Project Runway for Chairs
[Michael Smith design photographed by Michel Arnaud as seen in Michael Smith Elements of Style.]
Chair slipcovers with feminine dressmaker details were especially popular in the 1990s, and obviously in many circles they've never fallen out of favor (Suzanne Rheinstein is a fan), but by nature they are breezy and laid-back and therefore, some might say, at odds with the clean-lined mid-century-modern aesthetic and high glamour that dominated the last decade.
Although I'd say the Michael Smith-designed slipcover shown here is as chic as a Vera Wang. (Note the expansive window in the image at the top; this L.A. house was designed by architect Paul Williams.)
[Above, Dan Carithers, Caroline Ritter and Mary Elizabeth Stevenson photographed by Deborah Whitlaw for Southern Accents. Below, a Cheryl Dalton photo from the same issue.]
Cotton or linen slipcovers are very Southern too. Historically they were used during long hot summers to make heavy velvet-upholstered furniture cooler to the touch. Since they are also typically associated with the country house look, slipcovers sometimes get the granny label, but again, if you think about all those discreet slits that reveal a hint of the chair's frame, they are kind of sexy.
Apart from the potential to be easily washed (if a slipcover is made from machine-washable fabric it can be laundered frequently at home), slipcovers have appeal because they can lend a softer, yet impermanent, dressed-down appearance to a fussy piece. For example, an ornate damask-covered gilded chair inherited from a great aunt that just isn't your style.
And they allow you to change a room's look without buying new furniture.
Just know that, depending on the amount of fabric needed and the couture details you may choose, having a slipcover made can cost the same as (or in a few cases more than) full on upholstery.
For Christmas my parents gave me some Peter Dunham fabric, Kashmir Paisley in peacock (not going in the blue room seen here). To maximize the print's border, I'm going to have a chair seat slipcover made, as well as little covers for the arm pads. Like choosing a dress, pondering all the options is half the fun -- even if in the end the decision is to go with something really restrained.
While scrolling through this post, if you've been thinking the pictures look familiar, yes, they were cropped from very dogeared tearsheets: Cheryl Dalton's photographs of chairs on the Swan House lawn. All of the slipcovers were designed by Atlanta-based decorator Dan Carithers, and Lydia Langshore wrote the story for Southern Accents. Deborah Whitlaw shot the indoor pictures.
Above, a grainy view of a Windsor Smith slipcover cropped from Vogue Living, fall 2006. As mentioned in the previous post, Windsor never abandoned them. Below, New Orleans' own Ann Holden and Ann Dupuy used a lushly textured slipcover on a chair in a glamorous red-lacquered powder room with a brick floor. It does bring a certain looseness to the room.
[Photo via Southern Accents.]
Now, for an about-face. As much as I love the relaxed country house look, as well as Jane Scott Hodges' heritage chic highlighted in Victoria, October 2001...
and let's not forget gallerist Timothy Tew's cosmopolitan Southern style seen in Atlanta at Home, published by Wyrick & Company, 1994...
I still completely appreciate the fantasy and explosive drama of Kelly Wearstler's Hue, so excuse me while I get lost for a while in the powerful colors (and the children's books).