PAT ROSS, OWNER of Sweet Nellie, a popular antiques and craft shop in New York City, reveals a new trend in interior design with her book, "Formal Country." Ross defines the style as "a way of combining disparate styles of furniture and accessories to create an environment that is elegant and refined, yet comfortable and relaxed." A tour of 16 American homes--from a sophisticated Manhattan townhouse to a Swiss-inspired chalet in Washington state--shows that old rules no longer apply, as antiques mix with folk art and European heirlooms keep time with offbeat contemporary sculpture.
At first, "Formal Country" seems a contradiction in terms. "Formal" traditionally brings to mind elegant antique laden interiors, while "country" conjures up a more relaxed atmosphere of cozy rooms overflowing with primitive folk art. Ross' incongrous couple create an offspring that takes the best from both parents--the elegance of formal and the warmth of country.
According to Ross, mixing country with other styles has gained in popularity relatively recently. Country--heretofore a category unto itself--of machined-braided rugs and Hitchcock rockers--was often overdone and not just a little fussy. But always, it was comforting. Our image of country began to change with designers such as Sister Parrish in the 1960s, who decorated her own home with country oak she painted white, and '70s designers such as Laura Ashley, Pierre Deux and Ralph Lauren, who introduced us to and celebrated English, French and American "country" respectively.