Thursday, October 1, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

Living With Leather Furniture



Leather furniture can be a great investment. Leather is a natural product and holds up well for everyday use. There are several things that determine the quality and therefore the cost of leather. Hides are split during processing into two or more layers. Top grain leather comes from the top surface of the hide. It has a dense cell structure and is best for furniture. Bottom layers, split leather, often identified only as real leather or pure leather are not as strong and are heavily processed with resins and applied texture. Split leather is used for clothing and accessories, like purses and wallets. Top grain is the natural top surface or fur side of the hide. If it does not have damage such as brand marks, insect bites, or cuts it can be sold untreated and is called full grain. Undamaged hides are rarer to acquire and therefore the most expensive. All the markings on full grain leather are natural. Buffed full grain creates suede. Cooler climates in Northern Europe where animals are kept in pens or enclosed pastures produce the finest leather with the least imperfections. Fewer than 5% of hides on the market are considered premium select, the very top grade. The cost of  leather is determined by the origin of the animal and by supply and demand and not by the location of the tannery.



Processed top grain leather is most common and still excellent quality. More cattle roam open ranges all over the world. Their hides are more weathered and have more scarring. To make them attractive for furniture, the imperfections are buffed out and sanded. Aniline dye is used to color the smoothed surface. Color can be applied by spraying on, hand rubbing or immersion. Most quality leathers also receive a clear top coat that encases the leather fibers and offers Scotchguard-like protection. With no protective coating, leather shows wear more quickly. Embossed leather has texture pressed into the surface by a machine. Embossing can offer a more uniform texture or even some unique design effects like pebble, crocodile and ostrich. Leather can be tumbled to soften the hand. Some scarred leathers are left unprocessed with the branding and imperfections visible. These work well in rustic or western design applications.

Here are a few things to notice when shopping for leather furniture. Leather seat cushions are upholstered with denim or canvas on the underside to allow the cushion to breathe and to let air escape when you sit down. Since leather is a natural product, small imperfections, even in processed leathers, are to be expected and are not considered defects. Color and grain patterns will vary from hide to hide as well as on parts of individual hides. Quality furniture makers work hard to match the color of hides on an individual piece of furniture and to position any visible imperfections in inconspicuous places. If there is a specific color desired, a color swatch sent to the manufacturer when the order is placed can be used to match the hides they plan to use. In lower end furniture, a coordinating vinyl is often placed on the back and even the sides to cut material costs and to make the piece more affordable. These pieces are called leather match or leather plus.

Caring for leather is uncomplicated. Regular vacuuming and dusting with a dry cloth will keep furniture in good shape. A quality leather conditioner should be applied at least once a year, more often if the piece is used daily, to maintain the leather's suppleness. Leather, like any upholstery fabric, will fade if exposed to direct sunlight. Precautions should be taken by properly covering windows with treatments or solar film. Leather should be kept at least two feet away from heat sources like radiators, fireplaces and wood stoves. Dry heat causes leather to crack. Cigarette and cigar smoke and other air pollutants can cause color changes and fading. Sharp objects should not be placed on leather furniture; durable is not puncture-proof. Cat's claws are not a friend of leather. As little water as possible should be used to blot spills. Household cleaners, soaps and soaking with water may ruin leather. For serious spills and stains, seeking a professional leather cleaning specialist is recommended. Minor scratches can often be rubbed out with a moist chamois or the oil from your fingers. Attention to these details will keep leather furniture looking its best and will improve its longevity.

Kristine Gregory is principal of Bedeckers Interior Effects, Inc. an interior design firm in Midlothian, Virginia specializing in custom window treatments and custom upholstery and providing a full range of interior products. Kristine is an Allied Member of American Society of Interior Designers, Past President of the Richmond Chapter of WCAA and a Window Fashions Certified Professional - Specialist Level. She is the only designer in the Richmond area who is an expert in both the psychology of color and personal organization. Visit her website at www.bedeckers.com and view her watercolors at www.kristinegregory.com

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Art of Mixing



The Best Designed Rooms Don't Match

The best designed rooms don't come packaged in a box; they evolve. Furniture and fittings are layered upon and built over time. Rooms reflect the homeowner's style as well as the location and setting of the house itself. Combining different furniture finishes and materials in design creates spaces with both depth and character. Great design is based upon balance and contrasts. Nothing screams hotel lobby or pre-furnished apartment more than sets of furniture and exact matches of color, metal or wood.
Rooms where everything is uniform and matching are boring and easily passed through. They tend to be flat and uninteresting. They are also "safe." People are scared of making a mistake with decorating. There is a cost in redoing. If the furniture is sold as a set, if the paint colors and fabric colors exactly match, if all the metal finishes on the cabinet hardware, drapery hardware, and lighting are an exact match then it has to "go" and can't be wrong. Right?

