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A Little Touchy

Add the Timelessness of Texture to a Room

When renowned interior designer, Gary Inman, was called on to design "A Gentleman's Retreat" for the National Symphony Designer House two years ago, he found the project became a provocative study on a forgotten design basic: texture.

As people entered the room, they swooned to the sensuous touch of the walls clad in Pend O'Reille's leather, chenille upholstery and cashmere drapes. Texture, Inman says, is the design equivalent of comfort food. "The interesting thing was that as people toured the house, everyone said, 'Don't touch. Don't touch. Don't touch,'" he says. "Then, when they came into our room, we invited them to touch the walls and touch the cashmere drapes. You never have seen such excitement because they had been walking through this house feeling like they were in a museum."

Inman, president and principal designer of Chatsworth Interiors in Richmond, Va., finds people are obsessed with color. They forget how important it is to create a tactile response to a room.

Fabrics of Choice
Inman says he favors organic products because they come from nature; having a polyester throw rug is not the same as a wool or chenille throw. "I think people enjoy touching linens and fine cottons and woolens," he says. "They have been used as materials for centuries. They have a longevity and there is a sort of comforting effect to that you can't get from synthetic fabric." He selects refined fabrics such as cashmeres and wool flannels for upholstery as well as velvets.

Nancy Colbert, an interior designer with Design Partners in Great Falls, Va., says she finds chenille and other soft fabrics give people the nesting feel. "One of the things most people tell me in an interview is they want their homes to be comfortable, and they think of soft fabrics as an avenue that can provide them with that soft feeling and sense of comfort," Colbert says.

Colbert views texture as a way of contrasting surfaces. "Everything in a space brings an element of texture," she says. "You want to contrast rough and smooth, shiny and dull, soft and hard. You can have texture in wood furniture as well. You can have crackled finishes on a piece or a tortoise shell finish."

Walls: More Than a Canvas
Colbert says walls are a major surface area for exploring texture. She says some of her clients desire limestone walls that were popular in the past.

Inman says he is also seeing a resurgence of the use in grass cloth, string paper and paper-backed fabrics.

Interior design consultant Shirree Krahn, of Georgetown, Texas, says bringing texture into a home does not need to be expensive. She says walls may be transformed by a faux painting or by adding a contrasting color, which can create an illusion of texture. "The thing to remember is your home is a direct reflection of your personality," Krahn says.

Textured Flooring
From Tibetan-style hand-knotted rugs to Japanese tatami floor mats, textured flooring is universal and gives any room more depth and interest. Japanese interiors emphasize texture as a way of balancing opposites, or the yin and yang. Highly polished floors, for instance, might be contrasted with heavily textured mats.

Meanwhile, Italian tile manufacturers have brought texture and style to American bathrooms and kitchens. Concrete porcelain tile, stone-inspired porcelain and stone have the natural textured look. Cotto Veneto, an Italian company, recently expanded its collection of finishes with a line of textured terra cotta motifs that mimic the look of linen while Grazia introduced a new ceramic tile that has the look of traditional American beadboard.

Installing a hardwood floor is one of the most common ways homeowners add texture. By studying architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Inman learned architecture should come from the genius of the location itself. Therefore, whatever species of wood is found in the landscape should be reflected in the building. "We do work all over and we always try to reflect the natural landscape," he says. "If I were working in South Carolina, for instance, I might use cypress floors because cypress is such an important tree in that part of the country."

Embellishments
Mies van der Rohe once said, "God is in the details," and Inman expresses that philosophy by embellishing a room with accessories.

Vendors this season are flooding the market with lamps with beads and feather fringes, all aimed at bringing frivolity to pieces. Inman sees it as part of an overall trend toward hand craftsmanship.

People have a tendency, when their lives are chaotic and when they are bombarded by the modern age and its cell phones and faxes, to revert to an easier time when life was not as hectic. "There is a real interest in things that have the appearance of being made by an artist, so things have bead work on them or more intricate trims or just rich finishes like parchment shades or silk shades that have some sort of silk embroidery attached to them," Inman says. "All of that is anti-modern, anti-information age."

Antique Finds
Reed furniture and rattan is The American Wing's area of expertise. And it's by refurbishing the reed pieces made in the United States in the teens, '20s and '30s that they create those points of departure that make a house a home.

Mark Oliver, owner of The American Wing in Bridgehampton, N.Y., has the furniture refurbished for a new generation of use. "Often I buy the furniture and people will say they have the original cushions in the original fabric," Oliver says. "My experience is that nobody wants to sit on somebody else's lumpy old cushions. They want new, clean, fresh cushions so over the years I have developed a way of doing it."

With the bamboo furniture he carries, Oliver looks for items that have the root of the bamboo still attached. "I will sell a little side table and instead of having plain four legs, the legs will be made of bamboo, and the termination of the bamboo on the floor will be the root of the bamboo itself," he says. "It is a very organic, knobby looking thing that makes it more appealing than just a cut off little leg."

Although his clients – many of whom are architects and designers – have the resources to purchase new products, they prefer antiques and Oliver's refurbished furniture. His furniture finds lend themselves to the designers' artistic visions with such unusual shapes and varying sizes and styles.

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