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FURNISHINGS : Dressing Chairs, Couches for the Occasion


LAGUNA BEACH — Resplendent in ruffles and rosettes, the bride did nothing but sit around like a piece of furniture.

In fact, the bride was a piece of furniture--a boudoir chair sporting the latest in armchair attire.

Sandra Charbogne created the white bridal slipcover as one of her furniture fashions. At a private trunk show in her Laguna Beach home, Charbogne used miniature furniture as well as the full-sized boudoir chair to show off her latest slipcover styles.

She treats her furniture like fashion designers treat the body, dressing chairs and couches in seasonal wardrobes that can be changed as easily as one changes clothes.

"It's a quantum leap in the way people think about upholstery," Charbogne says.

Some still think of slipcovers and throws as plain, poorly fitting cousins to fine upholstery. Charbogne's furniture fashions, however, are more like haute couture for couches and chairs, and thanks to hook-and-loop fasteners the "garments" fit as snugly as any designer dress.

"Furniture fashions can be highly stylized too," she says.

She makes use of the same techniques that fashion designers use to create a garment--ruffles, pleats, bows, rosettes and asymmetrical lines.

She covers one couch like a big birthday present, wrapping it around the middle with a metallic ribbon and adding a large pouf in back.

"This way the couch is like a piece of soft sculpture. It can stand by itself. You don't need to add coffee tables, plants or books" to make it attractive.

Charbogne's chairs and couches can change clothes with the seasons.

For spring, she outfits a boudoir chair in a white and blue floral fabric throw, gathered and tucked around the sides and the back to show off a blue "petticoat" underneath. She pins blue rosettes at the arms and along the gathered skirt in back for added decoration. An ottoman wears a matching blue and white ensemble. With all those ruffles, it's the Scarlett O'Hara of chairs.

In minutes, the same chair can be decked out for the holiday season.

"The concept of the Christmas chair is once you have it, it becomes part of your tradition," she says. "At Christmastime, mauves don't work. If you try to match your tree to your color scheme, you'll end up with a frosty tree."

Her solution: Change the color scheme. She does so by dressing the chair in a red velvet frock with gold piping, adding rows of ruffles made of a metallic plaid lame around the back and around the matching ottoman.

"I actually wore that ruffle as a wrap to a Christmas party," says Charbogne, detaching the wrap from the ottoman and throwing it around her shoulders.

"A man I knew said, 'Hey, didn't I see that on one of your chairs?' "

Her bridal boudoir chair comes decked in white with a crown of small rosettes wrapped around it and a long ruffle in back that gives the illusion of a bridal train. She hopes to create lingerie to match--for people, not furniture.

Charbogne often makes her slipcovers out of the same fabric used for clothing. Instead of heavy upholstery material, she chooses sheer georgettes, silks, metallic lames and iridescent taffetas. She reserves the delicate fabrics for areas that are spared heavy wear.

"I treat the back and sides (of the furniture) as a blank canvas. These spaces never get worn out," she says.

One flamboyant chair cover comes in fuchsia with a tall taffeta ruffle around its sides and top. Charbogne calls it her "I've arrived" chair.

The couch in her living room features an asymmetric wave pattern, mixing a printed black and taupe cotton Jacquard on top with a sheer black georgette gathered into inverted box pleats below.

"Fabrics never wear out. You either get bored of them or you move and the furniture no longer matches," she says.

While Charbogne can create a wardrobe for an existing sofa or chair, she sells her own line of furniture. That way customers can easily order additional slipcovers because the designer has the furniture's precise measurements.

Her furniture fashions mostly range from $300 to $1,800, although an elaborate custom job can cost up to $6,000. Her furniture, which includes five sofa styles, a boudoir chair and ottoman, ranges from $350 to $450 for a chair and $700 to $1,200 for a sofa.

Customers can order custom designs to match any decor. One wanted her boudoir chair dressed in a kind of negligee, with three layers of sheer silk gracing the sides and back, and a romantic wreath of purple rosettes.

Some choose a simple slipcover in a sturdy fabric for everyday use, then pull out the fancier cover when company comes, Charbogne says.

"It's a practical way of indulging our vanities. You can have that white silk garment for a sofa that's to die for, and change it for a washable throw when the teen-agers want to have a party. Then if it gets dirty you can throw it in the wash or send it to the cleaners."

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