Luxury gets a healthy dose of attitude

Like the moon (and sometimes seemingly as often), styles wax and wane. The '90s saw a surge of minimalism -- stark lines, neutral colors -- in reaction to the baroque and ball-fringe era of the '80s. Country style -- checked gingham and crowds of collectibles -- has given way to cottage style: relaxed upholstered furniture, simple natural fabrics.

So alert trend watchers should take note: Excess is creeping back into the design domain. But, unlike the '80s, this time it's mostly in small doses. Call it luxe with an attitude.


Rich tapestries and animal prints, unusual shapes for familiar objects, a touch of the Orient, a touch of the eastern and southern Mediterranean, a bit of a French accent. Just the thing to brighten up, lighten up and warm up an austere postmodern interior.

The trend is not confined to high-end decor; mass retailer Target, old-line firms such as Century Furniture Industries, and that most classic purveyor of kitchen and bath designs, American Standard, are also getting into the act. Nor is the only point to create an aura of luxury and power. Whimsy is pleasantly practical. (Most companies these days have an Internet site where you can find more details, prices and retail outlets near you.) Here are some examples:


--- Lighting goes luxurious with cloisonne lighting bases from McGuire. Cloisonne is a technique of enameling on metal, with colors or patterns divided by fine brass wire. The result is subtle but rich looking. McGuire's 28-inch tall Palais lamp (left) has a base of five graduated "black pearl" spheres with a pattern of interlocking leaves that forms a golden veil ($2,695). The Silhouette (right), 33 inches tall, has an updated bottle shape in cinnabar enamel with a network of irregular lines ($2,695). Available through interior designers.

---Target bills its "funky, fuzzy fun" line as ideal for customizing college dorm rooms. But the mosaic glass tower lamp ($19.99, right) and tiny silk- and bead-framed mirror ($24.99, left) would be design dynamite in a drab powder room or an uninteresting entryway. They'd also be terrific on a screened porch. The marvelous feather-shade accent lamp (prices range from $14.99 to $29.99) would be conversation catnip in any room. Available at your local Target store.

--- American Standard and European-inspired Porcher have teamed to offer some striking bath and kitchen fixtures. With its paneled base, the American Standard Cadet corner whirlpool (left) looks like a fountain or garden ornament. It's 5-by-5 feet by 19 inches and comes in white, bone, silver, shell, linen and black (prices range from $1,280 to $1,330). And if your bath includes Porcher's sinuous Japanese-inspired Zen countertop basin ($375-$500), can serenity be far behind? Available through some retail outlets and through designers.

--- Hot-air balloons, more often found in stained glass window ornaments, unexpectedly grace the front of a chest. These, in marquetry, are from Harden's "Forbes Collection" ($2,400). Available soon at furniture retailers.

--- A bit of rococo returns in Century Furniture's secretary-style desk ($3,500). However, beyond the French blue finish and decoupage pictures of French country life, the desk has some features that are strictly for a high-tech era. The six interior drawers house a phone / modem jack and an outlet to plug in a laptop computer. The outlet is cleverly located in the space traditionally reserved for an inkwell. Available at furniture retailers.

Home Front welcomes interesting home and garden news. Please send suggestions to Karol V. Menzie, Home Front, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278, or fax to 410-783-2519. Information must be received at least four weeks in advance to be considered.