Monday, September 22, 2014

Interior design expert Jennifer Boles -- Old is in, classically

FOREWORD: "The use of handmade oriental rugs is a great way to make the look of your home uniquely your own, and will always be viewed as a classic touch." Brandon Oriental Rugs (

ALBANY — When looking for a fresh new look for a room in your home, Atlanta interior design expert Jennifer Boles says the best approach is a classic one.

Boles, who has a strong following for her 8-year-old blog Peak of Chic, believes in mixing classic elements into modern decor. A contributing editor for House Beautiful magazine, the decorative style blogger and lecturer says there’s a reason why truly classic designs and styles are timeless.

“If you look back over the centuries, there have always been wonderful examples of classic design,” she said in a recent interview, “and classic design, no matter if it was created 300 years ago or 1,000 years ago, remains classic throughout the centuries.

“I think it’s a matter of looking back at some of these old interiors … to see how people who lived in 18th century France, for example, used them, and taking some of the elements that remain timeless and updating them for the way we live today. That’s really what I like to do.”

Last October, she added author to her resume with the release of her book, “In with the Old: Classic D├ęcor from A to Z.” She’ll be in Albany noon-3 p.m. on Sept. 24 to sign copies of her book at Place on the Pointe, 2416 Westgate Drive. Place on the Pointe is accepting pre-orders of the book.

“In with the Old” focuses on 100 classic design components, but doesn’t stop there. It gets into why an element is classic and, just as importantly, how it can be used now.

“You can tell somebody this is classic,” Boles said, “but you need to go one step further. You need to explain what makes this piece of furniture or this fabric classic. What is it about it that makes it timeless, and how do I use it today? That’s what I tried to do with my book.

“I picked 100 of what I thought were the most classic design elements from history, going back to ancient Greece with the klismos chair, which we still have today.”

Boles said she also explains how those elements were used by prominent designers of the 20th century and how they can be incorporated in the 21st century in ways that feel “fresh and modern.”

She said she tries to get people to look at classic elements of architecture, furniture and fabrics and to figure out ways to incorporate them in today’s interiors. She encourages those who visit her blog or read her articles to let their taste and style show through in their homes by doing “something a little bit different than what they’re seeing in their family and friends’ homes.”

“With the Internet, now we all have access to the same things,” she said. “While all of those sources are great, what ends up happening is our homes end up looking just like everybody else’s. What I like to do is go back in time, look at some of these classic elements, show people how great they look today, explain how they work today and encourage people to use some of these classic design elements in their homes because that’s how they can make their homes personal.”

Asked if homeowners these days are simply reluctant to take design chances, Bole said, “I think there are people who really want to, but they’re not really sure how to take that piece of furniture they inherited from their grandmother or their great-aunt and incorporate it into their homes in a way that looks 21st century.

“They just haven’t had the benefit of guidance. That’s what I try to do. I try to explain to people … why it looked good 300 years ago and why it looks good today.”

It’s not as hard as one might imagine. An antique chair, she said, can be paired with a modern table. An antique chest can have a contemporary black-and-white photograph placed above it.

That individuality of design has been a hallmark of the South, she said.

“It used to be, especially here in the South, we always had our Southern eccentrics,” she said, “people who just lived their own life. Their homes were different, they were a little different and the way they behaved was a little different. We accepted them.

“I think we’ve lost some of that. The Southern eccentric is not quite as prevalent as he or she once was, and so I think there’s a certain amount of sameness that some people take comfort in. It’d be nice to see people do things that are a little more individualistic and that really reflect their personalities and their interests.”

Asked which Southern elements she’d like to see make a comeback, Boles said, “Some of these wonderful traditional fabrics, like floral chintz and toile.” The chintz fabrics with their bold flowers and the toile fabrics — light backgrounds with elaborate imagery that seems to tell a story — were prominent in Southern homes until the 1980s and ’90s. “Those fabrics tell such a history,” Boles said. “That’s something I’d like to bring back.”

