As fall approaches, many of us turn our attention indoors. That's one reason it's the ideal season to tackle style changes in your home. After all, it's not so warm that you're saddled with guilt if you don't spend every waking moment outdoors, nor so cold that your primary inclination is to hunker down and hibernate.
Fall's dramatic colors, especially in Western New York, offer an inspiring palette for you to transfer to your walls and floors. This is a period of intense activity in interior design for another reason, too: The looks that were just being introduced at commercial markets and in showrooms during the spring are finally starting to crop up in homes, condos, apartments and lofts.
In this Home and Design issue, you'll see how your neighbors are applying these looks to their own living spaces and learn about innovative solutions for every taste, from the classical to the offbeat. What's more, area home and design experts offer their forecast of the hottest trends for fall and beyond - not just what they are, but why they're taking hold now.
Look No. 1: Public TV
Remember when a big-screen television measured 27 inches instead of 70? And when high-definition TV was such cutting-edge technology that you could only watch it in a science museum?
Consumers of the pre-plasma era enjoyed their sets, but they were reluctant to expose them to polite company. Instead, they tucked them into armoires, concealing them behind closed doors until viewing time. Although it was as American as apple pie, the TV was still considered a guilty pleasure, the electronic equivalent of a secret stash of girlie mags.
Of course, we're on a different channel now. An iPod on your hip is the ultimate fashion accessory. Status-bearing cell phones do more tricks than a circus seal. Given all this high-tech pride, it's no wonder TVs have come out of the closet.
"People aren't trying to hide the fact that there's a television in the room anymore," says Joanne Stewart, project manager at Ethan Allen. "They're embracing the fact that the TV is central to their lives, and that the technology is desirable to look at."
Until recently, the furniture industry couldn't keep pace with advances in TV wizardry, Stewart points out. That meant that anyone who owned the latest and greatest in home theater equipment was forced to settle for a base that was not terribly functional and even less fashionable.
But look at current issues of furniture catalogs and you'll find a crop of eye-catching cabinets and wall mounts that, at least for now, are perfectly compatible with the technology. Pottery Barn's "open, airy" media suites, for example, accommodate not just a mammoth TV and other entertainment components but also movies, CDs, books, magazines, framed photos, art and collectibles.
Kristin Johnson wishes the trend had arrived a year earlier, when she and her husband invested in a 60-inch set. At the time, they also bought the shelving unit displayed with the set at the electronics store.
"The TV sat pretty low, and when you walked in the room, that was all you saw," she recalls. "It just consumed the room."
Now the Johnsons' TV is perched atop an elegant Ethan Allen entertainment console made for flat-screen sets. "It's hard for a 60-inch TV not to be the focal point of the room. But with this you see the beautiful wood, and the TV is just accessorized, so it's not the whole room," she says.
"My husband looks at it, and it doesn't make a difference to him. But to me, it's perfect."
Look No. 2: Counter-reformation
Granite is rock-solid, both in its physical property and its appeal among homeowners looking to spruce up a kitchen.
But just as the iridescent, practical surface is booming in popularity - and just as it has emerged as the "new standard" in countertops, according to one industry expert - consumers are already eyeing alternatives.
"We're still doing a lot of granite because it is such a practical material, but now we're hearing inklings of, 'Well, what do you have in addition to granite?' '' says Wayne Watson of Auburn-Watson Kitchen and Bathroom Design Center.
"Because of natural variability, your granite countertop won't look like your neighbor's countertop. Still, we all think of ourselves as individuals, and when we have something that we think of as unique and it begins to be replicated, it's not as valuable to us."
Watson points out that no dominant alternative to granite has, well, surfaced. Instead, homeowners who can afford it will also consider counters in the same price range, such as copper and antiqued marble. What's more, they're likely to mix up two or three different surfaces: marble for the countertops, perhaps, and black walnut for the island.
"They do it for practical reasons, and for variety and interest," Watson says. "It's all about coming up with unique combinations that you're not going to tire of in 10 or 15 years."
When she pulled up the worn laminate in her Buffalo kitchen, Valerie Vance opted for a head-turning duo of granite and patterned stainless steel.
"The kitchens that you see in magazines are pretty much all granite, and I wanted something different," she says. "Because you can see my kitchen from all parts of the apartment, I certainly wanted something eye-catching."
Vance was drawn to stainless steel because she likes the way it ages. She has been unexpectedly pleased with the way the diagonal waves, which were routed into the surface, catch the light.
"I didn't want just plain stainless steel because it's kind of boring, and it shows scratches. To have this big flat surface you're always worried about scratching didn't make sense to me. This makes it easier because it's already scratched, but scratched in a pattern."
