Lots of people claim to be, or claim to like a vague, indefinable style called “Eclectic,” but what does that actually mean? My Webster’s dictionary defines it as: selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles; composed of elements drawn from various sources.
Eclecticism can make a room bold and invigorating if it’s done right, but more often than not, I find the term used as an excuse for liking everything and yet nothing. The danger is in spreading yourself too thin, weakening and diluting your passion, your decorative statement and style-sense. Do you accommodate too many others’ styles, furnishings, and expectations to the point that your house and all the things in it don’t reflect you anymore?
There are three steps to make “eclectic” décor live together happily, and keep your home-sweet-home from becoming a repository of unrelated junk.
- Edit (the nice way of saying “get rid of it”)
- Change it
So many times we take in hand-me-downs, leftovers, inherited furnishings, salvaged items. It’s not always because we love these things, but because we want to please others, avoid hurt feelings, or prove that we’re economically sensible (hey, that’s a perfectly good dining set! Three-legged chairs with shag upholstery were all the rage back then! Do you know how much it would cost to buy that now?).
Get over it. You don’t have to keep everything that comes your way. Check with other family members and friends to see if someone else can provide a loving home for old Uncle So-‘n-So’s dining set, or donate it to a good cause. This is your home, filled with items you’ve acquired because you love them, they make your heart sing, and support your life energy. Be selective. Be choosy. Don’t horde crap.
The power of transformation. Reupholster. Put slipcovers over chairs. Repaint. Refinish wood frames. Use a high-gloss or matte finish solid color paint to change the appearance of an old-fashioned and dowdy piece of furniture into something modern, daring, and whimsical. I don’t recommend this for real antique furniture, but most furniture is not so precious that it can’t be altered.
Technically, an antique is defined as something at least 100 years old or more (except cars, which are considered antiques at 25 years or older). Anything less than that is vintage, and if the original color or finish doesn’t work for you, change it. Don’t be afraid; the decorating police won’t come knocking at your door.
Here’s an example of a transformed item I used in a home.
This mirror has an ornately carved, gilded gold frame. It’s very traditional, and wouldn’t work with the new, more contemporary interior design I planned, so I painted it.
Now, with the frame painted a solid color, it has become more of a sculptural, funky piece that retained its traditional form, but now harmonizes with the modern interior.
This is the trickiest of the three steps; creating harmony amongst disparity. It’s a step that requires a good eye for color, form, and scale. It’s okay to use very different styles of furniture together, as long as there is some element that is similar about them- a through-line, a common thread. It could be color, or maybe the shapes of the different items, or balancing the scale and proportion of the pieces.
Curvy chairs with a straight-lined table, or vice versa. Maintaining a certain amount of similarity in the shapes of furniture from different styles and periods can help them work together in the same room. Are the curves organic and random, or rigidly geometric? In the mirror example above, the through-line to mesh the furnishings was the color. The traditional style of the frame used with the clean-lined shelf, floor lamps, and pool table created a focal point for the room and the style differences are balanced.
Play with different arrangements, try things out. And trust yourself. Most of the time, you’ll know instinctively if a furniture grouping is working or not. It will feel right, easy, calming. You can feel it in your body if you pay attention and are in tune with your physical presence in time and space.
Some people are completely oblivious to these types of physical signals. They throw whatever furniture together that comes their way, because of utility, price, convenience, or someone else’s opinion. These are the people that live a superficial, one-dimensional existence. They’re not the happiest types. They’re usually nervous and high-strung, or apathetic. We all know these houses and have encountered these people before. Their homes are uncomfortable, and you feel uneasy. As a guest, it’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep there. Hopefully, that doesn’t describe your house!
“Eclectic” is sometimes a catch-all term that really indicates indecision. Be clear about what you like and dislike. Take the time to weed out the ugly and unnecessary, change and improve furnishings that can work together, and find the shared elements that make seemingly mismatched furnishings look great together.