Texture subtly but strongly affects your feeling about a room.
For instance, if you've ever walked into a room for the first time and been struck by its coziness (or coldness), texture was at work. In other words, texture modifies the personality of the room.
A cozy room would probably contain cushy furniture with sumptuous pile upholstery, fringe-trimmed toss pillows and window treatments, and a thick, tufted carpet.
A cold room might have included smooth leather upholstery, a tile floor and glass-topped metal furniture.
Those are two well-defined examples, but most rooms fall in between, decorating professionals say.
"You need to have good balance in a room, and texture is a part of that," says interior designer Donald Coan.
"I try to be very eclectic about textures," says interior designer-author Mary Gilliatt, who is working on a new book, "The Decorator's Bible." "I need a bit of this, a bit of that."
People usually err on the side of being too conservative with texture, the decorating pros say, not mixing enough soft (pillows, rugs, fabric, flowers) with hard (stone, chrome, window blinds, wood floors) and rough (wicker, burlap, sisal) with smooth (mirror, satin, brass).
But why? "They probably underuse it because they don't know what the effect will be," Mr. Coan says. "They're afraid to be bold with it."
The result can be a too-smooth room that's "too blah," Ms. Gilliatt says. "It makes you want to yawn," agrees interior designer Tommye Pitts Baker, who has a wholesale line of classic table-top linens and accessories called the Maroon Moon.
Mr. Coan agrees that an all-smooth room of surfaces such as plastic laminate, cotton duck and plain painted walls wouldn't have a great visual or emotional impact. But the all-smooth room can be terrific, he says, if you "have wonderful surfaces: smooth marble, silk and satin, leather."
Another smooth success, Ms. Gilliatt says, would be a really silky room. "It can be rather sensuous. I can see a bedroom that way, except the floor and chiffon fabric on the window."
The flip side is a room loaded with texture, such as stucco walls, brick floors and wicker furniture. The effect can be intimate and cozy or overdone, depending on the room and your taste.
Mr. Coan likes to see a lot of texture, even in small rooms: "Carving, carpeting, tapestries plus interesting pattern and color would make for a smart scheme."
Joanne Goodfellow, owner of Goodfellow Fine Furniture, says she finds such a room to be "warm, inviting and homey," but stresses that others may feel differently.
Competing textured elements can be too much for Tommye Pitts Baker and Ms. Gilliatt, however. You can get the feeling of "a Victorian room, one that's kind of claustrophobic," Tommye Pitts Baker says. "It's a room that makes you want to run."
TC And Ms. Gilliatt comments: "I think you'd want a 'smooth' in there." She remembers seeing a room with fur on the furniture, walls and floor: "It was really rather awful."
The decorating pros agree that strong textures that might be overkill in a multihued, traditional scheme are actually a necessity in a single-color room. Texture is "the No. 1 consideration if I were doing a monochromatic contemporary design," Mr. Coan says. It can deepen or brighten colors, depending on the weave, fiber, pile height and direction of the pile. Because of these properties, texture can break up a half-dozen off-whites, he explains.
Texture has put a stamp on other decorating styles, too. Ms. Gilliatt says hard surfaces, such as lacquer, were prominent during the 1920s, but three decades later, during the postwar era, everyone wanted new looks: vinyl upholstery, sleek Scandinavian styling and pale woods.
Ms. Goodfellow cites West Indies styles, in which wispy textiles combine with dark woods.
In Louis XVI decor, textures are delicate, with silky damask on upholstered pieces, Tommye Pitts Baker says.
Fabric textures can also set the mood in a room. When you see denim, you think casual, rough-hewn decor such as Southwestern and casual country; silks and moires are dressy, Ms. Goodfellow says.
Perhaps Tommye Pitts Baker says it best: "Textures are like different personalities: soft, harsh, heavy. Each has a separate meaning."
Trends in texture
Decorating professionals identify these trends in texture:
* Chenille: It's hot and will stay hot
* Velvets, especially washed velvets and cut velvets: We're emerging from several years of casual decors and heading toward more formal rooms, Tommye Pitts Baker says.
* Classic tapestry vignettes, those that tell a story: A tightly woven tapestry can be combined with broadloom carpet as a striking floor treatment, Tommye Pitts Baker says.
* Trims, such as string and bullion fringes
* Berber and sisal-type carpets, staples of contemporary decor
* Architectural fragments, both actual and fabricated. Uses range from from bookends and lamps to table bases and sculpture.
* Weathered finishes, such as distressed woods and metals: Part of their charm is that they're more forgiving, Mr. Coan says.
* Granite, which lends richness and depth to a room
* Metals and metallic finishes
* Faux finishes, which define a texture even on a flat surface, for furniture and wallpapers
* Textured wallpapers, such as string-cloth looks, for contemporary rooms.