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Blend past, present through accessories for interest

Rain that had been threatening all day finally began to fall in earnest as our taxi stopped in front of the Galleria, one of several buildings that make up the San Francisco Design Center. My clients and I stepped out and ran for the shelter of the lobby flushed with anticipation at having reached our destination, while at the same time relieved (as only desert dwellers might be) at not having rain water touch our bodies.

We were in San Francisco to explore as many art galleries and designer showrooms that we could in a final push to obtain accessories and art that would cap off a project that had begun some 2½ years earlier with the build and design of their contemporary Summerlin home. They fully realized just how important the “little decorative touches” are to a completed and fully designed home, not to mention the original art needed to make a home come to life.

Accessories is a term that designers use to refer to paintings, sculpture, pottery, decorative vases, boxes as well as statues and carvings, and all, without a doubt, play a major role in the decoration of a space. We had talked time and again about how essential they are to a room (much as flowers are to a garden and scenery to an empty stage) and how utterly devoid of color and interest a home can be without them.

From the time we encountered a pair of Chinese clay figures from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – A.D. 220) our excitement about what we could bring to their home was palpable. We all knew at first glance how wonderful they’d look in their modern and very stylish living room (or dining room).

And having made that first significant purchase we were off and running to other designer showrooms as well as to any number of art galleries where, in fact, two major acquisitions were made: an enchanting standing horse of many colors, composed of scrap metal and parts of old cars and machinery by “hot” artist Doug Bigelow along with a large and charmingly nostalgic painting of a child’s red tricycle for their very contemporary kitchen.

They’d certainly heard me talk about my love for the juxtaposition of the old and the new, whether in furniture or accessories, and how they can, without fail, enhance and enrich each other and their surroundings. And having immediately fallen in love with the ancient clay figures, there was no way we were going to leave the city by the bay without a visit to its world-famous Chinatown, where a number of additional stone and clay artifacts were purchased for shipment back home.

Being a custom designer for so many years and having worked in virtually every style, nothing makes me happier, or indeed perks my interest more, than when I get the chance to mix and enhance a certain look or period with items from another time. For example, place an exotic, carved Indian chest in a very contemporary setting and you have a room well on its way to grabbing and holding your attention. Perhaps it’s something subliminal that appeals to us, as if in some finely crafted play or brilliant symphony, wherein each piece somehow merges past and present to guarantee a perfect finishing touch. It’s always so gratifying to me when a client understands this concept and embraces it, as my clients did, and their home will be all the more glorious and interesting for having done so.

In a word, never ever underestimate the value or importance of accessories to your home décor. There is no way in this world that your design can ever be complete without at least even a superficial nod to acquiring some pieces of decorative trim. Accessories, and hopefully interesting ones at that, are “de rigueur” — even in the most minimalist design scheme. By the way, it’s generally a good idea to group smaller objects close together so as to make a more significant design statement, and placing various pieces on decorative stands can only help to add to the impact they’ll make in your home.

Try your very best to incorporate pieces from different eras, if at all possible, and if not, then even trees, life-like or real, (and do try to go for tall and full ones) can go a very long way in warming up and enhancing your home, as will any kind of attractive floral arrangements. The planters used to hold them can be of the same period as your basic look or even of a different style, if chosen with care and forethought.

Finally, don’t buy accessories just for the sake of buying them. Buy things that mean something to you (as my clients have done — with a little guidance from me, of course). Seriously, buy pieces that will last and that you can pass on to your children; even if they’re inexpensive they’ll have meaning and worth to them if only because they were once in your home and a part of their lives.

Trust me when I tell you that the right accessories will bring interest to your home when they’re elements from different sides of traditional and modern that can indeed co-exist, supporting each other and bringing balance and interest to your design.

Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design International; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He has served on the board of directors of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers and is a certified professional in green residential design. Questions can be sent to stephen@soleildesign

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