Meet Alia Ahmed-Yahia, a longtime fashion pro and blogger who is now bringing her style expertise to the world of interior design—and to Ethan Allen! Alia has fresh ideas and an imaginative perspective on the art of making home.
At first, we were a little skeptical of the idea of lining a wall with seven of our Villa bookcases in a room that would be transformed into a putting green. It seemed just a little too far outside the box. But the proposal came to us from Alia Ahmed-Yahia, a savvy style expert with street cred: She’s worked as a fashion editor and stylist at ELLE and Vanity Fair, and for six years was style director at Ann Taylor/LOFT. Turns out Alia wanted to parlay her years of fashion expertise into the world of interior design, so we leaned in.
Turns out these days, Alia’s producing The Design Girlfriend, a home décor web series for Harper’s Bazaar. “We want to create home content that feels more engaging and less ‘how to’ than what’s currently out there,” she says. “To that end, we created a hybrid of tutorials and reality. The series has a narrative, stakes that add drama and tension, and clever design takeaways that make projects feel aspirational, attainable, and personal.”
Now live on Harper’s Bazaar YouTube Channel, The Design Girlfriend will also be available on some of Hearst’s other websites.
But why a putting green in the living room? The series’ first three episodes were shot at the Connecticut home she shares with her boyfriend and business partner, Jamie Bosworth, who happens to be a serious golfer and golf entrepreneur. Why our bookcases? Alia told us her vision was inspired by the classic décor of The Polo Bar, a New York restaurant designed by Ralph Lauren—and when she fell in love with Villa’s architectural details, she decided they’d be perfect for the room’s long statement wall. She imagined the rest of the furnishings would be more modern and transitional, save for an elaborate gilded mirror over the mantel.
As the home of “classic design, modern perspective,” Ethan Allen is all about versatility, and we could see that Alia’s unique perspective on style is really in sync with ours: Anything goes if you have the confidence to step up and try something new! We invited her to join us as a guest blogger, and we look forward to sharing her insights in the coming weeks—but first, meet Alia!
EA: Tell us a little about yourself.ALIA: I grew up as the oldest of seven kids in a small town in Wisconsin and moved to New York City the day after college graduation. I didn’t know a soul, but I had a resume, and two feet, and I was determined to do something creative. I pounded the pavement until I got a very lucky break and was hired as a fashion assistant at Vanity Fair magazine. I didn’t land the job because of my fashion sense (back in those days if you had asked me to articulate my style I probably would have given you a blank stare); I succeeded because I was willing to learn and work hard. I spent my early days in a windowless room with a troupe of interns cataloging all the designer clothes, shoes, and jewelry the magazine’s editors were borrowing from high-end designers for celebrity photo shoots.
EA: Where did your fashion career go from there?ALIA: After Vanity Fair, I went to a small startup, then Glamour, where I was accessories editor. I launched my own luxury e-commerce company, helped shape a fashion blog and video series for ELLE, and then went to work at Ann Taylor, where I was style director for six years; I like to say I got my MBA in retail there! Throughout my career, my ethos has always been to empower and help people identify their sense of style, and then translate it into the way they live, as in “what does that look like in your house?” and “what does that look like in your look?”
EA: What is your fashion POV?ALIA: Style is an evolution, not a revolution. And experimentation is essential to evolution. You won’t always get it right, but some of the best creations in the world were happy accidents. Allow yourself the freedom to try new things but don’t have the expectation that everything will work.
EA: Why segue into the world of interior design?ALIA: Great personal style steps out of your closet and into your life. The way you decorate, just like the way you dress, is a reflection of your personality. I’ve always loved home décor and design. It’s visual like fashion, and like fashion, there are design principles that inform your decisions and your look. Your home is a living canvas for your personal brand
EA: What would you say is your home design POV?ALIA: It’s conversation starting. I like to have something in every room that flips traditional design on its head, uses a piece differently from the way it was intended, or creates a moment to talk about. I design each space with a feature focus (the place in the room your eye lands first), then layer in quieter vignettes that may be discovered as you move throughout the space. I am a “more is more” girl, so I love an abundance of bold color, graphic silhouettes, pattern, and layering. Defining my feature focus as a starting point helps me dial everything else back to make sure the focus is the hero. There can only be one star!
