By LESLIE LINSLEY Citizen Columnist
A few weeks ago I began the arduous task of weeding out my bookcases. Many style books sent to me for review have become dated. Even though trends do come back, some simply lose their appeal.
I never thought it possible, but I am quite over American country style. It's had a great run from the popular style book, "American Country" by Mary Emmerling over 30 years ago to the famous designer, Sister Parish who assisted Jackie O. with the redo of the private quarters of the White House. Think calico patchwork quilts, braided rugs, anything with an American flag motif, ceramic crocks,wooden grain scoops and such. While it isn't a style that is overly popular, for good reason, in Key West, it is still attractive for accessories and collectibles even here.
My daughter and I were driving through Lancaster, Pa., a couple of weeks ago and stopped at a mega antique mall with rows and rows of stalls. We had come upon the mother lode of early tools, sewing implements of yore, threadbare quilts, dolls, lace and linens, work benches once coveted and remodeled into coffee tables, porcelain kitchen tables and chrome chairs once called dinette sets and brass ended, fold-up Stanley rulers I collected for years, most found at Covent Garden in London with price tags in pounds still affixed to them. These are the things that once set my heart aflutter. I passed them all and ended the day without a single purchase.
Many early American artifacts are being reproduced along with industrial-inspired furniture for Restoration Hardware and most of us received the bible-thick catalogs, all three of them, in our mailboxes this spring. The price tag is similar for the authentic and the new. But the reproductions work, and, they have the look. By the size of the catalog and the design of the new store about to open in Boston, one might conclude that homeowners who love the designs also prefer dresser drawers that glide easily in and out.
A new modern home cries out for one old, early American piece to give a room character, but that's it. This is not to say that antiques are passé. Collectors and island homeowners will always covet really good quality items from the past. American Country style has been in vogue longer than any other decorating trend and will reappear over and over again, especially in traditional homes. But right now, new homeowners are embracing a cleaner, quieter look which is the direction to which manufacturers are committed. A quick glance through any of the style magazines will also offer insight. The approach is toward the sophisticated elegance of the moment.
Once again I skimmed an old favorite, "Sister Parish Design On Decorating" co-authored by her granddaughter Susan. In the introduction she writes, "Creating an imaginative and welcoming refuge for your family and friends is a worthwhile pursuit that can only enrich the soul." She adds, "If one has the financial resources to hire a great decorator it will undoubtedly be a creative journey. Doing it alone may bring trial and error, but also satisfaction and aesthetic rewards. If successful, a room's décor should reflect the personality and style of the occupant."
The book is filled with the writings of many well-known designers who decorated for high society clients who filled their homes with what was described as "important pieces." Most of the rooms look fussy by today's style of living, especially in a vacation home, not at all as casual as the decorating style we find here in Key West. However, the advice offered by these decorators is still solid. For example, Billy Baldwin urged his clients to live in their living rooms. Mario Buatto, says that chintz and sisal play down a room filled with "important furniture." Jeffrey Bilhuber, says, "comfort will always override surprise or astonishment." Perhaps this is why American country style has lasted so long. It's hard to give up the comfort of a quilt or wool throw over the back of a sofa, or the coziness or nostalgia of early American. It is all so humanizing. It takes a room out of the perfect and lifeless look. In the way all the tropical paint colors do when used wisely in Key West homes. Even one piece of painted furniture can liven an otherwise bland room.
I grew up in a 200 year old house in Connecticut. My mother dabbled in the antique business and our home was filled with early Americana. She always had a child-sized chair in a corner of the living room as she felt it added a youthful element to the room. To this day, I always have a child size chair piled with books next to a fireplace.
With all the exposure we have on this island to good taste, it's hard to go wrong. And if you need a bit of help, even just to confirm that you're on the right track, so many of the store owners and island decorators are brimming with good taste, positive energy, and a strong knowledge of their products. Take advantage of this free input, and other resources at your disposal wherever you buy products to enhance your island home.
Leslie Linsley has written more than 50 books on crafts, decorating and home style. She resides on Nantucket with her husband, photographer Jon Aron, and has a store on the island that specializes in her one-of-a-kind creations. Her latest book is "Key West, a Tropical Lifestyle" (Monacelli Press), with photos by Terry Pommett.