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AROUND HOME : Formal Country by Pat Ross (Viking Studio Books; 1989)

November 19, 1989|Barbara Thornburg

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.

"Formal Country," will appeal to those readers who don't need to follow rules. It will inspire others to juxtapose their cherished heirlooms and collections--formal with informal-- with abandon and panache. In Ross' book a fresh new style is created, releasing the abiding spirit that resides in each home. A resource guide of antique shops, crafts galleries and shops offering a variety of decorative furnishings is included. Local Los Angeles sources include: The Blue House and Country Pine & Design, both on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica; the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Boulevard, and Gazebo and Margaret Cavigga Quilt Collection on Melrose Avenue. ($35)

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