EA: What drew you to Ethan Allen?ALIA: You offer some incredibly modern pieces that have a lot of versatility and speak to different design styles. They can be styled in a conventional way to appear traditional, but there’s a huge opportunity to inspire new looks (and new customers)! People tend to be literal, so if you don’t show them a vision, very few will come up with one on their own. It’s why Pinterest and Instagram are so popular; they’re places to discover new ideas and opportunities. When I oversaw style direction at Ann Taylor/LOFT, my styling philosophy was “show something familiar and mix it with one new idea.” Taking a risk is hard, but it’s easier if you push yourself to step 10 percent out of your comfort zone.
EA: Tell us more about the Harper’s Bazaar project.ALIA: It’s a concept that marries entertainment and valuable style/design ideas. We shot three episodes/three projects from beginning to end, in just three days! There were some hiccups along the way, but that’s what made it fun. We’re thrilled with the putting green room!
EA: Can we give readers a preview of the EA episode?ALIA:Absolutely!
Don’t miss Alia’s guest blogs! Subscribe to The Art of Making Home and check us out on Instagram, too @ethanallen.
Put the finishing touches on your outdoor décor with gorgeous outdoor accents! These outdoor accessories stand up to the elements—and they look beautiful doing it.
The garden gnomes at Ethan Allen have been very busy this spring and summer!
In May, we launched a new selection of pillows, cushion fabrics, umbrellas, and outdoor rugs. We're also launching two new lines of patio furniture in August: Vero Dunes, an all-weather wicker wonder, and the modern teak Bridgewater Cove collection. In addition to having the durability and quality you expect from Ethan Allen, they have clean lines and deep, comfortable seats, perfect for chatting at a garden party, lounging with a good book, or relaxing and watching the fireflies.
Decorating an outdoor room is a lot like decorating an indoor room. Well-designed outdoor spaces, like their indoor counterparts, are perfected with carefully chosen finishing touches. Once you've settled on the perfect patio furniture, these products, from gorgeous outdoor fabrics to stunning accessories, will help you top off your patio in style.
Our new fabrics are color coordinated for easy mixing and matching. We start with three choices for cushions (navy, taupe, and white) to form the base for your outdoor palette.
The next thing to consider are pillows. In most instances, you can just pick your favorites and feel confident that they'll play well together. Even so, these hints will help you mix patterns like a seasoned design pro—and of course, if you get stuck, you can always schedule a complimentary appointment with an Ethan Allen designer!
Take a look at this pillow-palooza from our recently released digital Home and Garden brochure. Here's how we put it together:
You need a hero. Start with a hero pattern that's bold and large in scale. We chose the Falco Indigo outdoor pillow, with its large medallion design, as our starting point.
Give it some sidekicks. Pair your hero with partners that share the same colors but have smaller patterns. Here, the Collins Indigo outdoor pillow, with its modern ikat pattern, and the Distin Navy outdoor pillow, with its diamonds, are complementary without being overwhelming.
Anchor it. The Reale Turquoise outdoor pillow has the dreamy appeal of an Caribbean oceanfront—but its solid styling helps your hero and sidekick grouping stay grounded.
The best thing about our outdoor cushion and pillow fabrics is that they're as durable as they are beautiful. They're made from Grade-D Sunbrella fabric that's colorfast, stain- and mildew-resistant, and very easy to clean and maintain.
Of course, you have to be practical—no pillow left out in the elements, 24/7, is going to look perfect at the end of summer. It's always a good idea to store your cushions or pillows when they're not in use, and protect your furniture frames with sturdy, weather-resistant covers.
Once you're chill-axing on your comfy cushions and pillows, it's time to think about what's underfoot. A rug really brings a room together, even outdoors. You can add pattern with rugs—either make the rug the hero or make sure it knows its place as a sidekick!—or choose a solid that fits your pillow pattern play.
For a bold, summery navy-and-white striped hero, choose our LaGrange rug.
Note that subtle patterns, like herringbone, can function as a solid while adding more visual interest. Our Willow Grove and Splendor Lake rugs, both available in five gorgeous color combos, make excellent sidekicks in any pattern story. Neutrals are also good, particularly when they add a textural touch. Check out our Marilla rug; its flat weave almost gives it the look of grasscloth, but it's made from high-performance fibers. Finally, we'll let you in on a little secret: both our pillows and our rugs are as lovely indoors as they are outdoors.
Our patio umbrellas are no shrinking violets. Our rectangular models are 8' x 11', and our round umbrellas has a 9' diameter, which helps ensure your garden party goes forward, rain or shine. They're also vented to help them handle wind gusts and summer storms—but again, be practical. Make sure to crank them closed when you're not using them.
Our patio dining tables are available with and without holes for your umbrella. If you choose a patio umbrella, make sure to purchase one of our decorative stands to support it. Our umbrellas are easy to tilt, to keep you shaded at any angle.
