Home Design – Letting the Architecture Speak

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BY BRIAN LIBBY

WHETHER A TRADITIONAL, CONTEMPORARY OR LODGE HOME, interior designer Faith Sheridan says good design is about listening to the architecture.

When outfitting a home, any number of factors might play a role, like personal taste or the geographical setting (beach, mountains, desert, city) of the house. But sometimes the architecture itself is a strong enough presence that it can dictate, or at least indicate, the best furniture, colors and textures to choose.

“You don’t want to fight with the house,” says Sheridan, whose Seattle-based office has designed spaces for a variety of residences. “You can emphasize a house’s style to the degree that you want to, but I always try to respect the architecture, along with the clients’ vision for the space.”

The Log Home
Perhaps the style with the greatest presence is a log home or rustic lodge, made from massive timbers left in their natural state. Although no style police will come knocking on your cabin door for choosing one color tone versus another, or placing a mid-century modern Eames chair in the living room where a more period-appropriate rocker might go, Sheridan believes it makes sense to pay attention to the conditions of the house.

“It gets busy visually with horizontal and vertical architectural elements,” she explains.

Many types of homes have distinctive wood or tile floors that command a presence in the overall style, but then give way to drywall that’s more neutral. Not so with a log home or other rustic wood cabin, where the walls and ceilings are patterned layers of timber. It’s not that the architectural lines mean you can’t have patterns. For one client remodeling a log home, Sheridan embraced their love of vintage Pendleton blankets to create colorful patterns throughout the space in details like bedding or accent pillows. But to balance those strong lines and patterns, Sheridan emphasized “cleaner style and shapes,” as she puts it, so as not to compete. After all, in a vacation home the emphasis is often on the view, or in the case of a log home on the rustic architecture itself, so the idea is not to compete with those elements.

Log homes and wood lodges are also vibrantly colorful, with the tone of the wood often changing over time. The Pacific Northwest’s signature conifer, Douglas fir, tends to become more yellow-orange over time. As a result, Sheridan favors warmer colors that meld well with the wood, such as deep reds, yellows and oranges. If she chooses cooler colors like blue, it’s usually a darker shade such as navy. “You don’t want pastels with a log home,” she says. “You can use a variety of colors but I’d make them richer tones.”

The American Craftsman Home
Some of these same principles also apply to traditional home styles found in cities and towns, such as the classic American craftsman, the Queen Anne cottage or the bungalow. In each of these styles, made popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, wraparound porches give way to interiors with decorative details: moldings and trims lining the floors and ceilings, exposed brick and sometimes even beveled windows. Sheridan recommends using paint to highlight these elements: a white window frame or crown molding, for example, against a colorful painted wall or use of wallpaper. Sometimes, too, a house can be enlivened by use of period-detail hardware such as sink fixtures, doorknobs and furniture. But the designer warns not to go too far, where the house’s reborn historic style becomes a caricature. “It’s about proportion and balance,” Sheridan explains. She believes some national retail chains focused on historic style have almost fetishized tradition, creating oversized versions of classic furniture and housewares.

Contemporary & Modern Homes
For a contemporary or modern home, on the other hand, the approach is one of restraint. Sheridan says the idea is to emphasize one or two elements, such as the view (these residences often boast floor-to-ceiling glass) or the artwork, and then make the rest disappear. “It’s a matter of where your eye goes,” Sheridan explains. In the case of one recent client, the idea was to highlight their collection of Asian ceramics.

Contemporary and modern styles can differ from each other, the designer also notes: Modern usually refers to midcentury, which is all about horizontality. Newer contemporary spaces, on the other hand, are more likely to have tall ceilings. Each can call for a different scale and type of furniture, either more low-slung sofas in the case of a midcentury or, in a tall space, using more high-backed chairs to emphasize the verticality.

With any style of home, Sheridan also notes the value of good lighting. In a contemporary design, the chandeliers and lamps can become sculptural elements: defining a space as not just a source of light but commanding attention. In a more traditional home or a rustic cabin, lighting can be more about ambiance: not needing to brightly illuminate every corner but, instead, to create a mellow mood that enhances the natural materials of the space.

“At the end of the day,” the designer says, “it’s listening to and respecting the architecture.”