Your First Home
Filling the Spaces
Copyright Deborah Marks 2004
"CleanÔÇŽsleekÔÇŽsimple." These are the terms used
to describe the furnishings which fit into the Contemporary
Light setting. They are light in look and---in many
cases---even in weight! They do not dominate a room but make a
statement. Their designs are so exquisite that
they even have been considered works of art.
In furnishing the home one can revert to the modern classics
of such designers as Le Corbusier, Eileen Gray, Mies van der
Rohe, or one of today's collections on the market. A
well-known furniture fair introducing the newest designs takes
place every year in April in Milan, Italy. Robert Munzer, a
design consultant at Limn in San Francisco, attends and
reviews the fair. Click on his website in May to see the
latest trends. (www.robertmunzer.com under The Design Page)
The recognized leaders in the field of contemporary design definitely
are the Europeans. The Italian designers, in particular, have a sense of beauty and proportion! There
are, though, designers in this country who prefer the sleeker
line. At the end of this article is a list of manufacturers and
their websites so that you can browse through
the many styles available.
Selecting the furnishings for your home can be so much fun!
And there are so many choices! But before you start out on
your search in the showrooms, let me provide you with an
overview of what is on the market today and a few tips for the
furnishings, which may just influence your choices
When you start to purchase furniture, the pieces for the
living, family room, and dining room usually have high priority
because these rooms will be seen by visitors and will be
representative of your style and your home. If financial
restrictions are a reality, plan for these items to take up the
larger portion of the budget.
Sectionals have become popular in recent years. They do tend
to be more suited to the family room because of the lounging
possibilities offered while watching TV or listening to music.
Be sure you have enough space for a sectional. They are quite
wide----starting at about 9'---and once you have decided on
the placement of the lounge on the right or left, you cannot
change it. The individual elements you can choose from are many and varied. By simply ordering an
ottoman to go with the sectional you have added a potential resting port
for your legs, extra seating, or a coffee table, whatever is
needed at the moment!
Sofas combined with armchairs provide more
versatility in placing the furniture in the room. You can
have two sofas facing each other or one large sofa with two
armchairs. It's best to float the furniture in the room
positioned toward a focal point such as a fireplace or
Whatever you do,
don't paste them against the walls! If you have hardwood or
tile floors, ground them with an area rug.
The seating height of contemporary sofas and sectionals is
about 15". The frames are of kiln-dried wood or
steel. Coiled springs or webbed suspension provide the
support. The seat cushions are usually of polyurethane foam.
Back cushions can be of foam or polyester fibers and feathers
for a softer feel. They can be loose or zipped on. The arms
may be wide or narrow, angular or curved, or entirely absent.
Deciding whether the legs are to be of metal or wood is a
matter of taste. Coordinate your choices with the
other pieces you will have in the room, i.e. cocktail table, sideboard, wall unit. All metal will lend a more industrial
look; wood will add more warmth. Mixing wood and metal creates
interest and vibrancy. The furniture industry is always coming
up with new and innovative ideas.
The sectionals, for example, are becoming
larger and comfortable to accommodate the more relaxed
atmosphere in the homes. The number of possible configurations
is increasing. Some can be put together like a puzzle (Yin, Ligne Roset)
and some have very wide lounges so two can cuddle up on them
The backs can fold down; the seating area
can move out (Andy, B & B Italia). The covers on sofas and
sectionals are often removable for easy cleaning. Headrests
can be added or not. Leg heights and arm style can be varied.
Take a look and decide what's right for you!
How you upholster the pieces you choose is so
important! In the family room where small children will be,
it is wise to select leather so spills can be cleaned up
easily. Be sure to ask about the quality of the leather: its
thickness, whether it's top grain, whether it is vegetable
tanned (provides suppleness), chrome tanned (provides
structure) or perhaps both. The dyeing process also is important.
Is the leather dyed through or only partially? A general rule
of thumb: the better the quality of leather, the
more it will cost.
Fabrics are softer and can provide a more formal look. Choose
the fabrics carefully! Often the ones displayed in showrooms
do not hold up well in day-to-day living. Linens are not
really suited for seating areas, as they wrinkle too easily.
Wools and cashmeres are beautiful but can be irritating to the
skin. Cottons with synthetics, on the other hand, wear well.
Very interesting and durable fabrics are made from 100%
polyester. Be wary of loosely woven fabrics as pointed objects
can catch on them and pull out threads.
Microfibers such as Alcantara, NovaSuede or Ultrasuede look as
rich as suedes but are classified as fabrics. They wear well,
do not wrinkle easily, and are available in numerous colors.
Sectionals as well as sofas and armchairs look stunning
finished in microfiber.
