The Do's and Don'ts of choosing 'showstopper' furniture
Accent furniture draws the eye. It adds colour, or texture, or an interesting shape, or even a story (some pieces of furniture tick more than one of these boxes). Accent furniture doesn't have to be expensive or smart but, on some level, it has to be interesting. Without it, a room can seem bland and lacking in character. But be careful. Choosing accent furniture is like casting a play. You don't want more than one prima donna in the room. And you need to ensure that the supporting characters don't upstage the leading lady!
"Using accent furniture is a really quick and easy way of making your home look designed," says Kerry Hiddleston, interior designer and one half of Hiddleston Foy Interiors. "It doesn't matter if you spend €5,000 or a fiver in the local thrift shop," adds Cairenn Foy (she's the other half) "It's about creating a focal point. Sometimes you can put a big old Chesterfield chair into a modern interior and it creates an accent just because it comes from a different period to the rest of the furniture."
Conversely, an ultra-modern piece will stand out in a room of antiques. "An accent piece can also be something that is imperfect," Hiddleston says. "It makes you realise that the rest of the room is beautiful." I'm reminded of a friend's house where a stylishly modern living room was offset by a chair so old that the springs were bursting out of the upholstery. Its functional days were over, and you sat on it at your peril, but it had found another life as a wonderful piece of sculpture.
Accent furniture can also be over the top. Earlier in the year, Foy and Hiddleston travelled to the Parisian design fair Maison et Objet. where they admired beds in the shape of hot air balloons by Circu and money-no-object chairs from the Belgian brand, AP Collection. Both are ostensibly designed for children. "But the chairs are the sort of thing you'd want to keep for your whole life," Hiddleston says. She shows me a picture of a chair created from around 30 cuddly-toy peacocks, sewn into a bed of faux peacock-feathers. It's awesome, but also a little creepy.
AP Collection also offers an African Safari chair made from miscellaneous teddies, a Sloth chair backed in soft brown sheepskin, and a rabbit chair made with the fur of real rabbits as well as toys. "It does look a bit like roadkill," Hiddleston admits. "And they'd cost you the guts of €5,000. But aren't they amazing!"
If you find the squashed animal thing off-putting, there is a Candy chair that is covered, front and back, with hairy toy sweets with eyes. They look like sucked skittles that have been dropped on the carpet and miraculously acquired a level of consciousness. Sweet!
Back in the real world, I have frequently visited homes where a decorative accent chair is placed in a corner. Once, I sat on one. It was massively uncomfortable. I got up again quickly. "It's an accent chair!" said its owner accusingly. "You're not meant to sit on it." But Hiddleston and Foy, practical women that they are, have no time for such shenanigans.
"Accent pieces have to be lasting and they have to be functional," says Foy. "We've never put anything uncomfortable into a home before." With seven children between them, they understand what works for families. "We don't tend to work with vast open-plan mansions with huge open spaces and no children," Hiddleston adds.
Foy likes to bring in an accent in small things like cushions. But, while a mismatching melody of patterns can be a wonderful look, we agree that you need to have an eye to create that look.
"There's good clashing and bad clashing," Hiddleston says. "You need to make sure that you don't have a lot of mad patterns shouting at each other."
The cheat guide to choosing mismatching cushions is to buy them from a company that has assembled a collection. I like the German brand H.O.C.K. (cushions from €19.99). One of the advantages of a foreign brand is that people in this county will assume you put the ensemble together yourself. Never reveal your sources!
One of the pitfalls of buying an accent piece - be it a chair, a lamp, or a rug - is to neglect the consideration of scale. Every prima donna needs a context and there's no sense in bringing home a piece that's going to dwarf the room or dominate your existing furniture.
"A good accent piece needs to stand out - be that through innovative shape, style, colour, process or pattern," says Siobhán Lam of April And The Bear. "It also needs to perform its function well and make sense with your room's general scheme."
Her current favourite accent chair is the Fox Armchair in Jungle Green print (€785 from April And The Bear). This is a contemporary reissue by 366 Concept of a 1960s design that was once the "second-most popular piece of Polish mid-century furniture".
But, as Lam points out, you can also create an accent with lighting and wallpaper.
"I don't necessarily think that you should limit the number of accent pieces in a space, but they do need to work together and with the décor. For example, we stock extremely fun monkey lights (from €215), which would work wonderfully with a botanical statement wallpaper, but wouldn't with other styles, so this does need to be considered."
I'm momentarily confused by the difference between an accent piece and a statement piece. People tend to use the terms interchangeably but, to my mind, they're different.
"The word accent means emphasis," Lam explains. "The idea is that the piece of furniture will work with the general scheme, but also has its own uniqueness which makes it stand out. Statement furniture is all about creating a moment, introducing a piece of furniture that will become the focal point of the space and the talking point."
In either case, Lam recommends that buying an accent or statement piece because it's "on trend" at the moment is only going to end badly. "Don't ever feel obliged to introduce a piece of furniture or anything into your space because you think you should," she says. If you don't love it, don't bring it home.
The interior design service from Hiddleston Foy Interiors starts at €295 for a two-hour consultation or €495 for a full room. See hiddlestonfoyinteriors.com. See also aprilandthebear.com, hock-dich-hin.de, and apcollection.be.