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In my last column, I wrote about “good taste,” a somewhat elusive concept in interior design. Today, I would like to talk about “elegance” in design, a potentially equally elusive idea.

What is elegance in design, and should we strive for it?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “elegance” is “refined grace or dignified propriety … tasteful richness of design or ornamentation … dignified gracefulness or restrained beauty of style … neatness, and simplicity.”

For some, elegance means design that is sleek and minimalist. It is design that whispers, rather than shouts. It is quiet, nuanced, with clean lines and neutral tones.

In the past (and continuing for some people in the present day), elegance meant grand baroque styling, such as gilded furnishings and large scale. In this version of elegance, one might have seen multiple layers of fabric and matching fabric designs. I confess I love the look of a bedroom with matching wallpaper, bedding and perhaps a matching canopy. Today, however, too much heaviness or “matchy-matchy” tends to be a no-no. The key to elegance is making your home’s design look as if it was effortless.

The minimalist aesthetic means simple furnishings, with emphasis on architectural elements, without being flashy. Think gentle curves on the window treatments and on the furniture. The advantage of this style is low clutter and little upkeep. Quality is key to mastering this sensibility.

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This new definition of elegance does not have to mean boring or lacking adornment. If, as I am, you are not a big fan of austere looks and lack of color but you still want modern elegance, you can still be sophisticated by creating an eclectic mix of furnishings, combining them into a space that is uniquely you.

The secret to creating a refined space is really very simple. Balance and symmetry is key. This means paying attention to the scale, shape and proportion of your furniture and accessories.

It does not matter if your space is large or small. Of course, large spaces demand larger furnishings, but small size is not a barrier to graceful design. Use the coziness of intimate spaces to your advantage. Let whatever architectural details you may have in the room, such as beautiful French doors, be your focal point. If you have a beautiful window, hang curtains at ceiling height to give the room a bigger feel. Make sure the details, such as lamps and cozy chairs, add the right level of softness.

In addition, color is an easy way to add sophistication to your home. Besides the minimalist, monochromatic or neutral tones, soft grayish greens are very elegant, as are all pastels.

Another example of tasteful design that defies the white, clean minimalist aesthetic is the use of richly grained dark wood. If you are lucky enough to have walls or furnishings in this material, use them by all means. In order to create the modern stylish look though, add creamy upholstered furniture, a white rug, and maybe billowy beige silk draperies that ensure a dramatic contrast between dark and light.

Finally, let’s not forget about the incorporation of technology into elegant design. Our homes today need to be technologically efficient, but the appearance of wires and gadgets can certainly detract from a space’s richness. If you can hide wires or create a cabinet for the flat-screen television (or hide it behind a hinged mirror), you will go a long way toward making your space more beautiful.

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Deborah Macdonald is the owner of Textured Design Napa. Contact her at 707-255-0246, deborah@textureddesignnapa.com or TexturedDesignNapa.com.

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