The new American style

Like the best new cooking, the freshest decorating this season blends a variety of tastes and cultural influences-some exotic, some comfortably familiar. We’ve picked four distinctive looks and broken them down into simple design "recipes." Find one that suits your palate, or sample from a variety of styles-and stylish details-to create your own decorating menu.

Comfort Food

Casual decorating should be soothing to the body and soul. But too often it’s like a bland meat-and-potatoes meal, satisfying our hunger for comfort and function but leaving us craving style. The best new casual looks combine down-home ease with big-city sophistication. Here are the key ingredients:

Wicker adds ease to any room. But for a less porchy appearance, look for pieces that mimic upholsery shapes. The "club chairS (right) echoes sleek designs from the 1920s and 1930s.

Softly tailored upholstery. Some of the sloppy slipcovers of years past were as flattering as baggy sweat suits. Current upholstery styles borrow elements from our weekend wardrobe-brushed denims, bomber-jacket leathers, fuzzy chenillesbut give furniture a tucked-in, casual-Friday polish.

Mixed media. Now that consumers are more comfortable blending furniture styles and finishes within a room, manufacturers are mixing it up on a single piece. The armoire and end table (right) pair cherry and pine woods; the round table and coffee table blend wood and leather with metal. Clutter control. Put overstuffed rooms on a diet with clever storage pieces, such as the luggage-style coffee table and six-drawer end table (right).

Caribbean Salsa

If you’ve tangoed down the produce aisle lately, you’ve probably noticed the tropical influence. Mango, papaya, kiwi, plantain-the colors are straight off a Carmen Miranda costume. The same vivid palette is influencing home furnishings, with hues ranging from citrusy Euro-brights to pumpedup pastels. You decide how spicy to make it But here are some tips to keep in mind:

Start small. Unless you want to live in a state of constant visual stimulation, slip in small amounts of color by focusing on accents, such as pillows, artwork, and rugs. Keep the color quieter on larger spaces, such as the walls and big upholstery.

Take your room’s temperature. A cool combination of blues, greens, and violets (left) can give a space a calm, restful feeling; oranges, yellow$, and reds raise the energy level considerably.

White’s always right. Large doses of white (like the sofa, left) give the eye a place to rest and provide contrast, making bright colors appear crisper.

Catch of the Day

Fax machines, car pools, call waiting. It’s no wonder we’re having a collective escape fantasy. Even if you can’t run off to your own deserted island, you can bring that no-worry attitude home with you. The essential ingredients include furnishings and fabrics with a breezy, sunblushed quality-the kind of stuff you’d expect to see at a beachy inn. Here’s how to pull it together:

Travel light. Don’t burden your rooms with excess baggage. Bring only the essentials on this decorating getaway: a cozy bed, an armoire or chest to stow clothing and clutter, a convenient bedside table to hold personal treasures, and a pile of books. Wear it down. Look for furniture-old or newwith an aged appearance. Whitewashed wood, even obvious brush strokes on painted pieces, make a room look assembled over time.

Loosen up. Banish stiff "wallflower" arrangements by easing furniture away from the walls or placing it on the diagonal, such as-the-armoire (right). What have you got to lose? You can always move it back later.

Far East Fusion

Check out the latest restaurant listings. Chances are you’ll find a few that mix Asian-style cooking with something else, say, Cuban or Tex-Mex. The same thing is happening in home decor, largely in response to our desire for simplicity and serenity in our homes. In the dining room (right), blue-and-white porcelain, a stenciled fretwork border, and a sisal rug give French-influenced furniture an Eastern accent

Here are some ideas for updating tradition with a touch of the Far East:

Not ready for a full-sie color commitment For a quick, inexpensive fix, pile citrus fruits in a glass bowl or pick a bunch of colorful gerbera daisies .

Sheer curtains are another way to create a light-and-breezy look. To give panels substance and to tie them in with your decor, buy an extra twin sheet and use it to band the bottoms of curtains.

Simplify. Highlight one or two collections instead of many; display only what is meaningful and beautiful. Keep patterns to a minimum as well.

Go natural. Think of the surfaces and textures found in a Japanese garden-bamboo, stone, wood, straw-and try to weave these into your decor.

Be serene. A cluster of flickering candles or a fresh orchid floating in a bowl of water can bring a sense of harmony and calm to a room.

Side Dishes

You don’t have to redo a whole room to bring some fresh ideas into your decorating. Here are a few of the details that give the four looks on the previous pages their special appeal. Try adapting any of these ideas to create your own personal style.

Clean lines and minimal ornamentation give the French-style dining chair (below leff a Zen-like grace. Order is evident even in the simple tea setting (below right).

An old postcard wedged between layers of glass is both modem and nostalgic. Buy readymade frames with glass backing. Or, adapt existing frames by replacing the solid backing with a second piece of glass.

Shutters are essential to beach-house style. To get the look without redoing your windows, hinge together odd-sized shutters to make a folding screen. These came prepainted. To instantly "weather" them, sand off the paint in spots.

Painting a piece of flea-market or unfinished furniture is a relatively inexpensive way to give a room a bold shot of color. Pull the color scheme from your room’s fabrics. And don’t be shy. You can always repaint it later.

A sisal rug’s absorbent surface is perfect for stenciling. Use readymade stencils or make your own by tracing and enlarging designs in art and decorating books. This pattem was inspired by Chinese fretwork.

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