Ask the Experts

By staff October 1, 2004

Q. What exactly is a slipper chair, and when is it appropriate to use one in a design scheme?

A. Interior designer Jan Arvin knows all about this historical piece of practical furniture. "A slipper chair is an armless chair, fully upholstered, with a high back that's small in scale and sits fairly low to the floor. In the olden days women sat by the fire and did needlepoint in a slipper chair. Also, a slipper chair was usually in one's bedroom, so that ladies could comfortably sit and put on their shoes and stockings. That's where the name comes from.

"Because a slipper chair is not big (34 inches is about the tallest height for one) and because its styling is timeless and plain, this piece of furniture is perfect in tight spaces. Two in front of a fireplace or directly across from a small sofa in a compact apartment would be perfect. Because this chair is fully upholstered with no wood showing, it works in both modern and traditional settings and blends with just about all types of cultural and period d├ęcor. We see slipper chairs in leather, bold prints, busy patterns and solids. With its clean and simple lines, the chair is very versatile and a really practical option in a design scheme where space is at a premium." Jan Arvin, Ethan Allen, 1200 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 966-2105.

Q. Is it ever a good idea to paint a room black?

A. We found a designer who did just that, so Susan Frick speaks from experience. "I painted my guest bedroom black and I love the dramatic effect. I was trying to match a specific fabric pattern, Tree of Life, which has a black background; but nothing seemed to work when I pulled the reds or other colors from the pattern. In desperation I tried black paint on the walls because I wear a lot of black and I'm comfortable with it. Suddenly the fabric looked right. The black gave the print the punch it needed.

"I kept the ceiling white and all the trim ivory. Since the walls are textured stucco, I used a black semi-gloss so that the roughness would really show up. The louvered closet doors are white and there are white blinds on the two windows. All the white trim, along with the mirror in the room, the art work and the natural light from the windows keep the room from being dark. I don't have a lot of furniture in the space, just the bed, a painted green chest and a skirted table done in a black plaid. So, if you like black, I say go for it. And don't believe the theory that a dark color will make your room look smaller." Susan Frick, Pedlar's Village, 3526 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota. 955-5726.

Q. Should I mix different colors and patterns of toile or should I pick one color and pattern and just blanket the room with it?

A. Alan Watkins is a fabric expert with many years of experience in advising toile lovers on how to get the most out of this ancient French textile. "A professional designer can carefully mix toile patterns on special occasions for a certain effect, but that person would be skilled in proportion and tonal qualities and things the average homeowner wouldn't know about. So, if you're going to do the job yourself, find a toile color and pattern you love and buy 100 yards of it. Cover the walls, headboard, chaise and other major features. Then select two companion accent fabrics. One should be a solid color that's either the same color as the toile design or the background. This is what you'll use as the trim fabric, say, to trim the drapes or band the bed skirt. The other pattern (again in the same color as the print and background) needs to be a check, stripe, plaid or polka dot. This fabric might be used for a skirted table, pillows, etc. So a toile treatment really means three separate fabrics, all within the same color range.

"Toile is traditionally one color dye on a white or beige background. The early monochromatic printed cottons were hand blocked and hand dyed for the French aristocracy and came from a place called Jouy, hence toile de Jouy is the proper name of the old fabric. Early designs generally depicted pastoral scenes of animals, lovely maidens, trees, birds and brooks.

"During the latter part of the 19th century the advent of the copper roller meant toile could be produced cheaper and quicker. Toile patterns abounded in document prints that recorded military victories, mythological scenes, historical events and European interpretations of everyday Asian life. Today, we find toiles of everything; many of them are quite masculine, so don't think toiles are just for women. But the same principle remains-one color of pattern against a neutral background.

"I'm a big advocate of toile when it's done right. I always tell people, if you have a four-bedroom house, at least one of those bedrooms should be toile. The look is timeless, refreshing, disciplined and so satisfying." Alan Watkins, The Designer's Source, 1785 Northgate Blvd., Sarasota. 955-4109.

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