It's no surprise that most current holiday catalogs look as though their pages had been sprinkled with sparkles or bathed in sunlight: This year, glitter is as good as gold.
Like candlelight and a crackling fire, golden and amber accents can provide a shimmery glow, and strategically placed touches of gilt can warm a home in dramatic fashion. Even a little bauble can transform a room -- no matter its style -- and give it a festive face. Choose objects with a lustrous glow, such as shiny brass or matte brushed gold; metallics are guaranteed to warm things up. Remember that all that glitters doesn't have to be gold -- silver or copper sparkle, too. Jewel tones also add a lush warmth and richness. Use ruby, sapphire, amethyst, topaz for regal accents. Weave in lush fabrics, such as those that are embroidered, or velvets, brocades and damasks decorated with gold threads.
Layer in as many dashes of gold as you like. Choose unusual or one-of-a-kind pieces. Imagine, for example, an architecturally pristine fireplace mantel, ornamented with a single egg-and-dart molding to accentuate its form. In its Holiday Planner catalog, Neiman Marcus takes the painted white mantel and goes for baroque with a three-panel fireplace screen. The rich tendril and fleur de lis adorning the U-shaped grill gives the simple mantel a new black-tie attitude.
Then blanket the mantel top with a gold damask cover, inset with cream-colored linen silk-screened with cherubs. The scalloped piece is edged with gold cording and punctuated with gold tassels. For Christmas, you might top the piece with gilded leaves, ribbons, candlesticks with fluted ball centers and
bronze-tinged Murano glass trees. Above the mantel, hang a golden wreath of natural vines entwined with lame ribbon, tassels and cording, pine cones, glass ornaments, leaves, twigs and berries. Against a red wall, it's smashing.
Gold knows no season
The beauty of gold-tinged decorative accessories is that they carry from season to season. You can simply add, subtract or exchange pieces for a particular holiday or party. The mantel cover, for example, is so pretty you might decide to keep it up through Valentine's Day, replacing the trees with gold cupids and vases filled with white or red sweetheart roses. For Easter, you might nestle in some bird's nests or vines filled with pretty decorated eggs or chocolate bunnies.
The 40-inch-wide-by-27-inch-tall hinged fireplace screen, crafted of recycled aluminum and hand-finished in gold leaf, is available from Neiman Marcus for $200; the 22-by-25-inch wreath is $250; each 12 1/2 -inch-tall candlestick is $72 (these three items by catalog only); the mantel cover, which measures 6 by 96 inches, is $345; the glass trees range in size and price from $65 to $125 through Neiman Marcus stores and catalog.
While gilt dominates the fireplace scene, enveloping the whole setting in a golden haze, it becomes a drop-dead focal point in a less endowed room. What drama a trio of gilded picture frames can create in a spare setting! A living room furnished with a white slipcovered sofa and a glass-topped, wrought-iron coffee table has a rather minimalist look. But a group of images of women's faces blown up from paintings by Mary Cassatt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Pierre Auguste Renoir makes the vignette arresting. The art is all the more compelling because it is set off with ornamented wooden frames in an antique gold finish.
Add to the sofa a pair of richly hued needlepoint pillows in classic baroque designs. The contemporary look is updated for the '90s. Set on the table a pair of gargoyle candleholders, a collection of candles, a menorah or a Nativity scene, and the mood can shift from season to season. Strip it all down again and the setting is perfect for a summer party.
Another design option, offered by Ballard, is corsage-like pins, decorated with velvet leaves and flowers in gold and ecru, which can be pinned onto a pillow, at the corner of a chair
or on drapes for embellishment. The pins cost $19.50. Or how about sheer, gold-wired damask ribbon, available for $5.50 per yard? You can try wrapping your pillows like packages for a festive look.
The art-print images are available on pillows, an interesting option that Ballard also offers with a wonderful trumeau mirror. The decorative panel of the gilded mirror was inspired by two winsome cherubs in Raphael's "Sistine Madonna." The 19-by-43-inch beveled glass mirror is affordable enough ($138) to consider as holiday dress.
