Inside design: Judith Miller
In her book Influential Styles (Georgetown Publications, 2003), Judith Miller, British author, broadcaster and antiques columnist for Canadian Home & Country magazine, traces design trends, from neoclassical to country, and explains how those styles have shaped modern interior decor. In Tribal Art: The Essential World Guide (DK Publishing, 2006), she looks at the next big trend. The author of more than 100 books, Miller is also an avid collector. We asked her for a refresher course on antiquing and collecting.
S@H: Your last book, Furniture, was a look at trends in furniture. What do you see shaping current and future decorscapes?
JM: We're seeing the rejection of a number of styles, particularly minimalism—a look we seem to dally with regularly but which isn't sustainable for the long term. Minimalism will reappear, but we tire of it easily because it's so unforgiving—where do the books and kids' toys go?
We're also seeing the reintroduction of some earlier styles; elements of Victorian and 1950s decor are making cameo appearances all over the place.
But I think one of the biggest influences on modern decor is tribalism, whether that's African, Native American or Inuit. Here in Canada, there has been a tremendous increase in the sale of Inuit art, and much of that is being bought by decorators.
S@H: Why is tribal art making such an impact on decor now?
JM: It's a scary world out there, and there's something reassuring about the honesty and integrity of Inuit and tribal art. These ancient traditions remind us of the existence of fundamental values that are timeless and worthy.
S@H: You discuss modern interiors as an amalgam of past and present influences. Do they risk becoming identity-less?
JM: Our current sense of style is an amalgam, true, but a unique look—the one that we'll think back upon as the defining style of the early 21st century—is emerging. In Canada, I suspect country influences will play a big part in shaping that prevailing style. There's such strong craftsmanship among Quebec furniture makers, and a strong link to French and English country styles of the past. That isn't to say there's anything wrong with mixing and matching styles. I love seeing antiques mixed with modern pieces. We're a generation that loves to sample from a number of styles and eras and, yes, there's a risk to that. Some styles work well together, like art deco and '50s retro, but others, like art nouveau and '50s, don't because they're visually jarring. The trick is to find harmonious common elements. For example, if your decor is classical and you wish to incorporate tribal artifacts, choose unifying colours.
Image courtesy of Graham Rae
S@H: What explains our love affair with the past—with antiques and collectibles?
JM: I come from the Scottish Borders, and I have such lovely memories of sun-soaked days playing in the hills. But hold on—in reality it's an area that has its fair share of rain, so where do those memories come from? It's nostalgia that tints the past with a warm glow. Antiques tell a story of that past. You sit in a 17th-century chair and wonder what it could tell you. We are custodians of antiques. If you're a collector, you're collecting memories. I can tell you where I was and what I was doing when I bought each one of my oriental porcelain pieces. Within my collections are my memories, and that's so precious to me.
Showing off your collections
Maybe you find Royal Doulton irresistible, or you're mad about Murano glass (for more, see 15 ways to show off your collection). Even if the objects of your affection are tiny treen (small domestic wooden items), how do you display them stunningly? We asked Judith Miller for pointers.
1 More is more
"Better to display your collectibles when you have more than three," advises Miller. "Three could be a mistake, but there's no mistaking 23—that's a statement."
2 A group effort
A collection isn't a collection if it's scattered throughout the house. "It loses impact," says Miller. Instead, display plates, pins or copper pots as a group.
3 Likes attract
If you have varied patterns or colours within a collection of, say, plates or figurines, keep similar patterns together, so they're easier on the eye.
4 Be a show-off Accent your collection by painting the wall behind it. If your Murano glass is mainly blue and green, create a bold blue backdrop. Or set off your impressive array of African masks with chocolate brown and dramatic uplighting.
Image courtesy of Graham Rae