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THE CHAIR, a French provincial reproduction by Rose Tarlow...

May 15, 1988|GREGG KILDAY | Gregg Kilday is a Los Angeles writer.

THE CHAIR, a French provincial reproduction by Rose Tarlow labeled "Tumbleweed Armchair With Rush Seat," sits amid the eclectic extravagance of the Randolph & Hein showroom on the third floor of the Pacific Design Center. But, as Ken Cinnamon and his wife, Karen Wengrod, stand contemplating it this particular Monday morning, they are envisioning it in the corner of the living room of their new three-bedroom home in Sherman Oaks. At the moment, the chair, a fanciful creation with a hand-painted, weathered-lacquer finish decorated with a dizzying display of rust-and-gold cross-hatching, is posing for a Polaroid, as the couple and their decorator, Frank Keshishian, study it admiringly. Having committed themselves to the chair a few days earlier, they have returned today to the Design Center to choose just the right fabric for the two rather jaunty pillows that cushion the chair's seat and back. And as Daniel Witherspoon, the showroom's salesman, hands them the developing image of the chair, Ken--he and Karen are both writers on the ABC comedy "Who's the Boss?"--can't help but joke: "Great. All we do now is stare at Polaroids. We don't read; we don't write. We just sit around and stare at all the Polaroids."

But really, it's no joking matter. The couple have decided to do their living room in country French, and they are determined to do it up right. This is the first time they have ever worked with a professional designer. "We did our last house by ourselves," Karen laments. "And after spending two weeks trying to find the right lamps, I said never again." And so, under Keshishian's guidance, they've begun to transform their new house. The money they had budgeted, which they had originally hoped would carry them through three rooms, has now been allotted solely to the living room. But as they regard the chair, with a glow of self-satisfied discovery that is almost palpable, a sense of contentment seems to settle over them. Now, if only they can find just the right fabric to go with it.

"You have a lot of options," Keshishian counsels them. "You can go with lavender, white, cream, probably a print again."

"I worry about overpowering the line of the chair," Ken muses aloud.

"When you see the right fabric, you'll know," Keshishian reassures them. "It will be something that jumps right out at you."

WELCOME TO the newest obsession of the baby-boom generation. Self-transformation, the generational quest of the '70s, has long since run its course. Where the est-ian Werner Erhard and his competing legions of Me Decade gurus once held sway, the deliverers of the design message now rule--Paige Rense of Architectural Digest, Anna Wintour of House & Garden, Dorothy Kalins of Metropolitan Home, and Sir Terence Conran, Britain's king of interior design, bi-continental furnishings magnate and author of "The House Book," "The Kitchen Book," "The Bed and Bath Book," "The New House Book" and, most recently, "The Conran Directory of Design."

Fashion designers as well are no longer quite the stars they once were; the search for the right cottons and linens and silks has less to do with what is worn than with what adorns the home. After all, now that Ralph Lauren is churning out his own home-furnishings line, clothing is just one facet of the properly outfitted living space.

And forget food. Bob Vila's "This Old House" has replaced Julia Child's "French Chef" as PBS' premier do-it-yourself guide. Die-hard bands of foodies might still wander in search of the newest taste sensation--as Cajun bows to Caribbean--but the favored cuisine of the moment is, quite simply, take-out. Who wants to endure the clamor of a restaurant when they can eat well amid the comforts of home?

You can see signs of the New Homesteaders everywhere. When Michael's old girlfriend showed up on a recent episode of "thirtysomething," she complimented the house even before she acknowledged his wife and child. And in the current ghost comedy "Beetlejuice," Catherine O'Hara's postmodern trendoid is more horrified by her new home's lack of closet space than by its resident poltergeists. In their first media incarnation, New Homesteaders were dismissed, derisively, as mere couch potatoes, a generation of TV addicts that had forsaken the bright lights of the big city for passive evenings in front of the tube. But true couch potatoes, content with little more than a Sony, a Barcalounger and an electric popcorn popper, represent only the lowest end of the spectrum. The New Homesteaders can't relax until they've also assembled the right end tables and throw rugs and accent lights to soften the high-tech edges of their media rooms.

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