The California look: comfort blended with elegance

The California look keeps evolving. California retains its place as a decorating pacesetter, generating and supporting trends that influence the rest of the country.

This room setting, designed by Harry Lawenda, president of Kneedler-Fauchere, and exhibited at a conference of the American Society of Interior Designers, illustrates several of these upper-echelon trends. It indicates the continuing California appreciation of comfort and casualness, but blended now with more fantasy and romance.

''This whole room has a reminiscent feeling,'' Mr. Lawenda explains. ''I wanted to create the mood of a pavilion, or a loggia overlooking a garden, so I introduced the columns as decorative architectural elements. Even the dining table has a column base. The hemp wallcovering illustrates our love of many textures in a room, for it combines here with a jade marble table, elegant lacquered tables and cabinet, and a wicker chaise longue wide enough to seat two.''

The color trend in California is away from both earthy natural tones and intense colors, says Mr. Lawenda, and toward restful, rich, brighter-than-normal pastels. The color palette today includes celadons, deep salmon, cool and muted turquoise, rose quartz, muted greens, tinted neutrals, and grays and off-whites.

He says the overscaled Greek olive jars that he uses in this room illustrate a continuing decorator demand for enormous urns, jugs, and jars, many of them authentic antique reminders of centuries past. ''I think an oversize Greek olive jug can be an important flanking to an important entry,'' the designer says.

He sees a new response to all kinds of overscaled accessories. ''People don't want little things all over the place anymore. They are more interested in using fewer but more important accessories, such as one lovely piece on a coffee table and nothing else.''

He pinpoints over California trends as follows:

* Post-modernism remains a strong influence, particularly in its soft color palette and decorative use of architectural columns.

* Bleached, pickled, and pale woods are in vogue right now, as are pale floors beneath the area rugs.

* Californians still like sofas more than seven feet long. The one Mr. Lawenda uses against one wall of this setting is nine feet long.

* Handcrafted hickory chairs combine a hewn wood texture with sophisticated fabrics and remain part of the high-fashion West Coast mix.

* Lacquer finishes in many colors are increasingly important.

* Tall torchier lamps shed the light in many California settings.

In this free-wheeling state, houses may be getting smaller, but many decorators are simply using bigger and fewer things in smaller spaces.

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