Look No. 3: As You Like It
Customized furniture used to mean that shoppers could select their own upholstery. These days, manufacturers offer such an array of choices - right down to the arms and legs of a sofa - that you're all but operating the lathe yourself.
Kathy Lenius, design consultant at Henry & Company, says the trend is picking up momentum for two reasons: People spend more time at home but have less time to shop.
"They want their homes to be reflective of their personalities, and they want to make the space they're living in comfortable and customized to their own personal needs," says Lenius. "Many of these people are dual-income couples, and when they come home, they want to relax. They don't have time to shop at every store to find exactly what they really want."
According to one furniture analyst, custom furniture makes up about 30 percent of units sold, up 10 percent from five years ago. Formerly limited to higher-end furniture, it's now an option in more moderately priced pieces, the result of stores and manufacturers doing everything to satisfy customers in a fiercely competitive domestic and international market.
The trend has even extended from furniture to the floor, with once-exorbitant customized rugs available for consumers at more reasonable prices. With the only boundary your imagination, you can choose the fabrics, sizes, borders, colors and patterns.
Denise Nagle decided to go that route after a frustrating hunt for an area rug for her kitchen table. "I wanted a square rug, and there was no selection of them," she says. "I looked in all the different catalogs, and no one had them. In the stores I could order plain carpet and have it bound, but I didn't want to do that."
Working with Lenius at Henry & Company, Nagle designed a 9-foot by 9-foot rug in brown, beige and brick red. "We were able to pick the colors off the throw rugs that I already had in the kitchen. I love the result, and we never would have had something like this if we hadn't done it this way," Nagle says.
"It's not like you're looking at it thinking, 'I like everything but that red color.' You like the whole rug because you picked everything out."
Look No. 4: Not Your Grandma's Silk
Traditionally, when there was silk in a room, that room was off-limits to pets or kids. It was populated only when homeowners were schmoozing a boss, celebrating a holiday - or dusting. The fabric was just too costly, the patterns too formal to risk daily inhabitation. Like silk in the clothing industry, though, interior design silk has come down in price. True, it's still considered a high-end fabric, but now it's accessible to those on a less-than-royal budget.
At the same time, the variety of styles and colors has blossomed. From pastel checks and bold solids to embroidered embellishments and woven jacquards, this is not your Granny's silk.
"The silks have just exploded onto the scene," says Suzanne Gawronski, manager of Calico Corners. "They're still a dressy, elegant treatment, but people are even using the silks in a dressy casual type of room because of its wonderful properties.
"People who you wouldn't normally think would go to that type of fabric are loving it. And part of the allure is that it's available. You don't have to spend $100 a yard to have silk."
Margaret Derrick worked with a designer at Calico Corners to select a window treatment for her high-ceilinged great room. She settled on a muted floral pattern in green and gold originally trimmed with an eyelash fringe but later replaced with a ropier trim.
"I don't know if silk was on my radar," she says. "I was just looking for what would work with the house and the furniture."
Derrick wasn't expecting just how well the drapes would reflect colors in adjacent rooms. "I like this because it gives me some pattern, but it's not something that jumps out at you.
"It's great material to work with," she adds. "There's a warmth and a richness to it that I'm drawn to."
Look No. 5: Wide and Wild
No, that's not a personal ad for a plus-sized single.
It's a description of two current looks in hardwood flooring - wide planks and wild colors. "The younger generation investing in high-end apartments and lofts downtown, are putting in really, really wild floors," observes James Maloney, president of Buffalo Hardwood. "You walk in and there are these 100-year-old brick walls and big, steel beams and open spaces, so they just want to create a dramatic look."
How dramatic are the stains?
How about aqua blue or candy apple red?
"There are copper finishes and metallic finishes, like a car. People will take and mix these colors. They'll have red boards and put a white border with it and make it like a racing stripe."
The beauty of the trend, Maloney says, is that homeowners aren't married to the color should their tastes mellow. "The hardwood should last at least 100 years, but you can always sand it off and do something totally different."
For the more traditional homeowner, there has been a strong surge of interest in wider planks, anywhere from 7 to 12 inches.
"Hardwood floors have expanded throughout the house, so there's a real strong shift in what people do with it," Maloney says. "As it moves beyond the dining room to the entire floor, people want flexibility. They want more options than the traditional 2-inch white oak."
The look is attractive to homeowners primarily for sentimental reasons. It harks back to a bygone era, when candy apple red was reserved for the fruit.
"Wider planks tend to offer a little bit more warmness and less busyness than smaller boards," Watson says. "A lot of the builders are going back to what was created 100 years ago. You're seeing a lot of throwback to that time, and I think that's where this is coming from."
Nicole Peradotto is a former News staff reporter and frequent contributor to the magazine's Home & Design sections.