Design is not absolute. There on no set rules for mixing finishes. Style is personal. This does not mean we can not help our clients through the process. We need to let them know it is ok and preferable to combine styles and finishes.

Nature is the best example of how things that do not match work together beautifully. One single tree contains hundreds of shades of green. It's this same mix of shades, the play of contrasts, and the blend of textures that make a room interesting.

I posed the question of mixing finishes to two very current designers located on opposite sides of the United States but who all have clients worldwide. Their responses offer insight not only to their personal design perspective but also suggest advice we can all incorporate into our work.

Washington DC interior designer, Barry Dixon frequently uses the surrounding landscape of a home incorporating exterior elements into the home's interior design. Lumber from the property is used in construction of the home itself or its furnishings. Outdoor colors are often inspiration for his interior palettes. Nature played a large roll in the design of his two fabric collections available through Vervain. Many of the pieces of his furniture have nailheads accentuating their lines. He also uses various woods and combinations of fabrics upholstery. Barry speaks of mixing finishes this way, "Not only do I love to mix finishes in a room, but I prefer to mix them. I love the way this relaxes a space. I'll tell my clients to avoid the "Bridesmaid's" approach, ie. dyed to match, in favor of a harmonic blend of metal and wood finishes. Find some catalyst that coerces the mix, an inlaid box or chest of multiple wood tones and species for example, and mix away.



Californian, Barclay Butera, is known for his varied design themes based on location - beach, city, desert, mountain, and town and country. His fabric line for Kravet Couture is based around these same themes. As with the other designers, exterior surroundings influence his interiors and his choice of finishes relate to balance and diversity. He responded to my question about rules for mixing this way, "I always believe there are no rules in interior design. Working with drapery, I love to mix oil rubbed bronze rings and end caps with burnished bamboo rods. Also nickel rods and rings with tangerine linen drapery banded in oyster white linen. Because I do work throughout the country, I have the opportunity to mix styles in many environments. I love what I do and it shows."
The consensus is "mix away" but not with reckless abandon. There must be consideration of the theme of the room, the location of the home, and a balance of elements in the space including wood, metal, color, and texture. Choose the mix thoughtfully and purposefully.


Here are some ways of mixing to spark your imagination:
~ Mix contrasting fabric textures, such as smooth linen with fuzzy chenille or slick leather with wool.
~ Blend exotic woods with metal in drapery hardware, like bamboo with oiled bronze.
~ Look for furniture that contains a blend of woods and use it to guide your selection of other elements.
~ Balance the use of wood and metal in the room.
~ Use nailheads to accentuate lines of a cornice, a headboard, or a chair.
~ Select a kitchen island in a painted finish while staining the cabinets.
~ Use a chopping block wood top on an island and select granite countertops elsewhere.
~ Tile a backsplash in natural limestone and insert a band of slick glass or metallic tiles.
~ Choose cabinet hardware that is unique and not an exact match to the appliances, lighting, and plumbing fixtures.
~ Break up sets of furniture and repurpose them. Lose the labels. Just because a table is sold as a nightstand doesn't mean it can't be an end table. Chests of drawers are excellent for storing dining room linens.


Kristine Gregory is principal of Bedeckers Interior Effects, Inc. an interior design firm in Midlothian, Virginia specializing in custom window treatments and custom upholstery and providing a full range of interior products. Kristine is an Allied Member of American Society of Interior Designers, Past President of the Richmond Chapter of WCAA and a Window Fashions Certified Professional - Specialist Level. She is the only designer in the Richmond, Virginia area who is an expert in both the psychology of color and personal organization. Visit her other blogs at www.bedeckersinteriorsblog.com and www.kristinegregory.com Connect on Facebook and Twitter.