The best design requires culling furniture with intention. A chair or a sofa is not merely a place holder for a floor plan. And while a desire for comfort goes without saying, seating can be pivotal -- a make-or-break style and look.
Houston designer Paloma Contreras' study for this year's prestigious Kips Bay Decorator Show House in New York is a perfect illustration. She followed her recipe for mixing traditional and modern by pairing an armless settee upholstered in marine blue velvet with creamy swivel chairs edged in a sexy fringe, and framing a gilt-accented antique desk with 18th-century Adam chairs, emboldened in chrome yellow upholstery. It's an effective anchor for a meticulously appointed room with a backdrop of pale chartreuse silky drapes and a stunning floral de Gournay wallpaper, which informed the palette.
Today's chairs and sofas are not taking a back seat to other interior furnishings. Many cutting-edge designs are coming from Europe, which has become a bellwether for decor trends.
"Seating is obvious because it's so essential," says trend spotter/writer Arianne Nardo, most recently home editor for The Robb Report. "You have to have one or two comfortable pieces. And there's not only a move toward making form and function even more relevant, but also that people are less afraid of making a statement with a utilitarian piece.
"Usually we look to chandeliers, sconces and accessories as our fashion moments," Nardo continues. "We've moved into an era where pieces that are essential can be awe-inspiring. Not a basic sofa with a low profile that disappears, or a lounge chair meant as adjunct piece. People are being more considerate about choosing what to bring into the home. Every piece has its own personality."
Nardo says that context matters more -- "whether it's a small studio in New York or an exciting landscape competing with inside views."
"We're also now making a link to what's going on in hospitality -- where those wow moments are. How we feel when we walk into well-designed hotels and restaurants. How can we recreate those same emotional references in our homes -- where we sit down, where we put our drinks down."
More and more, savvy shoppers turn to Instagram, design magazines and Pinterest for leads, trying to hone in on styles and looks that resonate. A more informed customer seeking ways to put it all together is duly noted by manufacturers and retailers, who now are providing some tools in showrooms and on websites.
Modern profiles and treatments (think an unexpected pop graphic on a traditional frame or classic wing chair) have been gaining traction. Backs are tighter, with channeling and minimal tufting sometimes defining them. Arms have been pared down or dropped off altogether. Loungy ease is a new focus. Dramatic shapes are sculptural or architectural. Patterns are not timid -- from floral to geometric, deco- to Bauhaus-inspired, with fashion riffs like animal prints or plaids in altered scale and unexpected hues. Feet and platforms are going for gold, following burnished metal leads in other areas of home decor.
Throwing a curve. Curvy sofas and chairs seem to be everywhere. The Italian brand Minotti describes its new Lawson collection, as "an impressive choreography of curves and linearity." Okamura's Nagare makes a statement with an exaggerated silhouette inspired by geologic forms. A Roche Bobois chair features stone-inspired back cushions in different scales. Some new seating, especially in the contract arena of offices and hospitality, looks like it's made up of bolsters or cylinders joined together.
All the angles. Architectural pieces that boast more straight lines and angles are dramatic.
The Italic chair by Fabio Novembre for the Italian brand Driade, for example, is a curiously off-kilter design -- its seat, back and arms totally canted to one side. The company describes the piece as "midway between an armchair and a small architecture."
Get Back, the latest design by Ludovica and Roberto Palomba for Poltrona Frau (which follows Let It Be and Come Together) takes an accustomed modular approach and shifts the angle of the generously proportioned add-on piece.
Modular expands its base. In modular seating, one growing trend is an almost bedlike addition. Long and wide, it often features a pillow or two for leaning and enough space for people to sit on either side. When it's skillfully designed, it's not at all overpowering. The Josh sofa by Edward van Vliet for Moroso shows how harmoniously two such pieces come together. The uber-scale botanical print cover on a light ground has a stitched pattern reminiscent of traditional Japanese futons. The designer sees it as "the main player in the living room where everything starts."
Other pieces are like modern tete a tetes, "head to head" from the French, a 19th-century invention featuring an S-shape with a central armrest and two seats facing opposite directions, designed to engage conversation. German designer Christian Werner created what he calls "a conversation seat" for Ligne Roset, with large pillows and bolsters anchoring the overscaled area.
