Friday, April 23, 2010

Details, Details, Details

I once had a client who bought a very expensive lamp simply because she liked the finial.  Granted, the finial was a very beautiful and intricately carved jade bauble, but nothing that couldn't have been purchased separately and retro-fitted onto a less expensive lamp (or one that she already had in her home).  I suppose that she understands that now, but her story is a perfect example of just how important details like lamp finials can be to a room's overall design.

I myself have always been a stickler for details when it comes to decorating.  Details add personality, depth and texture to a room, enhancing your décor when used properly.  However, you need to walk a fine line with them: Used inappropriately, they'll overwhelm and be a distraction.   I often compare this delicate balance to accessorizing an outfit:  Too little and the outfit looks unfinished; too much and the outfit is a busy mess.

There is an infinite variety of detailing that you can use to add spark to your décor.  Finials, fan pulls, tassels and trims, decorative buttons, cabinet knobs, cord covers and drapery hardware are just a few of the options.  While this article focuses on only a small percentage of these, you owe it to yourself to have some fun exploring the many details of distinctive design.


Some of my favorite details for adding interest and expressing personality are door knobs, cabinet pulls and drawer pulls.  This is a great way to update and spruce up old cabinets or a tired piece of furniture without spending a lot of money.  I personally love crystal doorknobs like the one in the picture to the right and use them wherever possible to add a touch of sparkle to otherwise plain doors.

Much like lamp finials, doorknobs and cabinet knobs/pulls of all styles are readily available online and range from traditional to whimsical (in shapes like fish, eating utensils (as for kitchen cabinets and drawers) and flowers).  You can use such hardware to complement your furniture style with classic Queen Anne, Chippendale or Hepplewhite detailing, or you can use knobs that deliberately contrast with your furniture to make a bold statement.

One chic look that I especially like is using crystal drawer knobs on an old bureau or table that's been painted and then sanded or given a crackle finish.  The contrast between the weather-worn finish of the furniture and the elegant sparkle of the crystal is unexpected and enchanting.  I also like to use colored knobs for a more whimsical look.  In the photo to the left, the blue glass “melon” knob adds a bright pop of color against the white surface of these French bi-fold closet doors in a client's home office.  The deep blue also picks up the blue in the country French fabric lining the door.


Another fun and effective way to add detail to a room is with tassels and trims of all sorts (also known as “passementerie”), and the options are almost limitless.

For instance, rope trims offer a nice alternative to welting on pillows, box cushions and table skirts and add color and texture.   Gimp (or flat trim) is a great option for use with window treatments and bedding.  In fact, I like to use gimp for areas that get a lot of incidental contact because these types of trims aren't prone to unraveling (unlike a tassel trim, for example).  Gimp is also good for use as a border for drapery panels (and requires less sewing skill than does using a contrasting fabric border).

For an especially elegant look, try a breaded trim.  In the table runner in the photo to the right, the woven trim and the jewel-like beads complement both the color and period look of the antique toile fabric.  When I designed this runner (and its coordinating table topper), I fancied it a detail that would've been right at home adorning the boudoir of Catherine the Great (or some other decorating diva!).
Besides looking great, trims can also serve functional purposes as well. For instance, the tassel trim featured on the ottoman to the left is not only timeless in its appeal; it also effectively covers the ottoman's horizontal seams.  One of the additional things I like about this trim is the way it mirrors all of the vibrant colors of the ottoman's fabric without competing with or overwhelming it.  Because the fabric is and should be the focal point of this piece, the trim's effect is subtle, serving to add depth and texture to the piece. 