Take a look at our Home and Garden brochure to see how these outdoor styles come together. We've made it easy to take the art of making home outdoors.
For more great decorating tips, indoors and out, subscribe to The Art of Making Home. You'll get an email notice from one to three times a week letting you know it's time to kick back with some tea or coffee and get your inspiration on.
In which we discuss unicorns, the secret society of blacksmithing, and the only definition of transitional you'll ever need.
"Sometimes you can make a unicorn."
This improbable statement comes from Laura Chapman, Ethan Allen's normally quite rational senior director of product design, who sat down recently to talk about what she does and how and why she does it.
We weren't expecting mythological creatures to play a part, but like any good designer, Laura isn't one to let convention stand in the way of possibility. Also, it turns out, she had a solid, not-at-all loopy reason for saying it.
"I'm looking for unicorns all the time," she explains. "That's where design comes from, if you're doing it right and doing a good job. You look at tear sheets [an interior design term for product information and specs] and do trend research and go to the shows [trade shows, where inspirational designs debut; kind of like Fashion Week for furniture], and you still have this thing in your head that you haven't seen. That's the unicorn."
Laura started at Ethan Allen about four years ago, though she counts the time a little differently. "Nine introductions," she laughs – nine distinct product launches of dozens of products each, to which she contributed. That's more than two introductions a year, each requiring knowledge, inspiration, a fresh perspective, a willingness to jump into the unknown.
"For any designer, it's hard not to repeat what you just did, maybe with a slight variation," she says. "You have to go past what you know works, to take a bigger risk into something that's unknown."
Art in the Family
Furniture wasn't always part of Laura's plan.
She earned a degree in painting from the University of Cincinnati which, she says, "qualified me to be a starving artist." She worked in bookstores; her boyfriend (now husband) was, and is still, an artist blacksmith. It was a paycheck-to-paycheck life, but also a flexible one.
Stop. An artist blacksmith?
"Not to be mistaken for a farrier," she clarifies, "who might make shoes for unicorns."
Laura's husband, Andy, makes tools, furniture, and art, and he teaches at a local arts center and through the community youth agency, where children as young as ten can become amateur smiths, if they're interested. "It's always been like this underground subculture," Laura explains. "These smiths know each other or find each other. Because of shows on the History Channel, it's even more popular now, but also more like a cult following. People want to become weekend blacksmiths, so his classes are booked."
Even their kids are in on the action. "Lucy will be five this month. She has a half-pound hammer and an anvil about the size of that computer mouse. Ben is eight, so his hammer weighs four pounds, and his anvil's a little bigger. We give them things to mash – bottle caps and copper wire. They're both very interested!" Ben even knows how to use the vise, which he's not supposed to do when mom's not looking. "Of course, if I turn my back, something's in that vise. It might be something that's meant to be there, but it might be a Tonka truck."
(We'd like to clarify here: Laura's children are not in a forge! Theirs is a fire-free experience. So far.)
Time for a Change
Because they could, Laura and her husband packed everything into their car, took a month-long trip around the country, and landed in Austin, Texas. In the four years they lived in Texas, Laura volunteered in art galleries and found gigs at Whole Foods: first, managing the bakery, and then, as the beer buyer. "When you manage a department at Whole Foods, it's like running your own business. I earned a really thick skin dealing with beer vendors every day. Some were great, but some thought they could take advantage, and I was not that person."
OK, but how did she get from beer to product design? In Laura's family, a lot of life-changing decisions are made over big, greasy spoon breakfasts in cafés. "It's how we decided to move to Texas, and it's how we decided, 'Hey, someone has to make a living, I have these weird noodly drawings of furniture in my notebook, so why don't I do that?"
Next stop: a tiny design school in western Michigan (once a hub of U.S. furniture manufacturing). She specialized in upholstery design because she liked the sculptural nature of the products, and she learned about manufacturing and research and development.
The first company she worked for after graduation sold furniture by the pound, as in, Buy two recliners, get the table that fits between them free! "That table was one of my first pieces," she shares, "and that tough skin I got as a beer buyer really came in handy. These guys were the definition of old school." From there, she networked her way to Mitchell Gold, where she eventually became the head of both upholstery design and R&D.
Form Follows Function
Rather than dreaming up something pretty, then figuring out how to make it, Laura says the process of good product design is the opposite. "You can build anything once; it's a different ballgame to build something that will hold up to repeated use – or repeated production."
