The drive back to town went much quicker than it used to now that the highway was complete and formed a near seamless belt clear around the city. The perfect driving conditions allowed me some time to reflect on the home I’d just left and the type of seating that would be just right for the clients — and the architecture.
A quote from John Welgand, professor and chair for the department of architecture and interior design at Miami University, came to mind. He aptly stated: “Architecture and interior design remain connected because it’s impossible to separate the design of a building from the design of its interior. The interior evolves directly from the formal and conceptual ideas of the building and the building is or should be directly impacted by programmatic and human behavioral constraints of the interior.”
The residence I just left displayed strong architectural elements on the interior; though the exterior was rather simple and devoid of any outstanding characteristics or design, which is sadly so often the case with many quasi-Southwest-style homes. Still, it was the strong, architectural interior that immediately suggested to me one of my all-time favorite seating designs that would be just perfect for my clients.
The Zelda design is basically architectural in form with its curved arms somewhat influenced by the art deco period. It’s often small in scale but still uncommonly comfortable to sit in and can be sized up with equal success. It’s a design that is at once simple, understated and classic.
It’s casually elegant with a feeling of sophistication that has terrific appeal when right for the architecture of a home or executive office. I knew it would be perfect for my clients (who agreed with me from the get-go) just as it was the first time I utilized it for a very special home in Venice, Calif.
The Doumani house, built by entrepreneur Roy Doumani and his wife, Carol, sat on a quiet street just off the Venice beach. What made this house so unique was that the core ingredient for its genesis was Roy Doumani’s inspired decision to hire renowned Venice sculptor Robert Graham as the designer-architect for the project.
The house was made uniquely livable by their decision to fill it with other artists’ functional artwork so that it actually became a living and breathing testament to a true merger of art, furniture and architecture. I was fortunate to play a part in that fascinating collaborative experience with my Zelda design chosen as the only seating for the two-story living-dining space surrounded by Graham’s bronze figures perched high on pedestals.
And that’s probably when I first became keenly aware of the brilliant results that can be achieved when furniture and architecture are married in a more or less perfect union. In the Doumani house, these elements along with the art were never considered separate entities. In point of fact, the house really only had one budget for all of these elements, which is very seldom the case, because it was Graham’s desire to take the house back to the Renaissance concept where art and architecture were unified.
Now I know that there are many designers (and clients) who may not feel the necessity to marry furniture and architecture to any great extent. They may be great proponents of juxtaposition: creating interest by furnishing an old building, for example, with extremely contemporary furniture. Or in other words, utilizing the old next to the new in what might be called “a harmonious marriage of contradictions.”
And while I myself often utilize this design technique when it’s called for, and it can create great interest — but it’s still only a “look” as we say in the trade. It’s never going to be the total package or deliver quite the same timeless results as a brilliant marriage between architecture and the appropriate furnishings.
For example, in a custom-designed, Thai-style home in Hawaii, the furnishings were designed and built in Asia so that they would eminently suit the inspired architecture of the home, which included a salt water shark pool (in the courtyard) and Hotai figures on the imported Chinese tile roof that would hopefully bestow a shower of Godly goodies while warding off any evil spirits that might think about pestering my clients. This home would have never achieved its brilliant result had I utilized furnishings of steel and glass.
In another Hawaiian home (for the same clients) styled much like a lodge in Africa (think of Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa”), oversized furnishings on the somewhat rustic side along with sundry Asian artifacts were utilized to blend with and enhance the architecture of the home.
The contemporary homes I’ve designed will usually feature sleek seating and materials such as steel, glass and exotic woods to complement the clean lines of the architecture, and no “frou-frou” of any kind. Traditional homes will often have overstuffed seating enhanced with passementerie (trimmings made of braid and cord) and more typical wood finishes.
You can begin to see how an art deco style home, for example, will call to mind different furniture choices than, say, a postmodern one, and so on. Thankfully, more often than not, furniture and architecture designs do tend to overlap no matter what the era. And that’s a good thing.
It’s a wise homeowner that allows the architectural style to guide most furniture choices because the furniture should be a stalwart counterpart to the architecture of the home. There should be a definite symbiotic relationship between the two despite the fact that both architecture and furniture certainly exist well enough on their own. But, when they’re coming from the same direction and can enhance each other, that’s when the real magic begins and that’s when homeowners will surely reap the greatest benefits.
Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design. He is president of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (World Market Center, Suite A3304) and is a certified professional in green residential design. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.