 Tassels can be simple and monochromatic or elaborate, multi-colored works of art (and they are priced accordingly).  In addition to the traditional “key tassel” like that pictured to the right, one of these more elaborate “statement” tassels can be used as a drapery tieback.
For a special touch, try using chair ties and tassels on the arm chairs of your dining room set.  In the photo to the left, I especially like the way this chair tie plays off the chair's seat fabric and enhances the whole look.  This homeowner was so enamored with the look that she initially wanted to put similar ties on all of her dining chairs.  Ultimately, though, she agreed that the ties were more effective when used only on the table's arm chairs because they further set these more elaborate chairs apart from the simpler side chairs.  In decorating, as in other areas of life, it's important that you know when to say when.

Generally, the selection of trims that you will find in stock at the fabric store represents a very small percentage of the choices available through custom order.  If you have the time and patience, it's well worth the effort to pore through some of these custom choices (or have your decorator do it for you!).  Many are only available “to the trade”, but it's relatively easy to find a dealer through whom you can purchase such trims.  There are some great online sources where you can get more information about the many trim and tassel styles available.  Check out the “Resource Guide” below for a few of these sources.


Details can be one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of decorating a room.  Whether you apply these details to a completely custom design or to a mass-produced store-bought window treatment, any door, cabinet, dining chair, light fixture, drapery or upholstered furniture piece is an opportunity for embellishment that reflects your special style stamp.   Give it a try.


  • Use cord covers on hanging light fixtures to hide the fixture's electrical cord and chain and to add some subtle drama (as with a cord cover in a sassy cheetah print).  If you elect to purchase the cord cover (as opposed to sewing one yourself), just be sure to buy the type with an open vertical seam that closes with Velcro, allowing you to put the sleeve on without having to remove the chandelier from the ceiling.
  • Where possible, install “rim locks” on your interior or screen doors.  Rim locks are locks and plates that are fixed to a door's surface instead of being mortised inside the door and they can be quite elegant for a traditional home, providing some historic detailing.  However, rim locks are not really designed for or adequate as a security lock.  Therefore, they should only be used for interior doors or for decoration on an exterior door where there is another device for security purposes (such as a deadbolt).
  • If you have bought pre-made pillows from the store that could use some pop or if you have plain matching pillows that came with your sofa, try hand-sewing or even hot-gluing on tassel trim or gimp for some added personality.
  • If you have a store-bought throw or bedspread, sew some bullion fringe around the edges for a more luxurious look.  Bullion fringe is also a great choice for trimming the kick-pleats on a sofa or for detailing an upholstered ottoman.
  • Use “key” tassels on china cabinet doors or decorative boxes.
  • Purchase inexpensive carved wood cabinet knobs and gold leaf or silver leaf them with liquid leaf.  The look will be richer and more textured than knobs with a plain metal finish.
  • Note that if you use a rope trim with a “lip” attached to it, it will be easier to sew between your seams with a sewing machine (as opposed to a rope trim without a lip, which needs to be hand-sewn on top of the fabric).
  • Use decorative buttons (store-bought or custom fabric-covered) to add detail to window treatments, to closures on duvet covers, and to tufted ottomans, pillows and cushions.
  • Use pleated trim to add nice depth and texture to the edges of duvet covers, coverlets and pillow shams.
  • Fluted drapery rods with intricately carved finials like that pictured to the left and fabric rosettes

    like that attached to the valance to the below right will add designer detail to a window treatment, taking it to the next level.  You spend a lot of time and money designing your window treatments and bringing them to life with carefully-chosen fabrics.  Add some details like these and your investment will be apparent (and well worth it).


Knobs and pulls:
Emtek (doorknobs)
Anthropologie (great source for quirky, unusual cabinet knobs and drawer pulls).

Fan Pulls:

Cord covers:
Ballard Designs
Shades of Light

Lamp Finials:
Lamps USA
Tassels & Trims (stunning selection)

Decorative Fabrics Direct 
Tassels & Trims (to the trade only)
Kravet  (to the trade:  doesn't sell to the consumer directly)
The Curtain Rod Shop (drapery hardware, finials, trims, tiebacks)

Rim Locks:
Baldwin Brass Hardware
House of Antique Hardware
Historic Home Hardware
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton

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