What is elegance? It can seem indefinable and hard to capture, yet in interior design it’s shaped by a set of aesthetic principles that can guide designers exploring any trend – even if they have no prior design experience. Long, clean lines, smooth surfaces and the maximization of space lie at the heart of it, yet it’s not impossible to combine it successfully with artful clutter, as in the Victorian home, or with vivid colors and complex detail, as in Italian Rococo interiors. Considering the examples below makes it easier to understand how elegance can be brought to the fore in any space.
The perfect modern home
In the modern home, the focus is frequently on utility and ergonomics, but that which is useful can still be beautiful, and well-designed modern furniture should achieve both qualities. Shining chrome or pale pine and beech can all look attractive in a space like this, and subtly textured upholstery complements their smoothness. Stripped back windows with long cotton or linen curtains let in plenty of light to bounce off white or pale gray walls and highly polished hardwood floors. Brightly colored feature walls can add character without compromising on style. The look is centered on a preponderance of geometric lines, from square rugs to unframed rectangular modern art prints. Recessed lighting at night contributes to a look that is fuss-free and practical, yet magnificently chic.
The Georgian period saw the creation for the first time of homes for people who had grown rich on their own merits and wanted to celebrate a sense of style distinct from that of the aristocracy. It was expensive in its time, yet today it is often possible to find attractive Georgian-style furniture in thrift stores, especially if one is willing to spend a little time restoring it. It’s not hard to source online help choosing shutters or landscape paintings that will bring interiors like this to life, and chandeliers, which are a must, can often be picked up at auction. There’s no need to buy expensive wallpaper when simply painting walls and ceilings in shades of olive green, soft brown or gold can create the ideal look. Georgian style blends those classic straight lines with simple curves such as those found in swans’ necks or lilies.
Many present day ideas of what constitutes elegance date back to the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, and it’s possible to capture elements of their aesthetics in today’s homes. This is, for instance, where the modern love of marble stems from. While getting marble flagging or countertops fitted can be expensive, it’s possible to pick up individual slabs of marble quite cheaply through online auction sites, and then hire a stonecutter at a simple, hourly rate to get them into shape. Hand-painted ceramic tiles provide another highly affordable way of achieving this look, and fragments of broken tile can be used to create mosaics – sealed with clear resin that can be found in any hardware store, these are smooth and safe to walk on. It’s also worth watching the short films on YouTube that illustrate how a marble effect can be created on almost any surface, using resin and paint.
Marbling using shades of cream, pink or gray is a wonderful way to decorate the walls of a chateau-style home. Alternatively, damask wallpaper is often available online at low prices, and the simpler, more affordable styles tend to look the most elegant, especially when space is limited. A bit of hard work with a sander and some wax is all that’s needed to produce a stylish hardwood floor in most homes, and it should be stained dark brown to suit this look. Although silk may be expensive, it’s easy to sew, and making one’s own long silk drapes can save quite a bit of money, with simple ribbon tiebacks getting them into shape. The rest is about detail – hunting down period furniture in thrift stores or picking up antique mirrors and chandeliers online. A chaise longue for the living room or a French dresser for the kitchen does not need to be an expensive purchase but can transform the look of the home.
Elegance is often found in simplicity, so it can be easy to achieve on a budget. Where many people fail is in compromising on aesthetically unappealing items in order to get them quickly. It’s better to take a minimalist approach to begin with and buy higher quality items gradually. Even a single elegant piece of furniture in each room, if it’s not surrounded by unattractive items, will send out a clear message about the owner’s sense of style.