Laura got her education in construction while designing upholstery for a firm where everything is manufactured on site. "Knowing the construction requirements and how to build for comfort – those are the pillars for everything else. I learned a lot about construction because I saw it happen and had it explained it to me. I can't engineer a frame myself, but I can speak intelligently on how to problem solve thanks to that. I can then make the form around it whatever I want it to be. "
Laura approaches each new design as an assignment. "An assignment might develop because we have a need in the line, or it might be that we've identified an emerging trend. Every once in a while, there's a design we'll fight for because no one else is doing it and we know should try it." Of course, sometimes those designs turn out to be popular, which, Laura maintains, is proof that "people see the unicorns!"
She stays on top of style trends and knows what other manufacturers are doing, but for real inspiration, she has a favorite source: vintage. "I love getting abstract ideas from vintage furniture – collaging this leg with that seat with this arm. And because I'm the one sketching it up, I don't have to explain to anybody what Frankensteining those pieces together should look like."
Transitional might be the most common description of style in the last 20 years, even if few people can tell you exactly what it is. Laura can! In Laura's mind, transitional style is about taking a vintage form and boiling it down to its essentials. "Picture a Queen Anne highboy: It has the big crown on top, the cabriole leg, carvings, details. To make it transitional, you'd take it down to just the shape. Maybe it still has the crown, but there's no carving; it has the cabriole leg, but it isn't ball-and-claw." Taking timeless styles down to their essentials preserves the form, but delivers something more modern because the traditional elements have been eliminated. Transitional can also go the other way, relaxing a sleek modern form by giving it a new finish, for example, to make it more casual.
One of the most rewarding parts of Laura's job is encouraging her team to chase those elusive unicorns. "When you're pushing the whole team to do something new – the designers, the engineers, the manufacturing team – and then it happens, it's exciting. You achieve so many different goals on the way to getting a really unique design. If we're working on a new product and referencing something that's truly vintage or antique – I have no problem with that. But this ephemeral it-doesn't-exist-but-can-we-get-there? sort of thing; that's when you know you're really onto something."
Laura never let go of her dream of being an artist of the non-starving variety; she just found an unexpected way to make it happen. "People love their furniture," she says. "They love their homes. I think the idea of making functional art, art that performs a service, is ultimately how I ended up here."
See how the Greek key motif has evolved from decorative border to noteworthy detail to centerpiece—and beyond.
They say everything old is new again, and that’s surely true of the Greek key. It’s a design pattern both classic and classical* that can be traced to the fifth century B.C., the Golden Age of Greece. Curiously, versions of the Greek key have been found in the artifacts of other civilizations predating (and following) this period, but the motif has always been most closely associated with Greece.
At its most fundamental, the pattern, also known as the meander motif, is made up of a long, unbroken line that repeatedly folds back on itself. It’s said to mimic the ancient Meander River of Asia Minor, notable for its many twists and turns. (It’s the same 250-mile river known as the Menderes that flows through Turkey today.) The motif was believed to symbolize infinity, or the eternal flow of life. Among many other things, it was used as a decorative border on Greek pottery, mosaic tiles, and temples.
Fast forward to the eighteenth century, by which time the motif had made its way into the design vocabulary of most of Europe. It was an ornamental favorite during the French Empire and English Regency periods. And in the nineteenth century, archaeological digs in Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Pompeii turned up Greek key-inspired styles in furniture and art on both sides of the pond.
The Greek key figured prominently in the U.S. during the Hollywood Regency period, where it appeared on everything from chair arms and table legs to cabinet hardware, and it has remained a constant in present-day neoclassical architecture. Because of its elemental simplicity, it lends itself beautifully to contemporary uses in furnishings—from textile and rug patterns to metal bases and wood inlays. The Greek key border provides contrast on draperies, pillows, and bedding. It brings a fresh, stylish sensibility to any interior; there’s a reason why it’s stood the test of time.
Here are some key interpretations from our recent introductions.
An open base with Greek key contours lends the Delos Islandside table a classic look and a light and airy feel.
The bold Greek key border on the demilune Kronos chest takes the piece from petite and practical to sublime.
What happens when the Greek key is the piece? Our Zee lacquered accent table turns the motif on its head, with contemporary flair.
Full disclosure: the Greek key nailhead detail is optional. But just how fetching is the Madie square ottoman when embellished like so?
Greek key feet and a smooth marble top combine to create the Willow Key, a little goddess of a table that can live in any room.
*Classic is used to describe something traditional, enduring, serving as a standard of excellence; while classical relates to the ancient Greek and Roman world, especially to its literature, art and architecture.
For more inside design info, subscribe to The Art of Making Home and check us out on Instagram @ethanallen.
