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When it comes to decorating, personal taste should rule your choices not what's currently in fashion


It has become fashionable of late to bash the '80s as a decade of decorating excess. Ironically, the most vocal bashers now are often the same high-profile people who were proponents of those styles, which they helped create.

Two of the most well-known critics of the era are Mario Buatta and Andree Putman. Mr. Buatta, you may recall, was dubbed the Prince of Chintz for an extravagant style of decorating he now decries. Tassled, tucked, ruffled, fringed, gathered, swagged, puddled and draped, chintzed-up interiors were Mr. Buatta's trademark. Ms. Putman, the avant-garde decorating darling of Paris and New York, was known more for rooms that were severe, spare, hard-edged, graphic and, like Mr. Buatta's, tres .. expensive.

Now these two marketing moguls, among others, are bad-mouthing the decade and the design styles that made them famous. But they're not blaming themselves for imposing wretchedly expensive excess on their public. No, they're blaming the consumers of an entire decade, consumers they once coaxed to buy the looks they were peddling at the time. Now, apparently, those looks are out and new looks are in. By comparison, they have declared that the '90s will be a decade of no-nonsense decorating that reflects leaner times, good value and enduring style.

One wonders what their clients, having invested big bucks on furnishings and trimmings specified by those two just a few years ago, must think. "We gotta get rid of all this stuff before someone finds out we were conspicuously consumptive."

Decorating dictators and self-appointed taste-makers would have us believe that home styles go out of fashion at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. One minute your living room is the height of fashion, then -- tick, tick, tick -- it's hopelessly passe.

Ah, but it ain't necessarily so. Home style is not a function of the clock, the calendar or the season. Unlike automobiles and apparel, home design changes by evolution, not revolution. And certainly not by decree from design gurus who denigrate their past efforts -- and our own -- in order to sell their newest economically and decoratively correct merchandise. Besides, what is excessive to one may not be excessive to another.

Not that we should ignore the words of those who do for a living what the rest of us do only casually. We should listen to the voices of experience and then make up our own minds. We should accept their counsel, but not their commands.

Most of us can use all the help we can get to engage in a behavior we can't help engaging in anyway. Design, decorating, remodeling, sprucing up -- it all amounts to the same thing: an almost irresistible impulse to keep improving our surroundings. And not just improve, either, but claim as our own.

This is nothing new. The urge to embellish the spaces we occupy seems to have remained constant since the first cave dwellers scrawled the first prehistoric behemoth on a rocky wall.

We're compelled to mark and scent our territory, although in more socially acceptable ways than other creatures. Think about it. From posters of Ninja Turtles, rock stars and sports heroes on the walls of a child's room to bowling trophies on the mantel in the family room, the spaces we occupy exhibit personal signs of our residency and ownership.

For some, the constant fiddling with rooms is a form of recreation. For others, it's a form of personal expression or maybe even therapy.

So the last thing we need is a group of high-priced pros telling us that we did it all wrong just a few years ago and giving us the feeling that we'll never catch up, we'll never get it right. The truth is, as much as we may admire the talent and skill of the designers and architects whose works grace the pages of glossy magazines, as much as we may find their projects inspiring, as much as we may learn from them or even mimic them, we don't need their approval.

After all, by their own admission, the experts' efforts of the '80s are already out of date, just two-plus years later. At least the rest of us, plodding along in our own decoratively amateurish way, don't have to worry that a new pillow on the sofa, a new candy dish on the coffee table, or new curtains in the kitchen come with an expiration date.

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