Ask A Designer
Choosing Furnishings for Those Who Move A Lot
Q. I am married to a naval officer who is stationed in a tropical area. My children and I are with him for the majority of the year in a nice home that we expect to keep for three years.
From there, we may have a few more tours of duty before his retirement in 8 years when we will retire to southern Kentucky. Can you give me advice on how to decorate around my neutral furniture (a necessity in Navy life) with quality things that I would continue to use even if we aren’t in a tropical place? We entertain officers and need to have the right atmosphere, but I can’t see throwing money and my time away. What would you suggest?—K.S.
A. Any time we want to transcend a particular look or period of time, we choose items which have only one element which can relate to that style. For instance, you might use a maroon fabric today in a way that looks fresh, but you wouldn’t combine it with emerald and gold which would be recognizable as a specific trend which has passed.
In your home when you use a tropical color, make it a classical item that looks good anywhere. Conversely, when you display a tropical motif, use a non-tropical color. For example, in these photos the bright red ceramic pieces are of universal design. The vases of coral motif are of simple cream. A gentle touch of the area is desirable such as in this collection of neutral and aqua decor.
If you live in a different climate, simply separate the coral and shell motifs from each other and add other natural things in brown, other mineral or natural colors including dark, rich tones. To accomplish quality, look for items that are sufficiently large for the space and with consistent, sturdy construction. Avoid sea grasses and things that look like they belong in a cabana. Imagine yourself entertaining dignitaries when making all selections.
Oriental rugs are never wrong in places of culture, but neither is a well chosen designer or artistic piece. Choose medium-scaled furniture in shapes which have some traditional value so that they will always seem in place. Simple lines are excellent for a hot climate or any busy place. This sleek wing chair is a good example. The parchment linen fabric has more personality than raw linen while the antiqued wood will coordinate with hardwood floors and other things when you go home.
Don’t be afraid of distinctly colorful or tropical items if they are of the type that would be ready for replacement in 3 years anyway such as functioning textiles and candles. If none of your favorite colors happen to be tropical, just use a brighter version of your favorite. You will enjoy how it works for you in another home, too. This is a good time to stretch the things you already enjoy!
Q. I have read your column before and know that you always recommend compromise for couples, but everything I have read refers to style or color. My husband is more artistic than I am, to tell you the truth. He is agreeable about just about every fabric or rug I select. The problem we have is in how much to put in the room and what size furniture. He is very tall and wants big boxy things which I can understand. I am small with short legs.
We are using a sofa that is 15 years old because every time we go to the store, we leave exhausted and in a disagreement. Besides that, I like a lot of pretty things on the walls and tables. Our house is very neat, but he says he can’t stand the clutter. I’m about to give in to his idea to have a big print on the sofa (sized for him) and have only metal decor on the wall. I have some beautiful antique prints (very valuable) in delicate colors that would die with that sofa. I can’t see pushing him too far, but in my own situation, I just can’t imagine what a compromise would be.—B.W.
A. The size issue you described is very common for couples. The sofa is typically the piece which has to go one person’s way or another, since a medium-scale piece is a misfit for each of you. If the room is large, I fit the sofa to the husband and then add pillows and a foot stool for the wife. If the room is small, I fit the sofa for the wife.
Focus on personal chairs in positions that you agree work for you. A high back or a skirt on a chair adds visual height which makes it closer to the overall visual size of his unskirted chair.
When you plan a room for someone significantly larger than you (or perhaps needs a walker or wheel chair), it is a good idea to walk through imagining you are that person. Hold a yardstick to mimick the person’s girth and also shoulder width. Then, turn and attempt and move quickly. Trouble spots will quickly emerge.
Boxy furniture is not necessary anywhere but in a vast open space such as a loby. Remind your husband of where he has seen such pieces. We each have a tolerance for the amount of “clutter” that pleases us. Your husband is obviously confident and straightforward while you are detail-oriented and careful. Since he values artistic merit, tell him that the prints are important to you and talk about how to frame them. I suggest matting in cream or linen and then framing with something that blends closely to the mat so that no concentric rectangles are created. Arrange the pieces close to each other so that they read as one or two units. He will no doubt be pleased with your efforts and contribute to a healthy discussion about the room.
Use his artistic skills to your advantage and ask which colors he would like to emphasize. Try to purchase things you both like for any room you share, because you can only plan so much. My plans backfired with a recent room I designed for my parents. I selected a large forest green recliner with tiny streaks of color for my father to be placed in the best corner of the room for TV viewing which is also out of the way of traffic. Mom, who is more social was pleased with matching swivel chairs of floral tapestry on the open side of the room closest to the dining area. You guessed it. My father usually perches on one of the floral chairs with knees up around his ears. He says it glides nicely.
Editor’s Note: We welcome all questions related to home design—ask us about color, room arrangement, planning for a new home, selecting furnishings, lighting, flooring, and more. Questions are answered by Tanna Miller, allied member ASID, a well respected designer who has operated her award winning interior design practice, Trends & Traditions, in Nashville for 18 years. Contact Tanna at www.shopdesignnashville.com or call 615-601-0552.