Q: The sofa and chairs in my living room are comfortably squishy, with the skirted upholstery found in many traditional settings. But I want to give the room a more contemporary and sophisticated look. How can that be done without sacrificing comfort?
A: This photograph of the work of New York designer Celeste Cooper should provide some ideas. She created a contemporary look in a traditionally styled room that retains many of her client's favorite pieces.
Color, texture and contrast are the elements that Ms. Cooper relied on.
Let's consider color first. Do earth tones appeal to you? If so, try a combination of beige, rust and soft green and yellow, accented with black and off-white. Another appropriate color scheme would feature white-painted walls, a textured sisal carpet and beige upholstery -- with accents of rust sprinkled throughout the space.
Keep the fabrics fairly plain. The look you're trying to produce doesn't involve flamboyant prints or other elaborate patterns. A work of colorful contemporary art, on the other hand, might be a very smart addition, provided it doesn't overpower the space. Besides serving as a focal point, a dramatic painting is a sure means of transporting the room out of the past and directly into the present.
Skirted furniture, which you seem to cherish, can be made to look more up-to-date if the skirt is deep and ample. Take a tip from the pieces shown in the photo and start the skirt at the top of the platform just below the seat cushion. Low-slung seating with sizable fabric-covered legs makes a good companion to large-scale skirted pieces. The armless chair in the photo is an example of that kind of furniture.