Velvet still rules. The love affair with velvet that began a few years back still is going strong. Its elegance and textural richness appeal. And palettes have expanded to include dark rich indigo, teal emerald, bright and light blues to soft apricots, terra cotta, blush, rose and saffron.
Fringe benefits. Fringe once again is enjoying a moment. Roberto Cavalli's home collection clearly nods to fashion, as was evident at its introduction at Salone del Mobile in Milan in April. Two standout pieces: a sofa with padded rolled arms and fringed leather that dances just below the arm and extends all around the back. Another Cavalli armchair, Dudley, is upholstered in a bold silk black, blush and white animal print. The back, which seems to hug the chair, is cloaked in layered leather fringe, with some chunkier pieces for dimension.
That movement is fun and edgy, while the Portuguese company Dooq handles embellishment more conventionally -- as a flirty, silky bullion fringe above the plinth base of a sculptural tub chair. The thick pink adornment is a pretty complement to the apricot velvet upholstery.
Gilding the lily. Even though maximalism has challenged minimal interiors with an abundance of pattern and embellishment, detailing on seating has been more restrained. But it's strategically placed for great impact. Contrast piping and tape trims, while not new, are being employed more creatively and colorfully. Italian fashion brand Etro's impeccably styled new velvet sofa called Morocco borrows the back's shape from the architecture of its namesake. Barely there passimenterie at the bottom edge draws the eye to multicolored hues that blend with other contrast piping.
Give it a whirl. Motion chairs hit the sweet spot for many. A midcentury influenced rounded swivel chair from Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams is sleek and low with an angled back and sits on a metal (or wood) base.
Global accents. Notes from around the world continue to inform seating, as well as other areas of home decor. What's especially striking are the current interpretations of folk art or primitive designs on modern seating. One of Etro's new chairs, Masai, takes inspiration from Africa, with its strong shape, use of wenge wood and bronzed metal rings.
Bring it outdoors. Curves, texture and color have spilled into outdoor furniture design. Thea, from Fendi Casa's first al fresco collection, in fact, replicates its indoor offerings, but translates them with all-weather materials. In the place of strand-by-strand applied leather to a circular wraparound design (now on a 316 stainless steel frame), there's high-tech cord.
-- Cappellini, 212-966-0669, www.cappellini.it
-- Dooq, email@example.com, www.dooqdetails.com
-- Driade, 212-334-3295, www.driade.com/en/
-- Etro Home, 212-247-1200, www.etro.com
-- Fendi, 212-897-2244, www.fendi.com/us
-- Ligne Roset, 312-846-1080, www.ligne-roset.com
-- Minotti, 212-685-0095, www.minotti.com
-- Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams Home, 800-789-5401, www.mgbwhome.com
-- Moroso, 212-334-7222, www.moroso.it
-- Okamura, 312-645-0115, www.us.okamura.com
-- Poltrona Frau, 212-777-7592, www.poltronafrau.com/en
-- Roberto Cavalli Home, 323-716-1497, www.robertocavalli.com
-- Roche Bobois, 212-889-0700, www.roche-bobois.com
-- Viccarbe, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.viccarbe.com; distributed through coalesse, 877-318-2061, www.coalesse.com, and Steelcase, 888-783-3522, www.steelcase.com
Paloma Contreras' Big Apple Showcase
Houston designer Paloma Contreras (www.palomacontreras.com) has had an interesting career path. About a decade ago, she started out as a blogger, amassing a devoted following with her on-point text and luscious design sensibilities. Because of the consistent, outstanding style she delivered, magazines and brands (Williams Sonoma Home, the most recent) came calling.
This year, she was honored to join the ranks of top designers like Vicente Wolf and Charlotte Moss to design a room for the prestigious Kips Bay Decorator Show House in New York City. In the inviting study, she showed off her signature style -- a mix of traditional and modern furnishings in a fresh palette; in this case, one courtesy of a beautiful hand-painted garden floral wallcovering by de Gournay that she had custom colored, as well as the springtime views outside the tall windows in the room.