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Three keynotes of interior design

By Marilyn HoffmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 22, 1985



New York

Trends in interior decoration often come and go, surge and wane, in the fickle manner of fashion. The French country look, however, with all its sturdy, provincial charm, is almost perennial in its appeal.

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The English country house look, too, has been popular in decorator circles for decades, with many current interpretations still finding favor.

And for a few years the exotic batiks of Southeast Asia reigned in the world of high fashion, bringing the colors and vivid designs of ancient Asian patterns into homes and wardrobes. Then, through misuse, overexposure, and bad adaptations and copies, its influence started to decline.

Three recent books discuss the influences of each of these trends and, through lavish illustration, show their functions both as decorative arts and as elements of interior design.

Pierre Deux's French Country (Clarkson N. Potter Inc., $35), by Pierre Moulin, Pierre LeVec, and Linda Dannenberg, with photographs by Guy Bouchet, is a book of grace and order. It captures the exuberance and spirit that characterize the sunny Provence region of southern France and its long traditions of craftsmanship.

Pierre Moulin, a native of Paris, and Pierre LeVec, an American of French descent, met in Paris in 1949, when they were working for the Marshall Plan, and they discovered that they shared a love of French culture and French country antiques.

Their paths crossed again in 1967, and they decided to open a store dealing exclusively in French furniture. That store, on Bleecker Street in New York's Greenwich Village, has grown into a nationwide network of 18 Pierre Deux stores stretching coast to coast -- from Boston to Seattle and from Palm Beach to Carmel.

All the stores sell the traditional provincial cottons of Provence made by Soleiado, 18th-century antiques and reproductions, and the traditional pottery and dinnerware of Provence.

The book devotes one whole chapter to the products of Soleiado, a provincial textile factory whose homey prints are still inspired by its 40,000 carved and laminated fruitwood blocks from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

M. Moulin and M. LeVec still travel to France more than six times a year to search out the French items they import for American consumption from that richly creative triangle of Provence that includes Arles, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence.

``The style of the French countryside,'' says M. Moulin, ``has evolved over hundreds of years, passing through myriad design influences, and at its best it is comfortable, graceful, and gracious. It is never contrived nor pretentious.''

English Style (Clarkson N. Potter Inc., $35), by Suzanne Slesin and Stafford Cliff, with photographs by Ken Kirkwood, includes country houses, London flats and lofts, and country cottages in its featured array of English dwelling places. Photos illustrate starkly modern settings as well as cluttered Victorian rooms and more discreetly furnished ones in traditional 18th- and 19th-century styles.

``Analyzing English style is as difficult as grabbing an octopus,'' says Sir Terence Conran in the book's introduction, ``and it has just about as many tentacles.''

The book illustrates his point all too well. It romanticizes ``rooms that result from years, if not centuries, of accumulations -- layer upon layer of heirlooms and mementos collected from a family's myriad experiences and travels abroad.''

It too amply records the ``pleasing decay,'' the ``lack of artifice,'' and ``the lived-in cozy look that is achieved by a lack of planning and years of accretion of objects.'' Many of the rooms chosen for photographing are so overlaid with possessions that the ``simplicity and stylishness that is particularly English'' seem completely lacking.

While the 600 full-color photographs do illustrate some pleasing and inviting interiors, they also highlight many that are highly idiosyncratic. I don't envision many readers trying to emulate the styles purveyed in this hodgepodge collection.

Batik, Fabled Cloth of Java (Clarkson N. Potter Inc., $45), by Inger McCabe Elliott, is a sumptuous volume that is much more than a simple decorating book or a handsome coffeetable attraction.

The author's research and scholarship probably make this the definitive book now available on the ancient art of batik. Mrs. Elliott describes how it emerged in Java as one of the great art forms of Asia and discusses the crucial roles played by geography, history, and religion in the art's evolution.

The book's explanatory text, as well as its footnotes, glossary, concordance, and annotated bibliography, will ensure its future as a valuable reference book for libraries, schools, textile institutes, artists, collectors, and many others. And Kiyoshi Kanai's spectacular page layouts of Brian Brake photographs make it an exciting visual experience, whether or not one reads a word of the text.

Mrs. Elliott, who discovered Indonesia as a former photojournalist and has returned many times since, introduced authentic Javanese batik fabric to the American market a decade ago through her China Seas company. As the motifs of batik have been copied, adapted, hybridized, and diluted, she has continued to import and sell ``the real stuff'' -- true batik as it has been painstakingly made for hundreds of years.

In the batik process, wax is applied to cloth to resist successive dyes so that wherever the cloth is waxed, dyes cannot penetrate. The process is repeated over and over as more colors are used.

Many of the textiles illustrated in this stunning book are in an exhibition entitled ``Fabled Cloth, Batik From Java's North Coast,'' organized with the help of the Mobil Corporation by the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibition will be at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York through April 28; then it will be in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto from May 30 to July 28. Its final stop will be the Sewell Gallery in Houston from Sept. 6 to Oct. 19.