Solid colors usually work better on the larger pieces. Stripes
or patterns can be added on the throw pillows or window
treatments. Ask if the fabric has been treated in some way. If
not, you may want to have it done in your home when the
furniture first arrives.
The case goods: sideboards, wall units, dining and
bedrooms sets, etc. are called---can be done in a variety of
finishes. You can choose from wood, lacquer, glass, melamine
(a synthetic material), and metal. Wood creates more warmth,
while lacquer and melamine offer many colors, are easy to care
for, and provide wonderful accents in the room.
The woods for contemporary furnishings are primarily veneers.
This prevents the problem of warping and also contributes to a
more beautiful, even grain on the pieces. For the
environmentally conscious, it's a plus. Woods you will see in
the showrooms now are wenge (a dark African wood) and oak
in natural, bleached, whitened or---the newest---a
gray tone. Beech is also a favorite for contemporary
furnishings. A whitened oak with pink tones looks very
elegant; cherry woods with red and tangerine tones complement each
other. Wenge provides a contrast to pastel and neutral
Modular is the word to note when it comes to bookcases,
wall units, entertainment centers, and wardrobes. Pieces can be
put together, taken apart, moved around, and added. The
items can be designed to fit into the room and to your needs.
Wall units and entertainment centers have been undergoing
tremendous changes due to the growth in the electronics
industry. The emergence of the flat-screen TV has dictated the
design of many of these units. The flat screen can be mounted
on the wall or set on a very low table surrounded by shelving
or closed units, such as drawers and doors. Paneling can be
mounted on the wall onto which the shelving and closed units
are attached. Lighting the units from behind provides tranquil
ambient lighting. The compositions are numerous, and the design
is very sleek and elegant.
For dining, cocktail, and end tables glass is a
very popular choice. It lends tremendously to the light and
airy look. In many cases, the dining tables of glass are
extendible with clever design
mechanisms to allow this.
glass comes in the industrial standard, which has a green tint
to it, or in clear or frosted varieties. White or frosted glass is a
welcome alternative and is very pleasing. In most cases, it is
wise to order tempered glass.
Consider round tables instead of rectangular. They're safer
with small children and offer when used as dining table more
legroom because the pedestal is in the center.
The bedroom furniture for both young and old have much to
offer. For the children's rooms, vibrant colors are available
in finishes which are easy to care for. Some pieces have been
so designed that they can easily be modified and changed as
the children grow into their teenage years.
Contemporary beds are typically platform beds. They are low-slung;
the mattress with an average of about 21 inches in height, is
supported by slats and not a box spring. The beds
are finished in woods, lacquers, and melamines; their
frames also may be of steel.
Upholstering the bed frames can be an
alternative, and at the moment upholstered frames in leather
are quite up-to-date. Headboards extending beyond the beds
and supporting shelves or drawers emphasize the low
Lighting can be
attached or is sometimes integrated into the headboard. If the
bed is without side panels, try placing it at an angle in the
room. The eye is drawn to it, making it the focal
When buying a bed, be sure to ask whether the sizes are
European or American. The size of the mattress will vary
depending on this. If the bed comes only in European sizes,
there are latex mattresses which can be cut to fit perfectly.
Allow at least an inch between mattress and frame.
Once you have looked at several websites, familiarized
the various possibilities for the pieces you need,
and have made some preliminary choices, prepare for the visit
to the showrooms. If no plans exist for your home, draw the room(s) with any existing furniture in ┬╝" scale. That means ┬╝"
is equal to one foot in measurement. You may even want to draw
some furniture pieces to scale, cut them out, and try different
Decide on your budget before you go. Set your priorities and
have an idea of what you would like to spend for each room or
for each individual piece. If you want quality pieces but
cannot afford the regular prices, wait for the showroom sales
or warehouse sales. They will be advertised in local
When shopping for modern classics, decide if you can pay for the original design and the firm
licensed to produce those items. "Knock-offs" are quite
abundant on the market. Ask if it's made by the company
licensed to produce the original. If not, ask what the changes
are to the design and what materials they are using. Of course,
it always is wiser to buy the original, but sometimes
finances dictate otherwise.
Visit the showrooms that carry contemporary furniture. Take time to look at the pieces on the floor, and then
browse through the catalogs which are available. Many
showrooms have design consultants who can help. Ask them
questions about the furniture, lead time for
delivery, local delivery fees, discounts, and guarantees. Also
ask the store consultants about their background in the design
world. They may be helping you put together and
coordinate the furniture for more rooms, so it's best for you
to know their past experience and education in the field.
Have fun selecting those items! Each piece should be chosen
carefully to give you years of enjoyment.
Pictures courtesy of Limn and Ligne-Roset, San
Francisco; Temple, Palo Alto; and Ikea, East Palo
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