They resist stains and look great doing it: Meet our high-performance fabrics!
Do you find that the most memorable stains seem to happen in slow motion? The wine glass tips over, the cup of coffee wobbles, the kiddo squeezes the grape juice box and a purple fountain shoots upward. Slowly, torturously—because you're too far away or too slow—the liquid falls through the air and lands before you can stop it. It leaves a permanent stain on your furniture and a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.
And how about the stains you find after it's too late? Like when your beloved pet stains the sofa during the night and leaves it for you to find in the morning. You try to laugh it off and tell yourself that "life happens"—except in this case, life just happened to soil your major furniture investment.
Never fear; high-performance fabrics are here! Ethan Allen introduced four lines of them in Fall 2017: a linen blend, a textured chenille, a herringbone, and even a plush velvet (yes, you read that right: velvet). In Fall 2018, we'll be introducing even more high-performance upholstery fabric options, so you can dress your furniture in style and protect it, even in your household's heavy-use areas.
What Is a High-Performance Fabric?
High-performance fabrics give you an extra line of defense against all kinds of stains: liquid spills, oil-based blotches, and even streaks left by crayons and markers. Red wine and soda can't sink into a fabric designed to cause liquid to bead on contact with the surface. Muddy paws are no match for a fabric that can be easily cleaned with soap and water.
It may sound like magic, but it's actually science: a stain- and liquid-repellent material covers the surface of each fiber to prevent stains from taking hold. And when you choose high-performance fabric, you don't have to send style to the cleaners; these fabrics feel and look beautiful in all kinds of spaces.
What Happens when Life Happens?
When paw prints, coffee spills, crayon marks, and salad dressing dribbles come into contact with a high-performance fabric, they're easy to clean. Mix enzyme-based detergent, like Tide laundry detergent or Dawn dish detergent, and warm water. We recommend a solution that's about 1% to 2% detergent, or about one tablespoon of detergent mixed with a quart of water, which you can easily store in a spray bottle.
Once the slow-motion spill lands—or when you find the surprise stain—spray it lightly with solution. There's no need to soak the fabric. Blot it—don't rub—with a paper towel. This simple process cleans up fresh marks and removes most stains.
How About when Life REALLY Happens?
These fabrics are fantastic, but they're not bulletproof. Some stains are more challenging than others. For tougher stains, like oil-based stains, let the detergent do the work. Spray, let soak, and blot, repeating the steps until the stain has dissipated.
Some substances are really tough to remove from a fabric. The worst culprits are lipstick, nail polish, and every parent's worst nightmare: permanent marker. Ethan Allen offers Guardsman Gold Complete furniture protection plans for those times when even high-performance isn't enough. These plans also protect your investment when fabric rips, tears, or gets punctured or burned—in other words, when life gets overwhelming.
Life-Proofing Your Space
In today's world, formal living rooms are largely a thing of the past. We want our kids and our pets with us, and we want them to be free to climb, play, and explore without worrying that their messes can't be undone. Ethan Allen furniture and accessories aren't just for looking at; they're for living with. For even more options that can help you kid-proof, pet-proof, and life-proof your space, check out our post on high-performance pet-friendly rugs.
To get even more great tips on designing great spaces that are easy to live in, subscribe to The Art of Making Home.
As any pet owner knows, keeping a stylish home looking its best can be a constant battle. From the entryway and living room to the bedroom and dining room, our beloved animal companions have no problem resting their cute paws and claws anywhere (as you can see in this recent photo shoot we did to celebrate National Pet Month)!
But that doesn’t mean your style has to go to the dogs. Here are five easy pet-friendly furniture and home design ideas that will make a difference.
1. TAKE COVER
More than likely, your pets are sharing the bed with you—or taking it over! To keep the fashion factor high in the bedroom, invest in high-quality, machine washable bedding that can withstand the regular care that’s required with pets. Our bedding selection offers a wide array of beautiful styles in 100% cotton that can easily be brushed, vacuumed, washed, and ironed to keep your bed dressed in its best.
The Abriella floral duvet cover and shams offer fresh, pet-friendly bedroom style. The duvet cover features hand pockets and interior corner duvet ties that make it super easy to remove the duvet insert for cleaning.
2. DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
The best furniture for pets is dressed wisely. Our all-new selection of high-performance fabrics offers worry-free fashions for indoor upholstery pieces, including plush velvet, tailored chenille, herringbone, and linen in a variety of colors and patterns. These beautiful, durable, pet-friendly fabrics repel spills, resist moisture and odors, and are easy to clean so you don’t have to sacrifice your style for your pets.