If you'd like only a hint of grandeur, make your purchase a pillow. Pillows, especially with flashes of gold, can swing the mood of a room from understated, contemporary or casual to bold, elegant or formal. Exotic patterns, rich colors and fabrics, such as silks, brocades, velvets and satins, trimmed in metallic threads, cords and tassels, introduce the warmth.
Some pillows even celebrate history. The Napoleonic bee, the French emperor's symbol of power, is interpreted in gold thread on brocaded pillows from the Touchstone catalog. The pillows, which measure 9 by 12 inches, are available in green, blue, red or ivory, edged with 1-inch gold loop fringe, for $50 each.
Fabrics also can add warmth to tabletops. One example is a Persian red table topper opulently embroidered with flowers and fringed in bullion. It's shown in the Horchow Home Collection catalog over a silky gold damask cloth. The 54-inch topper is 100 percent cotton and is $350; the "Royal Palace" damask table round is a cotton-and-polyester blend and is $40 for the 70-inch piece.
Horchow further enriches the scene with a delicately fluted, gold-leaf lamp, whose column rises from a squarish pedestal base to a sculpted artichoke holding a beige silk shantung shade. The 28-inch cast metal lamp, which is finished in gold leaf and has a three-way switch, is $219. A harvest of golden fruit is fashioned of hand-finished ceramic with antique glazed gold leaf. You may choose an apple, pomegranate or pear, or heap a bowl with a tempting assortment. Each fruit is $42.
Adding festive metallic objects to the tops of tables, bureaus, mantel tops and bookshelves is another idea for introducing ornamental warmth.
Boxes and bowls are especially appealing, because they can hold potpourri or candy, among other things, as they add style or glamour.
A pair of eye-catching, imported, hand-crafted wooden boxes from the Neiman Marcus Holiday Planner catalog feature delicate "ribbons" of metal cutwork. One long, skinny box is white metal with a copper finish. It measures 12 by 2 1/2 inches and costs $65; the other looks like the crown of a Byzantine church; the 5 1/2 -inch dome is gold with copper accents and sells for $50.
Don't forget the children in your holiday embellishing. One charming box that might decorate a child's room actually doubles as a bank and plays music. It's an old-fashioned, buttoned-up, pewter shoe, adorned with shuttered windows, a doorway on the high heel and a kite flying outside the "building," all crafted in relief. The bank, which stands 4 1/2 inches tall, is as lovely as it is whimsical. It's $75 from the Touchstone catalog.
While you're thinking of family, you might also spend some time gathering up your favorite photos and displaying them in pretty frames. It's another way to add a golden touch.
Frame materials and sizes are effectively mixed and displayed in the Exposures catalog. Keep photos in frames like the one in wrought metal with an anodized gold finish called "Orleans," which has a hint of art nouveau in its styling. A calligrapher-turned-sculptor brought both arts together in the graceful scrollwork frames, which are $27.
Or surround a small photo with a lot of frame for a strong presentation. Exposures' Biedermeier frames are handsome: broadly beveled honeyed wood with ebony edges and gold tone balls highlighting the corners. A small frame ($24) measures 7 by 8 inches overall and displays a wallet-sized photo; a larger frame ($29) has an outside dimension of 8-by-9 1/2 inches and fits a standard 3 1/2 -by-5-inch photo.
While good design is the basis for successful holiday decoration or any sprucing-up year-round, remember to keep the experience fun, not stressful. Whether you're choosing a wreath, a mantel cover, a piece of art, a pillow, a small box or a picture frame, choose a look that will work in your home all year. It no doubt will make you feel good. And when you feel good about your house, you'll want to share that feeling with family and friends.
* Ballard Designs, 1670 Defoor Ave. N.W., Atlanta, Ga. 30318; (404) 351-5099
* Exposures Inc., 41 W. 8th Ave., Oshkosh, Wis. 54963; (800) 222-4947
* The Horchow Collection, P.O. Box 620048, Dallas, Texas 75262-0048; (800) 456-7000
* Neiman Marcus, P.O. Box 620016, Dallas, Texas 75262; (800) 825-8000
* Touchstone, 3589 Broad St., Atlanta, Ga. 30341; (800) 962-6890