Monday, February 19, 2007

DC's Design Open House

I spent the recent President's Day Weekend visiting my parents in DC, and on Saturday afternoon we went to an open house at the Washington Design Center. It was billed as a sample sale, and I was expecting a large convention room or warehouse full of miscellaneous pieces and vendors, but the Design Center turned out to be a kind of mall for designers, full of various showrooms for furnishings that would normally be available to interior designers only. Although on Saturday these vendors had some samples on sale, the real attraction was that they were open to the public at all. Most of the showrooms had very traditional looking pieces, and as usual I was attracted to antique-style furniture with clean lines, neoclassical influence, or a French 1940s flair.

A number of showrooms had gorgeous expandable round dining tables like this one. The outer band of wood actually consists of curved leaves that can drop down or be removed. This is the kind of table I search for in vain in catalogs, only interior designers can get the really good stuff. I also love the X-back chairs, a mainstay of neoclassic furniture design. Their saber legs and curved backs echo the ancient-Greek Klismos chairs.

I love modern wing chairs in general, of which these are both good examples. The very square upright one at left would look great at either end of a long dining table. The curvier one at right, with its nail-head trim, would cozy up well to a fireplace.

To go with that first wing chair, I would love a dining table like this one, evoking the glamour of 1940s French design. It is a rare dining table that looks good with or without chairs around it.

This chair also has a French 1940s feel, and it looks great with that three-drawer side table. The lamp to the right is similar to one I have in my apartment, which I keep even though it makes a weird buzzing sound when you turn it on. I just love these modern pharmacy lamps.

The chest of drawers on the left is actually a Biedermeier antique. Biedermeier is a style of furniture made in Austria and Germany in the first half of the 19th century, and it's remarkable for its neoclassical lines and exquisite use of wood, including wood inlays and veneers. In the foreground you can see another X-back Klismos-style chair. The chair on the right seems to be inspired by Biedermeier side chairs, which often had rounded tops and narrow necks that widened out by the base of the seat. This chair's strict lines, its total lack of applied ornamentation, give it a modern sculptural quality.

The shape of this chair also echoes 1940s French furniture, but in this case I'm more interested in the upholstery, which reminds me of the rose motif used by Charles Renee Mackintosh in wood (for both furniture and architectural details) paint, and fabric. It was also picked up in the fashion designs of Paul Poiret. To me, that rose motif definitively evokes the modern romanticism of the early 20th century.

This bookcase, which uses X supports to decorative effect, is reminiscent of campaign furniture from the Napoleonic era onwards. Campaign furniture was literally taken on military campaigns, so it had to travel well and could often be broken down and reassembled. These sorts of pieces were later used by Europeans when hunting or camping in their colonies, so for many they evoke romantic images of exotic locals and old-school travel.

This kind of sofa has been celebrated since the 19th century as surprisingly comfortable yet authentically antique in style. The design supposedly dates from the 15th century, but probably has more modern origins. The sides and back have large knobs on the corners so that they can be tied together with decorative rope. I'm a big fan of these shelter sofas, whether antique or not.

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