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Your Home, Your Way

Eager to put personal touches in their home decor, more people are taking matters into their own hands and turning to sophisticated crafts.

July 15, 1999|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is no excuse for a boring house.

Not when home decor crafts can take white walls, nondescript floors and plain curtains and transform them into beautiful surfaces with texture and color.

Home decor crafts have exploded in the last few years, and what used to be the domain of trained artisans is now in the hands of the consumer. Stencils, stamps, faux finishes, mosaics, sewing patterns and decoupage are becoming increasingly easy to find in craft and home improvement stores, Kmarts and Wal-Marts--even drugstores and bookstores. With these tools, generic rooms can become unique, coordinated living spaces.

Some examples:

* Rubber Stampede's line of foam decorative stamps includes everything from flourishes and scrolls to coffee cups, fruit and celestial bodies, and stamps come in small to extra-large sizes.

* Stencils from companies such as American Traditional have progressed from single-layer cutouts to multiple overlays that give the look of hand painting.

* Wallies are prepasted wallpaper cutouts that can be applied to almost any surface, including wood, walls and floors. From McCall's, they come in a variety of colors and shapes, from Mary Engelbreit flowers to nautical motifs.

* Mosaics, from companies such as Plaid Enterprises and the Beadery, can embellish trays, vases, frames, lamps and kitchen back splashes.

* To mimic the home accessories featured in top shelter magazines, look to Vogue, McCall's and Simplicity for patterns for pillows, bed linens, window treatments and table top items. For fabrics, companies such as Waverly offer sophisticated prints and solids.

* Children can join in home decor projects, too. A Tennessee-based company called Mixed Nuts has come up with whimsical corrugated cardboard furniture and accessories that can be painted, stamped, stenciled or decoupaged.

Adding to this plethora is the fact that one product can have a variety of applications. The same stencils or stamps can be used on curtains, place mats, walls, floors and ceramics. Faux finishes can be created on table tops and doors, and the same mosaics can decorate both a kitchen back splash and a picture frame.

This versatility can produce a coordinated look that is literally floor to ceiling, which is what the consumer covets, say designers and manufacturers. Anyone craving Laura Ashley can now use fabrics, stencils, stamps and a custom line of paints to have a signature British country look.

Most of these products are relatively inexpensive--stencils and stamps can sell for less than $10 each. And thanks to technological innovations, they're not that difficult or time-consuming to use. Finished projects look sophisticated and distinctive.

A Trend Rooted

in Self-Expression

What's driving this huge boom in "home dec," as it's called, is "the need for self-expression," says Deborah Murphy, design director of Georgia-based Plaid Enterprises, which produces stencils, mosaics, stamps and finishes, as well as the Gallery Glass line of faux stained glass.

"We drive into our homes in subdivisions, and frequently there's a sameness," Murphy says, "but what's exciting is people's need to express themselves in a unique way. It's very much connected with a yearning for authenticity."

That need for expression must be strong. According to surveys done for the Hobby Industry Assn., sales of craft and hobby products topped $10 billion each year in 1995, 1996 and 1997. More than eight out of 10 households have at least one family member who does crafts, and the typical crafter spends 7 1/2 hours a week engaged in a hobby.

Expressing yourself can also be cost-effective. As Grace Taormina, the head of Rubber Stampede's Creative Stamping Department points out, "A lot of home furnishings have a hand-painted look, but sometimes those prices are way too much for people. Also, I think with the consciousness about recycling, people see this as a way of taking something old and making it new again."

Crafting something yourself guarantees you'll get exactly what you want.

"I find that my friends who don't sew often are disappointed with what they find at retail," says Cathleen Campbell, director of marketing and education for the Home Sewing Assn. in New York City. "I never have that problem. I know I can make it."

Also fueling this movement is the proliferation of network and cable television shows touting ways to spruce up your home quickly and inexpensively.

From predawn through nighttime, the programs never stop: "Interior Motives," "Aleene's Creative Living," "Home Matters," "Martha Stewart Living," "Next Door With Katie Brown," "Decorating Cents" and "Your Home Studio." (For an overview of these and other shows, see the resources list on Page E3).

The shows teach both the uninitiated and the savvy tricks of the trade with step-by-step instructions that often take the intimidation out of a project.

Doing Away With the

Hands-at-Home Stigma

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