What makes a piece of furniture or an accessory a timeless classic?

Good morning! I have a little different perspective for us to ponder today. As I’ve mentioned, I have been in this world of design for 20-plus years. If I go way back into the archives of my life, I have been involved with making homes beautiful since I was 14, starting when I walked into      Lovellette’s in 1967 in Augusta and asked Lucille for a job. She taught me so much that I believe I still, subconsciously, draw on her ideas today at age 61. I do believe one of the most profound and important things she taught me, as did my Mom, is buy quality and buy once. Select a classic and, again, buy once. So, that is the focus for us today! Classics!
What makes a piece of furniture or an accessory a timeless classic? It’s much like a wonderful, well-constructed black suit for a man or woman. If properly cared for, a suit like this can be your companion for 10 years. So think of purchasing for your home in the same manner. Will you still feel like a million bucks when sitting in that classic wingback chair 10 or 15 years from now? I say to you, yes you will! Clearly I have a preference for English and French interiors as that is what I am comfortable with. To me, these interiors are as soothing as a well-worn pair of shoes. Whatever your design partiality, be it contemporary or traditional, you can buy timeless pieces you’ll keep for decades. In fact, well considered purchases are worthy of reupholstering and passing on to another home.
A recent count revealed that I have moved 16 times in my life so far! And a good share of my furnishings are still with me today. In my early 30s, I decided to listen to people who understood how to create a home, and I started purchasing pieces that have come along with me on my journey of life. These pieces turned out to be truly timeless and classic. For example, a wingback chair and sofa from 1985 are still being enjoyed! They’ve had a few facelifts along the way, but are still lovely to look at as well as comfortable. So, let’s discuss what pieces you might start considering for, as I like to say, “your grown-up house.”
Wingback Chairs
A wingback chair is always a perfect addition to your home. Regardless of your design direction, they can handle the job. For a downtown apartment with brick walls and a sleek and edgy design focus, contemplate a large-scale wingback chair in a turquoise zebra print. Ethan Allen has the Rand Wing chair, the perfect silhouette to wear this type of fabric! Love the charm of a cottage by the river? Select a delicious romantic linen rose print for a wingback chair. Take a visit to www.thefind.com for beautiful rose-inspired slip covers. Or take a look at www.onlinefabricstore.com for Ralph Lauren's-Brash Hollow/Camel-Harvest fabric…enchanting!
You can find wingback chairs in various sizes, from petites for the smallest of family members to as grand as a king’s throne. I think pairs are always a great buy and so usable. Think of the classic look of a pair of wingbacks in front of the fireplace, on either side of a console table in the entryway, as host and hostess chairs for the dining room, or at the end of your bed with a wonderful round table between them for morning coffee. Developing a little double vision when purchasing chairs does wonders for design!
Super Sofas
A sofa is a piece of furniture that truly can become part of your history—particularly if you select it according to the construction points in my “How to Purchase a Sofa” column. Despite the type of design you love living with, sofas have the amazing ability to be what you ask them to be. Very much like the uncanny, almost chameleon aspect, of a wingback, a sofa can be dressed in contemporary fabric to behave sleek and sassy, or decked out in a lush chocolate velvet for a country or sophisticated city dweller look. Now certainly some elements in their design, such as a trac arm or wedge foot, may shout, “I am chic and oh-so contemporary.” I think the perfect sofa is somewhere in the range of 84" to 90", not too long and certainly not too short, just right. As I am sure most of you have noticed, regardless of the sofa length, usually only two people feel comfortable sitting on it together. Even though there might be three cushions, there is something about our personal space that feels a bit cramped when more than two reside on the sofa.
Side tables and coffee tables are pieces that can travel from room to room, or home to home, and always find just the right position of importance. This is especially true if you purchase tables of the proper height and size. In the case of side tables, I always suggest purchasing the largest one your space will allow to get the most bang for your buck! Side tables in the taller range are flexible enough to become nightstands. With coffee tables, the key is that it’s constructed with the integrity that allows you to sit on it like a bench. For the length of the coffee table, select something about half the length of the sofa. Always be mindful of the finish on tables, and don’t fall into the trend of the moment. Anyone who invested heavily in pickled pine, for example, is probably regretting those acquisitions.
As proclaimed in previous columns, I am a lamp snob. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s a cold hard fact! A lamp that makes a statement and says, “Turn me on and I will give you the best I’ve got!” is a marvelous purchase. Take your time when selecting lamps, and you will never—let me repeat, you will never—be sorry. Whether it’s a lamp placed on the kitchen island as the family night light or one that serves as queen of the living room, don’t be cheap or lazy about deciding on these most important aspects of any room. Back in the 90s, when I was just starting out professionally in design, my primary job was designing model home interiors. Back then I placed lamps on vanities in bathrooms, and think how acceptable that has become! So carefully think about where the low light of a lamp might make a room feel just perfect. Call me crazy, but I recently placed rather ornate pair of sconces in bronze with delightful shades in my laundry room. That’s right…elegant, fancy sconces above the washer and dryer! Turning them on and doing laundry in that dreamy light makes a rather unlikeable task a bit more elegant and chic. And who wouldn’t desire that!
So, to sum this all up, consider the classics. Your next piece of furniture can achieve the timeless elegance of Cary Grant (or at least khaki pants and a navy blazer). Go into the furniture store or meet with your designer and request pieces that you can see loving for decades—pieces  you would be proud to pass on to someone new. Don’t allow yourself to become a victim to flash-in-the-pan trends. We all love the bricks on State Street for a reason: They are an aspect of our community and they are an American classic.
I will leave you this fine Saturday with wise words from designer Sister Parish:
“Even the simplest wicker basket can become priceless when it is loved and cared for through the generations of a family!”
Take care with what you bring into your home! I will back for coffee September 7!