Romancing the home, or bringing warmth, comfort and intimacy into your environment, does not have to be limited to special times of the year, special events or even to particular rooms. With today's trend toward "cocooning," any time is appropriate for romance.
Of course, how you bring this special quality into your home depends on your definition of romance.
For some, it may be about chivalrous adventures set in remote times and places, mysterious events, idealized love and the wooing of heroes and heroines. Other popular interpretations include gestures such as giving flowers, or cliched symbols such as candlelight dinners and sipping wine by a crackling fire.
Much of what is romantic is abstract, however, such as the mood evoked by listening to certain kinds of music, breathing in a certain perfume, or watching softly focused films or impressionist art and photography.
One magazine that epitomizes romanticism is Victoria, a publication filled with beautiful images of gardens, interiors and fashion. Editor Nancy Lindemeyer defines her magazine's successful formula in a word: gentility. "The magazine provides a kind and gentle respite, a time-out in a world that gets more hectic and stressful every day," says Ms. Lindemeyer. "Life does have to have those soft and precious moments."
Indeed, what better place for those soft and precious moments than the home? In home interiors, comfort is a big buzzword today.
"Romantic furnishings are definitely comfortable," says Debra Anton, editor of Victorian Sampler, citing "loosely fitting slipcovers and worn pine tables that you don't mind putting your feet up on." Ms. Anton, who is editing a new magazine with the working title Romantic Home, says that so much romanticism has to do with softness -- "soft lighting, faded tablecloths, nice cushy duvet covers, soft pillows."
An obvious place to start creating a romantic look is in the bedroom, where you can get away with a little overkill. A recent Bombay Co. catalog features affordable romantic style. There is "the ultimate luxury" -- a handsome wooden bed tray that features a lift-off tray, a book rest and two side baskets. It sells for $129. For the foot of the bed there's a soft mohair blanket. A large Queen Anne-style bench with gracefully carved cabriole legs and a scalloped apron sells for $169. The catalog also offers botanical prints, reproductions of 19th century engravings by Pierre-Joseph Redoute, framed in gold-leafed hardwood with ivory silk moire mats ($99 each).
For those whose tastes are not as traditional, designer Milo Baughman has coined a new term: romantic modernism. Uncomfortable with having his furniture labeled "contemporary" because that "associates it with excessively glitzy, overscale pieces" or "modern" because that term connotes the more minimal Bauhaus, Mr. Baughman says his newest designs have an emotional quality.
The pieces in his new collection for Thayer Coggin are shapely, undulating and lyrical. "The chairs and sofas are comfortable -- not stiff -- vaguely sensuous, and they feel good," says Mr. Baughman. "They are emotionally reassuring."
While somewhat spare in presentation, a room designed for one sofa and a pair of chairs in Mr. Baughman's collection conjures images of Fred Astaire in tux and tails dancing with an elegantly gowned Ginger Rogers. The deep sofa, with generous sweeping curves and rolled arms, has a back almost like a shawl collar, an intentional design element. "The piece has a higher back, so that when people sit down, they sink in and feel protected," the designer explains.
The chairs feature what Mr. Baughman calls a "visual twist." The arms flip out and turn in a way that's unexpected. "They stay close to what is familiar, so they're not intimidating, but they still break precedents. Nobody wants to follow all the darn rules any more."
Indeed, editor Anton says that some very romantic looks are emerging from "mixing things that you wouldn't expect: plaid with lace; Battenburg lace table with Fiesta ware; furnishings from different eras."
As decorating becomes a happy mix of deliberately incongruous styles, there are more options for weaving in all sorts of touches of romanticism. It needn't cost an arm and a leg, either.
The biggest splurge might be a single piece of furniture. Particular pieces hold a certain romantic charm: armoires and cupboards, especially when lined with pretty fabrics or filled with displays of new or old handcrafted objects; four-poster
beds, dripping with gauzy curtains or floral chintzes that frame them protectively; dressing tables or vanities, often skirted with pretty matching skirted slipper chairs or benches; daybeds, which have moved into living rooms; love seats, where three's a crowd; and footstools and ottomans, great for tired feet as well as doubling as mini-tables for refreshments.
Make an effective change in just one room by framing your windows in a romantic way with swags, pouffy shades, tie-back draperies that puddle elegantly on the floor, and curtains of lace. Even shade and blind manufacturers are achieving this kind of softness. HunterDouglas' "Silhouette" blinds, available in 30 colors, are made of sheer fabric, so that even the slats are soft. Although they can give even a classic window frame a streamlined look, they are at home in an eclectic room setting with bare bleached floors and a Louis XV-style gilded chair with faded needlepoint upholstery.
Dressmaker details, such as ruffles, pleats, shirring and fancy trims, add to the romantic look. Grace a dresser top with a piece of lace or cutwork, or cover a simple table with an antique paisley scarf or an embroidered silk piano shawl. Then decorate with a basket of paperwhites or a collection of treasured photos in different frames.
The resurgence of wallpaper borders certainly is one movement with romantic roots. Often the designs highlight flowers, and the colors are subtle. "Perennial Garden," from Sandpiper Studios, brings all-American roses indoors, framing a woven flamestitch-patterned wallcovering in a dining room setting. The collection, by international textile designer Marcie Vesel Bronkar, includes bouquets of flowers based on historical documents and coordinates that feature geranium leaf trellis, faux-finish caning,
soft acorn damask, and large and small stripes.
Perhaps the easiest way to add romance to a room is through accessories. Flowers are always romantic, and certain blooms are perennial favorites: roses, hyacinths, hydrangeas, gardenias, orchids, Queen Anne's lace, baby's breath. The containers they sit in can be as elegant as Baccarat crystal or as humble as a faded cookie tin, yet equally romantic.
Candlesticks of different heights can add instant romance and design flair to a room. If you've already invested in dimmer switches, perhaps you might want to consider adding a romantic lamp to a table. Meyda Tiffany's five-light "Pond Lily" table lamp has shades of amber and green on a bronzed lily base. The 16-inch lamp sells for about $170 and even includes a sliding dimmer.
New and old embroidered pieces, framed or sewn into pillows, or needlepoint rugs are romantically appealing because they are crafted by hand. Photo albums and perfume bottles are other romantic choices.
Even dinnerware can be chosen for its romantic motifs. Besides the obvious floral choices, some patterns have a decidedly escapist appeal. Villeroy & Boch, for example, chose the tropics to inspire romantic thoughts with its "Amazona" pattern. Shades of jade green, indigo and violet dominate, and among the leafy detail are vividly plumed parrots. The exotic pattern is applied to an octagonal shape. A five-piece place setting sells for $150.
Perhaps the renewed love affair with romance is a sign that we're all looking to make our homes more intimate -- for good reason. The preface to "The Intimate Home," due in spring from Hearst, the publishers of Victoria, states: "The very heart of home is intimacy, for that is where we are most ourselves."