Glamour less about luxury, more about scale, contrasts

Movie stars like Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth danced their way across celluloid dreamscapes created by brilliant set designers all through the 1930s and ’40s, and it’s that vision that seems to define glamour for many of us to this day. But truth be told, glamour isn’t just for A-list celebrities or the rarefied 1 percent. In fact, today’s glamour is more accessible and less intimidating than ever before and has re-emerged in home design as a leading trend.

When we think of glamour in home décor, many of us immediately think of exotic woods, precious metals and custom furnishings. But, glamour isn’t only about money. Glamorous rooms belong to all of us and can come in many shapes and forms, simple and elegant at the same time. A great deal of what’s glamorous may even be attributed to attitude where practical solutions, casual elegance and great style can make it all seem effortless, which is one of the keys to creating a glamorous space.

How do we define glamour? What does it really entail? And just how do we go about making it a part of our home design?

Years ago it used to be said that a person “was under a glamour,” which really meant that he was under a spell of some kind or even enraptured. Today, we might refer to that reaction as the wow factor.

To attain this exalted state of design nirvana, glamour often incorporates the exotic and the unusual that may, sometimes, be understood and appreciated by only a select few. Usually it’s at its best and most seductive with exaggerated contrasts and unusual juxtapositions, such as mixing beautiful antiques and modern pieces in the same space. Or, perhaps, contrasting low furniture with soaring ceilings.

There’s a misconception that glamorous rooms need to be large. That is not true. In my experience small rooms can be the most glamorous. You can cheat the height of rooms by extending the drapes up to the ceiling, as I’ve done in one of my own guest rooms. After all, intimacy does have its own special charm.

Glamorous modern rooms tend not to be crowded and bask in the luxury of negative space, which means don’t fill the space just because it’s there.

Exaggerations in scale and subtle manipulations of proportion or the relationship between the sizes of things can often produce the drama we associate with glamour. It’s much better to create a room with fewer larger pieces than to fill it up with bits and pieces. Increasing the scale of the objects will tend to make rooms seem grander than their actual size. And playing oversized objects against normal or even undersized pieces can actually make spaces seem taller or wider, as well as more or less open.

Big pieces command attention. Imposing, impressive objects can help create focal points and help organize a room. But always, for a glamorous look, the bottom line is that there must be an aesthetically satisfying sense of proportion.

The basics to keep in mind include scale, color, use of Asian artifacts as well as other antiquities (especially in a modern setting), mixing different periods and countries of origin, fireplaces, drapery, chandeliers, as well as mirrors and daybeds. Do not forget staircases, which should always be grand, if possible.

Shine and sheen, whether natural or man-made, also go hand-in-hand with glamour. Surfaces and fabrics that reflect light and sparkle at the same time actually define glamour. Metal objects of silver, gold, brass, bronze, stainless steel and copper in lamps, side tables, vases and collectibles have been called the jewelry of glamorous rooms along with enamel finishes on floors, walls and ceilings.

Be careful not to do too much of a good thing. Again, a successful outcome has everything to do with the right mix and proper balance in a room.

Further, it’s my belief that any glamorous room should have at least one mirror hanging in it, or at least leaning against a wall. Oversized mirrors are like magic, as they can easily help to expand a sense of space even further while adding instant glamour.

Fabrics and color are great components of any type of space, yet alone a glamorous one. I recommend fabrics with a high silk or metallic content for their sensuality, which will often be velvets, satins and silks. The color of a glamorous room doesn’t much matter. Red is always glamorous, and I love it, but any color will do the trick. In fact, softly hued rooms can often be the most elegant and glamorous.

And the way objects are displayed is just as important as the objects themselves. Try to group like objects together, and odd numbers are always better than even. Curves indicate sensuality and rigid straight lines denote order. No room should be all one or the other, and glamour does lean toward the curved.

Believe me when I say that it’s absolutely possible for you to achieve glamour in your home despite your choice of style and/or a limited budget. Opt for simple forms, clean lines - remembering those curves - as well as restrained ornamentation. Try to marry the old and the new, which is a terrific combination that goes beyond trendy to achieve a lasting and authentic style because glamour, in the final analysis, transcends time.

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. He is president-elect 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

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