And an apparent modern-day phobia regarding brown wood is something she’d like to see overcome.

“I think for some reason people are not so crazy about brown wood. I understand perhaps not wanting to have a lot of brown wood in one room, but taking some of these inherited pieces — the great old brown wooden tables or sideboards — and incorporating those in interiors today” is something she’d like to see, along with a renewed appreciation for antiques.

While antiques have maintained a larger degree of popularity in the South and New England than other regions of the United States, they’re not as popular as they used to be.

“We’ve sort of gotten away from antiques and antiques have been popular in the South for so long,” Boles said, adding a comeback could be made “if we can kind of get younger people to appreciate antiques again and show them that they can mix them with their more modern pieces of furniture.”

For the homeowner who wants a fresh look but doesn’t have a lot of confidence and isn’t sure where to start, the easiest low-risk change to make is with a paint brush. And one doesn’t have to be a color expert.

“There’s really no wrong color,” she said. “It’s a matter of how you use it. In one home, a dark eggplant color might be the right thing for a dining room, but in another, maybe it’s too dark or the architecture doesn’t work with it.

“It’s not all that expensive, they can do it themselves and if it doesn’t work out, it’s easily changed.”

Those who want to go for bigger changes need to educate themselves on styles and, most importantly, decide what their taste is.

“If somebody is really interested in developing their own look and style, then the best way to do that is by getting out and looking,” Boles said. “Train your eye. The way you do that is by going to antique stores, retail shops, seeing what’s out here, learning what you like and what you don’t like, going to museums or traveling.

“It’s using your eyes and looking and learning. The more you see and the more you know, the easier it’s going to be for you to hone in on what you like and develop your own unique look.”

The process also builds self confidence, she said.

Boles own journey took her from working at her father’s business for 10 years to a career in interior design. What started out as an avid interest evolved into a profession.

“My background was business,” she said. “I always enjoyed interior design and what I was especially interested in was the history of interior design and the decorative arts.

“I’ve always been interested in that period between the world wars. It was a very exciting time. It was when modern design really came to the forefront.”

It’s something she’s always appreciated. Boles grew up in an Atlanta home, built in the 1920s, that had early American antique pieces. She became interested in old houses and antiques, majoring in Modern European history in college. Some 10-15 years ago, her interest in design — particularly, the history of design — led her to start researching the subject, initially just for fun. Then in 2006, she decided to take a stab at a relatively new social medium — a web log.

“I thought it’d be interesting to start a blog,” she said. “It didn’t cost any money and it was easy to start.

“I really started my blog as a creative outlet. I wanted to write about all aspects about interior design and the decorative arts, but with a concentration on history because that’s what I really enjoyed.”

After about a year, her blog got her noticed by House Beautiful, for which she became a contributing editor. She also lectures on interior design and has been promoting her book.

“Really, the focus of my blog has always been the history of design and the decorative arts,” Boles said. “It opened a lot of doors for me. … I think with my blog, everything came together — my love for history, my love for design and antiques and classic pieces.”

Now, she’s hoping her book will open doors for others who need some inspiration to give their homes more personality.

“I think they (readers) are going to learn about pretty much all of the classic design elements from throughout history,” she said. “They’re going to learn how fashion designer Bill Blass or decorator Dorothy Draper used these elements in their projects.

“Then they’ll learn how to incorporate some of these classics into their home today in a way that’s fresh and modern. It’s mixing a little bit of the old with a little bit of the new.”

Boles noted that it had been years since she last was in Albany, adding she was “looking forward” to her appearance at Place on the Pointe.

And she thinks she lives in the perfect part of the United States when it comes to pursuing her career interests.

“I think we’re fortunate to live in the South,” Boles said. “Southerners love their homes. We have house pride. I think that’s nice. As someone in the design industry, it’s a pleasure to be in the South because we do have an appreciation for good architecture, for nice fabrics, we love our antiques, we love to accessorize.”

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