The oversized Christmas card arrived wrapped jewel-like in brilliant gold foil paper and stood out so easily from all the others. I instantly knew who it was from and saw it as a sign that the holiday season was off to an auspicious start.
The traditional Yuletide greeting was accompanied by an invitation to join my client for what promised to be an elaborate over-the-top dinner. I knew this would be the scenario, because everything this client did was first class, always exhibiting graciousness and good taste.
My excitement increased as I began to imagine the decorations and all the goodies that would be prepared by his personal chef.
Not wanting to miss a minute of fabulous ambience and divine food, I arrived on the appointed evening admittedly somewhat earlier than expected. I remember thinking that this was the place to be during the glittering, festive holiday season and I wished that it could be like this all year round.
It was a sight to behold. My client had, as expected, gone far beyond just “decking the halls with boughs of holly.” Most of the rooms were lit chiefly by candlelight that reflected in a beautiful Old World kind of way off of the mirrors that seemed to be everywhere.
Although they had been part of my original design plan, it was as though I were seeing them for the first time. I was bowled over not only by the beauty of the decorative frames, but by the enchantment they created. I was reminded just why mirrors are often used in magic — to create an illusion. They can be used the same way in a home.
These elaborately hand-carved mirrors, which helped to create a feeling of sensuality and elegance, are works of art in themselves. They can bring such color and texture to a space as to almost render it otherworldly.
But there were countless design elements throughout the home, and I spent some time reacquainting myself with furniture, finishes and fabrics that I had specified in the past and marveled how well they all worked in concert to create this stylish setting of nonpareil glamour.
I remember thinking at the time if only they could know that such glamour doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, then maybe they’d be more open to including these design elements year- round in their own décor.
My client’s fabrics and finishes shimmered and glistened, seducing guests with the unparalleled beauty of real metal leaf, divine sateen and taffeta fabrics along with Venetian plaster and hand-painted wall coverings and all within a color palette composed of serene shades of pale blue, teal, cream and metallic silver on the crown moldings.
Designers like myself, often looking for beauty and glamour on a limited budget for our clients, have never before had so many ecofriendly, sustainable and gorgeous products to choose from as there are today. These products make it possible to simulate the kind of glamour that surrounded me that glorious evening.
As designers, we always try our professional best to bring the latest and most beautiful fabrics and finishes to our clients. And often these top-of-the-line products have a hefty price because beauty in design (as in life) usually comes at a premium.
But, not so much anymore, thanks to the development and availability of new products that can proudly compare in good looks and durability with some of the priciest materials around.
For example, drapes can be of a faux sateen material that replicates the real thing but at a fraction of the price. This material is as strong as it is beautiful and even available with a Teflon-proseal finish for extra durability. There are taffetas made of 100 percent polyester that you would swear were the real thing.
Also, paints and finishes with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are now available to consumers in every imaginable color and finish. Furthermore, these new “green” paints are all water-based, nontoxic and free of any irritating odor, easily washed off and even scuff- and abrasion-resistant.
Yes, genuine gold leaf and silver leaf are quite expensive. And there have been, in my experience, only very rare occasions when a client (like my host) insisted upon using the real thing. But, in its place designers often turn to foils or squares made from a composition of metals.
I’m always assured of an exciting, opulent look when I incorporate gilding in my furniture or interior designs. Its use transforms ordinary furniture into an extraordinary statement of style and quality. Nothing works better for bringing out carved details on a traditional piece or for bringing depth and allure to a smooth, contemporary one.
It’s been said that nothing succeeds like excess. But, I’ll affix a caveat to that — if it’s done well. Remember, too, that all that glitters needn’t be real gold for a brilliant result. Simply add a gold or silver foil piece to your décor, some shimmering fabrics and dazzling mirrors along with a good overall design plan, and the elegance and glamour of the holiday season can be yours all year long.
Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. Questions can be sent to email@example.com.