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posted: 8/30/2014 6:00 AM

Having 'a style' is out of style

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  • Traditional decorating ideas are "shaken and stirred" in a cool, calm and totally collected living room.

    Traditional decorating ideas are "shaken and stirred" in a cool, calm and totally collected living room.
    Courtesy of Sara Essex Bradley

By Rose Bennet Gilbert

Q. A woman I met at a bridal luncheon asked me in what "style" we are going to decorate our apartment. I realize I don't have a special style. I like a lot of different things. I only know I don't want my mother's style -- strictly traditional (and boring). She's already offering some family antiques. What should I do?

A. Say yes and thank you. Especially because they are family pieces, you will eventually realize their importance, both design-wise and emotionally.

Here's my own story: Growing up in Virginia, I had OD'ed on traditional colonial looks by the time I married and migrated toward New York. "If I never see another Queen Anne leg or Georgian brick house laid in Flemish bond, it will be too soon," my young self decided.

Then we moved to New Jersey and its landscape offering an astonishing variety of architectural styles, from Dutch Colonial to drop-contemporary, and any other mashups you can imagine. I soon found myself longing for the visual symmetry, balance and quiet assurance of time-tested traditional design.

But one need not live with traditional alone. Choosing and sticking to one way of decorating is very old-think. Settling for any one particular "style" went out with "suits" of matchy-matchy furniture half a century ago.

Today's word for decorating is "eclectic," meaning a harmonious blend of many different ideas, styles and attitudes. Certainly that's what emerging design professionals told interviewers in a recent survey of millennial designers (conducted by Hunter Douglas, the window fashions people,

"Preconceived notions about what is 'correct' have been shaken and stirred, and the boundary between formal versus informal seems less important," said designer Chad Graci, half the brother-sister team at Graci Interiors in New Orleans (

You see Graci's design philosophy applied to the calm, elegant room we show here. It may look traditional at first glance, but look again: Despite the monochromatic color scheme -- a subtle interplay of different neutrals -- and the formally balanced furniture arrangement, the room is inherently fresh and full of visual surprises, such as the pottery lamps and the rustic plank-and-metal cocktail table.

Even the six-part picture arrangement over the sofa makes a larger-than-life design statement, proving yet again that the whole is way bigger than the sum of its parts.

No surprise: Chad is also a trained architect.

Out in Dallas, design blogger Shenita Rodgers has turned their traditional brick-and-stone home into a Tuscan villa filled with what she calls a "gumbo" of different styles: Heirlooms from her Southern grandmother; French- and Italian-style pieces; a touch of contemporary styling here and there.

"Don't be afraid to mix styles," Rodgers advises. "The mix of styles makes the home unique and keeps things interesting.

"Surround yourself with the things that you love, those things that tell the story of who you are.

"Trends come and go," Rodgers explained to an interviewer for Tuscan Style Decorating, a new magazine due out this fall from Harris Publications in New York. "But a collected home stands the test of time."


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