The typical male response: "If this is going to provide a better relationship for romance, then I'm in."

To make a man feel more comfortable, Maker says, you shouldn't go over the top with a frilly, girly look.

Use subtle rather than large-scale prints. Select soft, neutral colors and throw in some darker tones. Add a comfortable chair for his TV viewing. If the woman wants a draped night table, the man can have a less-girly wooden table.

Recently, Maker says, she decorated a home that had a free-standing tub. The clients didn't like the look, so she added two drapery panels hanging from the ceiling and surrounded the tub with plants. She put a skirted vanity next to it, adding another romantic touch.

But romantic decorating isn't easy to define. Like love, it means different things to different people.

So Maker took us through some photos to illustrate what romance can mean in your home:

Drape it. Hang drapes or mosquito netting from the ceiling over a bed. Drape round tables with floor-grazing cloths.

Add a dressing table. The style doesn't matter. It can be wood or draped with fabric. Either way, it will bring back the romance of old Hollywood. Use the accessories that represent romance, such as a perfume tray with crystal bottles, and family photos.

Select feminine fabrics. Look for fabrics with a soft feel, such as silks, velvets and chenille. Prints should be subtle. Pump up the romance on pillows with tassels and fringe.

Soften the rectangles. Layer pillows on your bed to make it more welcoming. Add throw rugs to your floors.

Control the light. Layer draperies with sheers and room-darkening drapes. Crystal chandeliers add elegance and soft, filtered light. Use plenty of candles. Put dimmers on all lights, even in the kitchen and the hallways.

McClintock suggests exposing yourself gradually to romantic design.

"Take care," she says. "Your home is not the place for immediate gratification. Follow your mind, your eyes, and your heart."

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