Mixed-finish pieces excite the eye, room’s décor

Mornings are often a quiet time in the design industry with clients and designers usually meeting up for lunch followed by a round of browsing through various trend-setting showrooms.

But the day my client and I descended upon the Pacific Design Center with a limited amount of time, work began early that morning (after breakfast, of course) and we approached the first of the glorious West Hollywood showrooms pumped up on adrenalin (and lots of coffee, too) and full of great expectations as to what we would find.

“Oh, this is a wonderful sofa,” I heard my client exclaim. “Come sit on this and see what you think,” she shouted, sounding more breathless and excited with each passing moment. But, something caught my eye as I tried to follow the sound of her voice. “Just a minute,” I answered as I stopped to check out a superb art deco-influenced side cabinet. Charming, I thought to myself, admiring the use of wood veneer on the body of the piece and a beautifully executed faux goatskin lacquer on the doors.

I’ve always loved the effect that mixed finishes can achieve on furniture and it had been awhile since I’d seen it offered or, in fact, since I’d designed and used it for a client. And so now I too was excited — excited to have finally found the look for an audio cabinet for my client’s great room that had been under consideration for some time, still remaining a rather vague image for both of us, until this point. It’s a terrific feeling when a designer, or any artist, has a clear vision in his or her mind and knows exactly where he or she needs to go with a project. I was instantly relieved and somewhat nostalgic at the same time.

In the past, I’d always offered clients the choice of mixing finishes for all kinds of tables and chests, and I now wondered why this application had, over time, fallen by the wayside. I continued wending my way in the direction of my client’s voice, even though I still couldn’t see her — one of the perils of an overly large showroom.

I managed, along the way, to take a moment and recall the finish choices I’d offered at one time for my sliding coffee tables. The top level might be in brass or steel or even inset glass and the lower level in a polished lacquer or wood. And they were wonderful. Or even the side tables in one finish but with their tops executed by an artist in some brilliant colors and faux work. It’s been too long, I thought to myself, and I resolved to once again encourage clients to entertain the concept of mixing finishes for their cabinetry and tables.

Since that visit to the design center, I’ve been noticing more furniture than ever featuring a combination of finishes and I’m loving the way it captures my attention and manages to hold the interest of this designer with so many years in the business and so many table designs in my repertoire.

But even if you aren’t terribly adventuresome in your choice of finishes and designs, such as combining gold and silver tones or mixing contrasting materials such as wood and metal or lacquer and stone, there’s always the option of just combining different woods.

Wonderful results can be achieved by simply mixing two dissimilar types of wood and/or running the grain in different directions or using two different cuts of veneer of the same wood.

And for those who favor the traditional, there’s always the time-honored technique of marquetry, which first came to the attention of artisans in 16th century Florence. This is a far more complicated process, wherein most modern craftsmen use knife-cut veneers to create intricate decorative patterns, designs and even pictures, and certainly calls for a very experienced furniture builder adept in the art of inlay work. But, what glorious effects can be achieved if you choose to go down this road.

So it seems to me that down through time designers have always sought ways to make their creations more exciting, ever more interesting and appealing. Mixing contrasting, but still complementary finishes, is certainly one way in which to achieve this.

When I finally reached my client, and before she could say another word, I blurted out that I’d finally found the look for the cabinet, and in her excitement she seemed to forget all about the sofa.

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. Questions can be sent to stephen@soleildesign international.com.

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