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Combining Styles in One Space


Subject: Clash
Question from Susan:
I had recently decided to decorate the downstairs of my house in a western motif, mid 1800's type theme. I had an old buffet with an old mirror hung over the buffet, a swag of old lace, two vintage saddles, dishes and other items when we my mother-in-law gave my husband her beautiful baby grand piano. The only place this piano can go is downstairs. It has the shiny black finish and the whole nine yards and I just can't recall any baby grand’s sitting in a saloon in the "old west." Is there any way to combine the two ideas using pieces I have or should I scrap the western thing and go to something more classical and elegant? I do not mind elegant at all but the rest of the house tends to be that way and I was proud of myself that I was branching out and do something a little different? Also, the room I'm working with is a long rectangular room with a study off one side. Let me know what you think. Thank you, Susan

Dear Susan:
Although, this is a very specific situation, I believe this is a common problem. Many homeowners face the dilemma of, "what to do with an item they’ve received, that is not in keeping with their current style." Do I find a way to make it fit? Do I accept its uniqueness? Or, do I scrap the current d้cor, to accommodate the piece?"

I think, we all have more than one style we enjoy. And, if we wish, we should exercise our taste differently from one space to the next. Therefore, I would not recommend changing the d้cor. I would either, (a.) accept the uniqueness of the piano, or (b.) try to add an element that makes it more compatible with the current d้cor. (Of course, I am not suggesting, when two rooms are open and adjacent to one another, that they not be similar in design.)

This is an "eclectic " space, which an old textbook of mine defines as, "the borrowing and combining of art forms of various past periods adapting them to contemporary conditions." Here we are mixing old with new, and formal with informal. People are often uncomfortable with "eclectic ism." "Mixing it up," goes against what they have been taught, and that is that "everything must go together." As long as a room is balanced, in terms of the scale of objects and the relationship of colors and finishes to one another, it can be attractive. I believe people should be free to follow their initial instincts, or design concepts, as long as they adhere to basic design principals.

I scoured the library, the bookstores (on and off line) and, unfortunately, I did not find examples of 1800’s interiors or saloons. Nor did I find an example of a grand piano that was in a room with contrasting furnishings. I did find two good online articles about eclectic design. Here are descriptions and links.

  1. "Mixing Styles, Old Gives New the Softer Look." This article discusses how to keep a balanced look by watching color and lines.
  2. "Some Tips for Pulling off the Eclectic Look." From the Holland Sentinel. This is an article about how to succeed in combining objects, by utilizing a single unifying factor, such a color.

So, what to do about your specific situation? Perhaps your could use lace, similar to what is hung over the mirror by the sideboard, to adore the piano? This would tie the objects together. I am unsure of how this will work when the piano is open. Perhaps you could use a lightweight material that could be folded and stored when the top is up? Here are 3 suggestions for how to drape the fabric, (a) like a table runner, (b) like a table cloth, or (c) as a fabric cut to the outline of the top, with finished edges.

I checked my Architectural Graphic Standards book for the dimensions of a baby grand. It said the piano is 4’-5" deep, by 4’-7" wide. (Architectural Graphic Standards is one of the best references for dimensions for interior planning. I have provided links, below, to different editions reader’s can view online.) Because of the size of the piano, and the limitations of fabric widths, here are some ideas on materials that could be used, in addition to those you’d find in fabric stores. (Susan, I know you probably have access to lace, locally. But, other reader’s may have similar needs, and need resources.)

  1. As mentioned above, a ready-made tablecloth, or table runner.
  2. A drapery panel.

In closing, I hope I have answered your question, and given you some ideas to work with.

Sincerely, Catherine McGivern,

Here are the links to Architectural Graphic Standards, I mentioned above. There are three different editions:

  1. Architectural Graphic Standards, 9th Edition, Hardcover, $210 (wow!)
  2. Architectural Graphic Standards, Student Edition, 8th Edition, Paperback, $85
  3. Architectural Graphic Standards for Architects, Engineers, Decorators, Builders and Draftsmen: A reissue of the classic 1932 edition. Paperback, $49.95.


    Permission is granted to print or reproduce e-zine material if the following is included:
    Author: Catherine Foust McGivern, NCIDQ Certified, Principal
    CatherineMcGivern.com, http://www.CatherineMcGivern.com



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