The Borini Ivory high-performance fabric has the look and feel of a classic twill so you can finally have that cozy, light colored sofa you’ve always wanted.
3. TREAT YOUR EYES
Food bags and pouches stuffed in cupboards can be an unruly annoyance, especially if you have multiple pets. Keeping colorful biscuits, jerkies, and other treats fresh in stylish glass containers on your kitchen counter is an easy, chic solution.
These Glass Cork jars are food-safe and come in three different sizes—great for storing different treats for multi-pet households.
4. HIT THE FLOOR
Every rug may not be suitable for a pet-friendly home but every pet-friendly home can definitely have a stylish rug! Save your pretty plush styles for low-traffic areas (if there’s such a thing) and opt for indoor/outdoor rugs for your active living spaces.
The La Grange rug has the stylish look of a flat-weave wool rug; you’d never know it's woven from high-performance fibers that can withstand muddy or litter-laden paws. Plus, it’s reversible!
The Mickey Mouse stripe rug is braided, just like a classic rag rug, from durable fibers. It’s also reversible for double the style!
5. PLAY CATCH
From chew toys and leashes to catnip-filled mice and bouncy balls, your pets’ playthings definitely need a home! Interesting boxes and baskets can catch the clutter in style.
The lightweight yet durable Fantastic Felt storage baskets have a fun, fetching look and can easily be moved from room to room for pickup and playtime.
Where do your pets like to make themselves at home? Tag photos of your pets getting comfy in their favorite spots with #ethanallenpets on Instagram so we can see and share them. And if you need some help with pet-friendly furniture and home design ideas, just ask one of our designers—their services are free! They’re available at your nearest Design Center or they can come to your place, if you’d like.
Ethan Allen's own Florence Grazi takes you behind the design to reveal the latest fabric trends!
One of Ethan Allen's biggest passions is personalization: making it possible for you to customize our styles in ways that help you express who you are. Our collection of 1,000+ textile fabric and leathers is one of the ways we make that happen, and the mind behind our fabric collection is our director of fabric and leather, Florence Grazi.
We start by briefly introducing you to Florence and giving you a sense of her arc as both an artist and a trend spotter. Then, we'll dive right into what's hot in the world of fabric right now and share some images of Florence's favorite fabrics.
Florence knew she wanted to be a textile designer when she was fifteen years old. Like so many of us, she was inspired by a great teacher; in her case, the teacher was Joan Busing, a printmaker with whom Florence studied art.
Joan often invited former students to return and share their work with her current students. One such guest, a student at Syracuse University, introduced Florence to designing fabric patterns with gouache, a paint that blends some of the behaviors of watercolor with the opacity of acrylic.
"I was totally enamored," Florence remembers. "I thought, 'This is what I want to do. I want to do something where I can just play with this stuff all the time.'" On a college evaluation visit to Syracuse, she met a senior student in the surface pattern studio who had interviews lined up at both Ralph Lauren and Hallmark. Seeing the chance not only to perfect her art but also to build a rewarding career, Florence earned a BFA from Syracuse and started putting her knowledge to work.
She began her career with Stacy Garcia, who had just launched a design house in New York City (Florence also interned with Garcia during her degree program and considers her an important mentor). At that point, Garcia was running her startup from a basement, with a focus on design for the hospitality industry. She has since branched out into residential categories, moved into office space, and become a sought-after speaker and designer. For Garcia, Florence developed patterns for both upholstery and soft goods fabrics (think bedding and pillows), along with patterns for wallpaper and carpet. She then moved on to Kravet, where she developed signature looks for midrange and licensed fabric collections—most notably, the Candice Olson collection.
Ethan Allen has been a place where Florence's passions come together: designing fabrics, spotting trends, and developing finished products that people will love. She credits her predecessor, Anne Lekow (now Ethan Allen's senior director of upholstery merchandising), as a mentor who helped her combine both her product development experience and her trend-spotting know-how with an appreciation for how every fabric will look once it's applied to a frame.
In fact, Florence says the most rewarding part of her job is seeing the gorgeous fabrics she works so hard to develop come together with a frame to create the perfect piece—that point at which the two-dimensional becomes three-dimensional. "The coolest thing I ever saw was the conveyor belt of furniture," she says with a laugh, recalling a visit to one of Ethan Allen's North American plants. "I thought, 'This is the moment. This is the moment I've been waiting for.' All the different furniture coming down the belt. All different patterns, all different frames. Fashion is something I look to for inspiration. This is my fashion show. That's my runway."
