Classic Odd-Pairings in Interior Design

Photo, above: Designer: Nar Design Group; Photographer: Fred Donham

Photo, above: Designer: Nar Design Group; Photographer: Fred Donham

Have you ever noticed how some of the most successful pairings start out as the least intuitive?  Abbot & Costello, popcorn and champagne, leather and lace...the tension created by the serendipitous attraction of opposites is, of course, what makes them so appealing.

Read on for some classic design pairings that were once considered daringly avant-garde:

"Mismatched" dining table and dining chairs

This has become such a common design cliché over the last couple of decades that it makes our grandparents' matched dining sets seem almost radical.   The possibilities for fresh combinations of styles, materials, and finishes are endless and it has allowed dining furniture to become highly personal.

There was a time when pairing things like modern chairs a rustic farm table just wasn't done...

There was a time when pairing things like modern chairs a rustic farm table just wasn't done...

Kitchy art & accessories and historic architecture, OR mixing antiques and modern architecture

Although it's been over a half a century since David Hicks first shocked English gentry by outfitting stately old manors with saturated colors and eye-popping geometrics, it's taken a while longer for old-guard tastes to fully embrace the concept of, say, a Jeff Koons sculpture in the Château de Versailles.    Successive generations of tastemakers have always sought to put their own stamp on old or inherited spaces, and in the 20-teens, treating important or grand rooms with jarringly disparate or playful elements has become an accepted signifier of status and taste.   Likewise, putting an important Persian rug or an antique chandelier in a starkly modern setting feels smart and trendy now, but twenty years ago would have felt like outright sacrilege.

Photo, above: Ornate decor pops against the sleekly modern floors and woodwork of this space. Designer: Nar Design Group; Photographer: Fred Donham

Photo, above: Ornate decor pops against the sleekly modern floors and woodwork of this space. Designer: Nar Design Group; Photographer: Fred Donham

Cabinet Meetings

The concept of walls of matching built-in kitchen storage took hold when modular "kitchen cupboard" systems were introduced in the 1920's, and had been so powerfully ingrained in our collective idea of what a kitchen should look like that when designers started to deviate, it almost felt like a revolution.   While cabinet materials, styles, and finishes have cycled in and out of fashion over the last century,  keeping the cabinetry itself uniform --top to bottom, wall to wall--was the one rule we all stuck to for an amazingly long time.  Not until relatively recently did installations of contrasting islands, open shelving, and freestanding pieces become a mainstream choice.

Above, modern kitchens with very un-matchy cabinetry. The contrast between warm woods and high-gloss white feels especially fresh. Designer: Nar Design Group Photographer: Fred Donham

Above, modern kitchens with very un-matchy cabinetry. The contrast between warm woods and high-gloss white feels especially fresh. Designer: Nar Design Group Photographer: Fred Donham

Color Coupling

When it comes to interior color combinations, you might think there's nothing new under the sun, but never before in history have we had such broad access to so many materials and technologies to create new schemes.

Once upon a time, consumers were dependent on the seasonal palettes and consultant-fed "color stories" of mass-produced housewares, furniture, and fabric.  While there have always been more choices at the trade level, production was still geared toward what was believed would sell at the retail level.  (Hello, cerulean blue sweater!)

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What's interesting about the color trends that we associate with certain decades is that they tended to be more about warm v. cool rather than actual colors.  In the 197o's, yellow overtones created the avocado greens, harvest golds, bright oranges and deep rusts that feel synonymous with the decade.

In the 80's, everything seemed to flip to the blue third of the color wheel, starting with grayed pastel tints and moving to blue-based reds and greens.  Wood tones went gray & pickled or deep burgundy brown.   Even as far back as the 30's, and 40's (as mass production and interior design publications took off) you can discern swings between warm & cool palettes over the years.

As a result, the harmonious color schemes of yore tended to lean in one direction or the other.  If you wanted to use greens, you paired yellow greens and yellows or blue-greens and blues;  it wasn't considered cool (pun intended)--to combine, say, a deep blue-based hunter green with an olive green and an aqua and a lime, because the warm and cools would "fight" one another, which we didn't find harmonious at all.  (Not to mention it was hard enough finding something olive green in the 80's when everything was hunter and teal!) .

Even now, most harmonious color schemes are is still stuck in the either-warm-or-cool rut.  Pantone's Ultraviolet is actually on the slightly cool side of the purple spectrum, but with the exception of Jacaranda, the rest of Pantone's suggested "Kindred Spirits" lean towards the reds .

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But now, with a few keystrokes, we can summon an infinite array of products in every color, finish, saturation, pattern, and texture imaginable.  With micro-customization and the globe at our fingertips, we're no longer dependent on the old channels for our design palettes or color combinations. And colors that were once considered tonal enemies are being used together in some of today's most exciting interiors, and with the introduction of new types of fabrics, paints, polymers in endless color mixes, the old rules no longer apply.  Here, Ultraviolet (top left) is grouped with a mix of "harmonious" colors that are split equally between warm and cool ...

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Who's to say what the next eye-brow raising trend will be?  The one thing that won't ever change is that every new decorating "rule'' seems made to be broken.

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Sandy Hughes