Every room should have a focal point of decoration. A focal point is just that: It focuses attention on a given object, wall, or center of activity. It sometimes guides people where you want them to go when they enter a room. It can set a mood, or help pull a room together.
Rooms in older homes and apartments often have built-in focal points such as fireplaces or distinctive architectural details. But modern rooms are usually bare and boxy and woefully bereft of mantel, moldings, or fine built-in cabinetry.
Focal points, hence, must be devised. Many interior designers believe a fake fireplace is worth its price to center and order a room and yield at least an illusion of hearthside warmth.
Jan Dicken, who heads the firm of E. C. Dicken in the Dallas Decorative Center, illustrates in her own Texas home her approach to a "focal point wall." The base, or foundation, of this attention-getting wall is a long, low, English antique chest of elm wood. Above the chest, she placed an arrangement of shelves, cut in various lengths and set on handsome black wrought-iron brackets. She then placed on the shelves a collection of choice books, paintings, and art objects.
Although Mrs. Dicken created her focal point with quality materials, the same basic idea could be adapted to any budget level. An unpainted chest and wall-hung shelves above it, arranged with books, bric-a-brac, and small framed artwork, could function with the same purpose.
Douglas Sachfield, manager of interior design for Simmons, U.S.A., in New York, indicates in a 10 foot by 20 foot living room how a wall focal point can contribute significantly to the mood of a room. In this case the mood is Oriental, as dictated by the print on the sofa, the grasscloth-covered walls, and the Oriental porcelain exhibited on glass shelves and lighted by track lights from the ceiling.
Because the window view was dull, the designer focused attention on the wall at the opposite end of the room and turned the sofa and the desk that backs it toward the focal wall. For added importance, he added a center wood panel from which extends an 18-inch high table for playing backgammon or dining Japanese style.
Mr. Sachfield's advice is, first, to decide what you think is the room's most important wall. Then dramatize it as a focal point. If it is a window wall and the view is good, glamorize it and arrange your furniture to take advantage of the outlook.
New York interior designer Elizabeth Matthews converted one long wall of her Manhattan studio apartment into an emphatic but practical focal point.
The center of attention is her work- study area, so she designed it carefully as a total composition. Every element has a purpose and a reason for being included. The total area includes wall shelves of two lengths, a desk and a chest set at right angles to the wall, a second chest set against the wall under the shelves, a typewriter table, and desk chair. Books help make this cozy focal area a success as well.
Other "focal point" ideas:
Paint one wall a color contrasting to others in the room and place an arrangement of furniture and art against it. Even a simple parsons table or a low chest can center a display of objects.
Make a focal area by placing a breakfront, or tall secretary, against one wall and adding two sofas, facing each other, and at right angles to the wall, on either side.
Put a tier of bookshelves, ready-made or built-in, on either end of a long wall and hang a shelf counter between them and center a big painting over the shelf.
Put a scenic wallpaper over one wall, or frame a delightful scenic panel in molding and arrange furniture in relationship to it.
Supergraphics, whether hand painted or applied on wallpaper, can still add a lot of character to a long, dull wall. Some people like creating "big impact" focal walls with old quilts, stretched and framed, and Japanese kimonos mounted on bamboo poles and hung on the wall.