- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A good life usually is what you make for yourself, but it helps to have some extra money. That certainly is the case when furnishing a house with some of the items on display at the Washington Design Center.

Imagine a bathtub carved out of a stone boulder, with a brass-and-bronze leaf-shaped faucet; a Japanese-made toilet that resembles a hat box; flat-screen TVs inside floor-length mirrors; glass-beaded wallpaper. Any one of these items costs four figures at a minimum.

The center invited nine area design firms to create model rooms with “inspirational ideas” for its spring Design House exhibit based on the theme A Celebration of the Good Life, co-sponsored this year by Forbes FYI magazine using furnishings available only through center tenants. Both the center’s model rooms — open to the public through June 25 — and this weekend’s Philadelphia Furniture & Furnishings Show give consumers a glimpse of the possibilities that abound in the market for commercial and custom-made furniture and accessories.

The Design House at the center celebrates mostly ready-made high-end offerings. By contrast, artisans such as Margaret Polcawich of Derwood, who will be taking what she calls her “hand-sculpted furniture” to Philadelphia, create “novel” items that add personal touches to a home.

The two worlds have been coming together for a while, notes furniture maker Josh Markel, co-founder 11 years ago of the Philadelphia show.

“Furniture is the most accessible sculpture,” Ms. Polcawich writes on her Web site (www.handsculptedfurniture.com). “We all live with it, touch it and interact with it everyday.”

Her inspiration, she says, comes from “silhouettes of trees and leaves, the wrinkles, twists and turns of a branch, the depth and pattern of a stone, or the movement of a stream,” all distilled into human scale.

Singular pieces that express an individual’s talent and temperament long have been artisans’ stock in trade. Items on sale by contributors to the Philadelphia event, which is 60 percent furniture and 40 percent crafts, range from $50 to $15,000, according to Mr. Markel. Ms. Polcawich’s decorative works generally sell for $100 to $2,000.

In his own work, Mr. Markel emphasizes contemporary materials. A furniture series he calls Wave combines bent laminated wood with anodized aluminum and glass.

“People are now exposed to design in many directions,” he notes. “If you go to stores like Ikea and Crate and Barrel, you see stuff we were designing 15 or 20 years ago. They have adapted [our designs] for mass production.

“There used to be a cleavage between the hand-designed and the machine-produced,” he adds. “There has been a softening of that and a mixing of elements. The trend now is that people have become more interested in what is called design rather than in the story of how a piece came about. In craft, the whole idea has been the story about how it was made and who made it. People [now] are more eclectic and putting together handcrafted items with other things that are well-designed.”

To that end, organizers of the Philadelphia show have introduced a separate exhibit this year, called “Art of the Home,” which Mr. Markel says was conceived as a “synthesis of art, architecture and artisanry.”

Professionals contributing to the Design House at the Washington Design Center agree that eclecticism abounds. Many prefer, however, to talk not in terms of trends, but of individual taste. Developments in electronics and fabrication of materials take place at a dizzying pace, giving consumers an almost overwhelming number of choices.

A combination game room and bar at the Design House from Susan Gulick Interiors has a flat-screen TV that can be stored out of sight at the click of a button. Card players can adjust the large center table from a square to round shape. Wall coverings made of a fabric with tiny gold beads give the room a faint glow.

The outdoor living space, by London Turner Designs, is all about bringing the outdoors inside by playing off elements associated with the out-of-doors. Small floor tiles are made to resemble a brook. Round patio cushions look like beach balls.

“People want things for settling their nerves,” Lynn Turner says, calling their room “Zen-like” on purpose.

Chandeliers of great variety are featured in nearly every space, even the luxury bathroom planned by Barbara Hawthorn Interiors. The bathroom also is the site of the 2,000-pound “boulder” bathtub with its rough exterior and polished interior, and the inconspicuous, novel toilet with a flush button placed discreetly on the side. Ms. Hawthorn also introduced fiber-optic lighting on the ceiling and a stiff mesh curtain of woven steel for glamorous effects.

Rebelling against modernity, interior designer Whitney Stewart conceived of a library that is “anti-technology” and serves as a retreat from what she calls “media bombardment.” To that end, she used paintings on linen to cover walls between bookshelves and a needlepoint fabric on two of the armchairs. The reading chairs are soft leather.

“It’s an artistic statement,” she says of the concept.

More info:

Several home furnishing design and craft shows are taking place simultaneously:

• A Celebration of the Good Life, the spring 2005 CEO Design House, will be open at the Washington Design Center, 300 D St. SW, through June 25. Nine model rooms created by area design firms are featured. Dial-a-Designer, a complimentary half-hour consultation with a professional designer, is available at the front desk. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free. Information: 202/646-6118 or www.merchandisemart.com/dcdesigncenter.

• The Philadelphia Furniture & Furnishings Show is being held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch streets, Philadelphia. Studio furniture and handmade functional and decorative objects for the home are featured. A new section called Art of the Home, presented in connection with the American Institute of Architects Philadelphia, encompasses the entire home, including construction and renovation needs. Show hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $12, or $15 for a three-day pass. Information: 215/440-0718 or www.pffshow.com. Send e-mail to info @pffshow.com.

• The Smithsonian Craft Show is being held at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. Functional and sculptural crafts as well as other forms of artistic and decorative art with special appeal to collectors are on display. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow and Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $15, $12 for seniors and students. Information: 202/357-4000 or 888/832-9554 or visit www.smithsoniancraft show.org.

• The Spring Trunk Show, a smaller show featuring antiques (porcelain, silver, artwork, etc.) is being held at its beneficiary, the Notre Dame Academy, 35321 Notre Dame Lane, Middleburg, Va. Show hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission to Friday’s preview is $25, $5 on Saturday and Sunday. Information: 540/687-5581, Ext. 3034.

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