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The Eye by Barbara King

You know it when you see it

Designs so good, they stand the test of time and reinvention. Best of all, they work anywhere. A chandelier in the oak tree? Why not. A chaise longue in the kitchen? Go ahead.

September 23, 2004|Barbara King | Barbara King, editor of the Home section, can be reached at

A blizzardy wind overtook the streets of New York on a February evening, so by the time I made it to the dinner party at a newly revamped loft in Tribeca, I would have been appreciative of anything in the interior just because it was an interior. But under any circumstances, seeing a crystal chandelier in a straightforward industrial space would have jolted me into the most agreeable mood.

It's not what you'd expect, a vignette such as this one, so right away you pay closer attention. And suddenly you see the chandelier not as a sublime spectacle of overwrought grandeur, but a friendlier thing, one that might work, oh, let's see, over the bathtub, maybe? On the veranda?

Well, let's not go wild. On second thought, let's. Because how great would that be? Hang it from the old oak tree. Crystal chandeliers are not just for foyers and dining rooms, you realize. They're for anywhere you want them.

Just like a chaise longue, come to think of it. I once saw a hyper-stylized one in a big steel-and-chrome kitchen, and it made perfect sense to me: What a civilized way to keep the cook company.

The beauty of classic designs is that they have such a democratic character. They don't look down on this room or that. Place me here, place me there, I'll be at home. Put an Oriental rug on a polished concrete floor and see exactly how appropriate it looks, though you might not have guessed it. Meant to be.

The strictly formulaic doesn't suit a self-assured classic one bit. Dress a wing chair in plaid, leather, faded chintz, distressed velvet -- one complements it just as well as the other. Wrap that polite, subdued Parsons table in red crocodile-stamped leather and it takes on a racy new personality.

The designs we chose to feature in this edition are anything but old fogies: They've kept up with the times. In other words, they remain relevant, always freshening their look while staying true to their natures. And by their very natures, they have resisted trendiness. They're timeless, forever young in a seasoned sort of way. With their effortless marriage of form and function, as soon as they were designed, they were here to stay.

That's why they are constantly being plagiarized, updated, reproduced, re-envisioned. Take the chaise, as one example: Great designers from Le Corbusier to George Nakashima to Frank Gehry have created remarkably varying versions, and the imaginative recastings never end. Styles come and go and come again. But the designs we chose to feature -- classics all -- never left. I'd bet my beat-up old leather club chair that they never will.

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