Throughout her career, Florence has had a passion for knowing what's next in the world of textiles. Without further ado, we bring you Florence's take on the latest fabric trends.
Pattern in Textile and Design: It's Back!
We all know the usual advice for decorating a room: Start with neutral investment pieces and add colorful or patterned accessories to personalize the design. If Florence had her way, she'd turn that advice on its head—today.
"I think that people turn to neutral because they're comfortable with it, and it's an investment, and you can live with it for a long time," she says. "I would love to start with a pattern and with color. And I'm starting to see that with some of the higher-end designers who have blogs and also in high-end publications."
Florence has noticed a trend toward more large-scale botanical patterns, including tropical prints and florals. "There's really an emphasis on bring the outdoors in," says Florence, "but what's next for florals? I don't know that it's necessarily super traditional or formal. It's like a new construction. Florals that are big bouquets—they're showing them now at triple the scale. Old-school bouquets shown on a black ground at twice the size. It's all about changing something to make it for today rather than repeating history."
In fact, people seem to want a fresh take on something already made: "A really traditional damask from the eighteenth century can be new again with a change in construction or a change in color." Florence points to a metallic damask that Ethan Allen recently released, a metallic print on a linen ground. "It's high and low. I love the juxtaposition, the mix of something shiny with something dry." Even solids, she says, are incorporating that mix of matte and sheen to add a sense of dimension.
Florence also loves to see ancient techniques like block printing, which originated in ninth-century China during the Tang Dynasty, take on new life in today's fabric patterns. One of the fabrics she developed for Ethan Allen's Passport look, Mandron Pool, is a great example. See how this performance fabric is made.
Color Is Everything
Florence's love for pattern goes back to the days she spent in her high school teacher's studio. "It's my core," she says. "It's my heartbeat." She's equally passionate about color, and that passion is essential because textile fabrics are often the first place Ethan Allen's merchandising team starts when creating a new look.
For Uptown, which released in Spring 2018, Florence found inspiration at a textile fair she attended in Italy. What she saw helped her develop the signature Uptown palette, which consists of deep jewel tones and light gemstone hues. Amethyst and eucalyptus, a color Florence describes as "slate-y teal," are the core colors.
To pair beautifully with Florence's Uptown palette, Ethan Allen created an all-new finish called champagne brass. The team also chose cooler brown tones for many of its wood finishes, which look gorgeous with the fabric palette and the new finish—all built around Florence's initial concepts.
"This is the thing about color and design, period," Florence says. "It stems from somewhere in history; it regenerates itself. People say, 'We've been there; we've done this.' Not this way. It's all about figuring out the angle."
When it comes to color, Florence sees pastels as the on trend, particularly grayed-out hues that pair beautifully with finishes like lacquer, crystal, brushed metal, or Lucite. "I think what's happening is there are light grayed pastels, like blush, mint, and lavender—I think these are becoming the new forms of neutrals. Also light, soft grays rather than charcoal." In other words, blush is so much more than millennial pink; it's en vogue because it pairs so beautifully with stylish finishes, wall colors, fabrics, and decorative elements. Other on-trend colors that pair beautifully with gray include—
Greens are available in a wide range of shades—eucalyptus, sage, olive, moss, grass—and they have the added benefit of bringing the outdoors in. One example is Ethan Allen's Lallana Emerald fabric, a bold tropical print in a range of greens, with a hand-sketched look that makes it modern and fresh.
Apricots that are less coral and more soft and fresh; think a light peach.
Limoncello, which Florence describes as a yellow with a hint of Dijon mustard.
White in shades of pearl and graceful cream; with today's high-performance fabrics, you can upholster in white without worrying that stains and spills will shorten the life of your fabric.
Again, it goes back to interpreting familiar things in new ways. "I love anything that has a little bit of history. It makes something feel grounded. Color is an opportunity to set a mood, where depending on what you're going for, you can make something more serene or more exciting."
Not everyone is up for upholstering their sofa in a bold pattern, and that's okay! Trendy textured fabrics have become a great way to add visual movement to larger furnishings; Florence calls them "plains with character."
Tone-on-tone patterns, like herringbone, perform the function of a solid while adding dimension. "The way you can keep things interesting is by adding texture," she says. "People are using texture on their large-scale pieces. That becomes a bit of a statement, but it's soft, and it's easy to live with."
Velvets have been on trend for a while, and they're gorgeous on large-scale pieces. (We featured our Oxford sofa in lush green velvet on the cover of our February 2018 magazine, and we even have high-performance velvets, like our Ramona Velvet in Ballet Pink.) Another on-trend textured choice for a sofa or sectional is bouclé, which Florence says can look incredibly chic when it's paired with beautiful accent pillows and textiles.
