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HOME DESIGN : Southwest Look Is Out; a Lot Else Is In : There's a New Possibility for Every Taste in Hodgepoge of Decorating Trends

September 23, 1989|KAREN MORRIS | Karen Morris is a free-lance writer who lives in Huntington Beach.

Homeowners who just put the last aqua pillow in place may be disheartened to learn that their favored Southwest look is fading into the sunset. It's been superseded by neoclassic. Or maybe high-tech. Or soft contemporary. With post-modern influences. And Oriental notes. Anyway, it's out, according to interior design experts.

Consensus hasn't been reached, however, on what's in .

"Orange County is such a hodgepodge of life styles--contemporary, eclectic, traditional," says Byron de Arakal, vice president of public relations for model-home designer Carole Eichen Interiors in Santa Ana.

An informal survey of local designers also yields a hodgepodge of decorating trends. There's a new look for every taste, including die-hard Southwest aficionados.

For those who have invested heavily in cotton upholstery and sand-patterned terra cotta, that Southwest look can be updated with faux stone and rustic wood furnishings, de Arakal says.

And for the traditional contingent, Ralph Lauren and Laura Ashley print fabrics are still popular, de Arakal notes. They're used with the whitewashed woods and light backgrounds that are very popular now, he says.

"Ralph Lauren's timeless old-money look has tremendous appeal to the nouveau riche, " says Michael Koski, communications director for Design Center South in Laguna Niguel.

But the hottest design trend in the county today is neoclassic, designers say.

Modern relics, walls that look as if they've been dug up from Pompeii are used to create an ancient Mediterranean feeling--the look of Florence or Santorini--that denotes the neoclassic style, according to de Arakal. Columns, pediments and statuary evocative of classical Greece or Rome work well in Orange County's expensive homes, he says.

"People want more architectural drama in interiors to maintain space," he says. "In high-end, $400,000 to $500,000 houses on very narrow lots, you have to create very high rooms for visual excitement and to legitimize the high price of a small home.

"Neoclassic is a very elegant look," de Arakal says, with "very muted colors: gray, taupe, beige, very light tan--very monochromatic."

Koski agrees: "Beige is big."

If any color at all is used, Koski says, it will be deep, rich and vibrant. The influence of Paris couture collections and reaction against pastels in the waning Southwest look has designers turning to "jewel tones" of deep ruby red, sapphire, emerald, plum and teal.

"Pastels are out, out, out!" Koski declares .

Merry Brady, owner of Hampton Interiors in Laguna Niguel, shares the growing preference for strong accent colors and greater drama. Typical of the current look, she says, is the house she recently completed decorating in Corona del Mar for Don Zellner, who heads his own residential building firm in Costa Mesa.

The oceanfront house features what is "probably the most magnificent view of the coastline in Southern California," she says. With the entire front of the house given over to the view, draperies, furnishings and colors are kept to a minimum--"lots of cream and beige, with accents of aubergine, teal and black."

The kitchen cabinets are laminated with a mother-of-pearl-like finish, and the flooring is made of black granite--real granite, she says.

"I'm real tired of faux stone," Brady says.

Although they've been widely used in everything from fireplace mantels to table tops, the textured synthetics are no longer appropriate for high-end Orange County houses that feature fine marble entry floors or polished granite fireplaces, designers say.

"If designers use stone, they're going to real stone--fossil stone, marble, granite," she says.

The preference for natural stone indicates renewed emphasis on quality in home furnishings, the designers say. Custom inlaid carpets, lots of tile, less clutter and high-quality comfort are in demand.

"People want a high level of comfort, a more sophisticated comfort," says de Arakal of Carole Eichen Interiors.

That means getting the most out of each room in the house, he says.

"People commute more and have less time to spend together. They're in a time crunch. So when they are home, they use their home intensively," he maintains.

Formal living and dining rooms are giving way to something like the traditional "great rooms" of England, according to de Arakal. The family living center is a space to relax, entertain, take care of business with home office equipment, prepare meals--a mini-home in itself, he explains.

When it comes to comfort, Design Center South's Koski warns that designer and client may have a conflict.

"That's going to be a battle between client and designer," he predicts. "The client wants comfort, while designers are moving away from overstuffed (upholstered pieces) in favor of sofas that lift off the floor, up on skinny legs."

However that dilemma is resolved, designers better have options to offer, Koski says. In Orange County's "hodgepodge," he says, "people locked into one look or another are going to get left in the dirt."

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