Last Update: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chippendale: A Classic That's Still 'Way Cool' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rose Bennett Gilbert   
Thursday, 05 July 2012 04:45


Chippendale does Day-Glo! Electric color fast forwards a traditional l8th-century camelback sofa.

Q: We inherited the previous owners' camelback sofa when we bought our apartment and intended to just have it hauled away. My husband has changed his mind. He now wants to keep the sofa, which really needs recovering. Our other furniture is modern. Will traditional Chippendale look weird in that context?

A: Au contraire. It could be the very making of your contemporary scene. A classic is always a classic, whatever its context. Moreover, an antique lends gravitas, texture and visual interest to a room full of sleek, spare contemporary furniture.

When a design pro such as Miles Redd is orchestrating the mix, it can also lend a jolt of slam-bang color! Look how he treats this Chippendale-ish camelback sofa: He painted the frame white — carvings and all — then wrapped the sofa's traditional curves in very untraditional electric-sapphire satin.

Turning up the color volume even further, he pushes it against a wall covered in parrot- green, hand-painted wallpaper.

Above it hangs an Ellsworth Kelly lithograph in clanging yellow and white.

Suzanne and Lauren McGrath, authors of "Good Bones, Great Pieces" from whom we borrowed this photo, share a quote from Redd that speaks directly to your conundrum: "Great objects are what make a room beautiful ... " the designer says. "You have to be flexible if you find a piece you fall in love with."

Q: Is there any rule of thumb on how high a cocktail table should be?

A: Designers turn thumbsdown on tables that are higher than the front edge of your sofa or so much lower that you have to reach down to it.

As with any furnishings, common sense and comfort are your best guides. That goes for the height of dining chairs, too.

When you sit, your elbows should rest comfortably on the table, not that you'll leave them there during dinner. And it tells you how high to hang a chandelier over a dining table, how high your end tables and how tall your lamps should be. It also tells you how far apart chairs should be in a seating group and how high to hang pictures and mirrors on a wall.

The answers, based on common sense and comfort:

Chandeliers should be close enough to the table top for good lighting while you eat but not so close that you bump your head or stare into the bulbs. About 30 inches above the table usually works.

End tables should be approximately as high as the arms of your sofa or chair. The lamps on them need shades that cover the bulb when you sit to read. Lamps shouldn't leave you staring down into the light when you stand.

Chairs and other seating pieces should be only a few feet apart, close enough for quiet conversation between the sitters.

And there should always be a tabletop or other place to perch your glass, glasses and reading material that is no more than an arm's reach away from each seat.

Pictures and mirrors should be hung at eye-level when you stand. No point in craning your neck or bending down to see.

However, I'd turn thumbs-up on exceptions to the "rule" when you are hanging art over a table or other piece of furniture.

It should be close enough for the eye to see the "gestalt" of the arrangement, that is, the separate elements as a cohesive design statement.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the coauthor of "Manhattan Style" and six other books on interior design.