And surprise!—tailored chenille is also in vogue, and Florence isn't talking about your grandmother's chenille. Today's on-trend chenilles get their look less from pile and more from fill and warp direction.
Putting It All Together
Florence spots trends in Manhattan, where she lives, and also draws inspiration from New York's thriving world of fashion. She talks to her huge network of suppliers to see what they're developing, and she shows them what she's creating to get a feel for how new designs could perform on the market.
Staying on trend is important, but what ultimately matters to Florence is quality. "I'm a value shopper. I want to make sure I'm getting the best things for my buck," she concludes. "Since you're paying what you're paying for a piece of furniture, I want to make sure every fabric I put out there for anyone to live with has all the design touches that our clients deserve."
If you enjoyed meeting Florence and getting the lowdown on fabric trends, here's what to do next:
Follow Florence on Instagram @friendsoflorence, and keep an eye out for her takeover of Ethan Allen's Instagram account on May 18.
Share ways you've personalized Ethan Allen furnishings with creative fabric choices, tagging them #EthanAllenDesign—we like to see them and share our favorites!
Get the latest design tips and trends by subscribing to The Art of Making Home.
They say a woman’s place is in the home, but we think it’s in the lab, too. This Mother’s Day, instead of offering up a breakfast-in-bed menu or list of last-minute gift ideas, we’re giving a shout-out to women whose inventions have made our homes safer, smarter, healthier, more comfortable—better.
These are women who saw necessity as opportunity, women who imagined things that never were and made them happen. They were teachers, engineers, factory workers, scientists, housewives. And while they were not all mothers in the literal sense, we’re honoring them anyway—they’re all mothers of invention.
Josephine Cochrane (1839–1913)
Josephine Cochrane and her dish-washing machine, c. 1886
So maybe it wasn’t altruism that inspired this invention, but we still have socialite Josephine Cochrane to thank for saving us all from dishpan hands. In the mid-1880s, the well-to-do hostess from Shelbyville, Illinois, was known for her frequent, lavish dinner parties. Needless to say, there was always a lot of cleanup to do, but Josephine didn’t give much thought to the tedious task that fell to her kitchen staff—until she discovered they were chipping her fine china.
Fed up, she took matters into her own hands and designed the first mechanical dishwashing machine that actually worked. She was awarded a patent in 1886 and founded a company (eventually known as KitchenAid) that would manufacture her machine, but it would be decades before the dishwasher became a commercially successful household appliance.
SOLAR HEATING SYSTEM
Maria Telkes (1900–1995)
Scientist Maria Telkes was known as “The Sun Queen.”
Maria Telkes got the sun in her eyes at an early age. Even in high school, the Hungary native found solar energy intriguing. At 25, after earning a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, Maria emigrated to the U.S., where she worked as a biophysicist and later as a research engineer in the field of energy conversion. In 1940, she joined the solar research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she and architect Eleanor Raymond designed and built the Dover Sun House, the first completely solar-heated home. A prolific inventor who was awarded twenty patents over the course of her life, Maria also designed the first simple, easily operated solar oven for use in developing countries.
FOLDING CABINET BED
Sarah E. Goode (c. 1855–1905)
Former slave-turned-entrepreneur Sarah E. Goode.
There was no getting up on the wrong side of the bed for many who lived in the working-class neighborhoods of Chicago after the Civil War. Apartments were small and cramped, so beds were often jammed into corners, taking up the lion’s share of floor space. Sarah E. Goode would have none of it. Born into slavery around 1855, Goode and her husband Archibald, a carpenter, moved to Chicago after the war, where they opened a furniture store.
Because so many of their customers lived in tight quarters, Goode invented what she called a “folding cabinet bed,” which, when not in use, folded up and served as a rolltop desk. It inspired the later, popular Murphy bed, but Goode made history for another reason: She was the first African-American woman to be granted a U.S. patent.
Melitta Bentz, inventor of the first paper coffee filter.
If this inventor’s name sounds familiar, it’s because the name she made for herself over a century ago is still well represented in the coffee aisle of your local supermarket. Melitta Bentz went from clever housewife to inventor, entrepreneur, and household name in 1908 when she registered a humble invention she called a “Filter Top Device Lined with Filter Paper” with the patent office in Dresden, Germany.
Melitta had grown tired of coffee that was overly bitter and full of grounds—plus she hated cleaning the sticky mess at the bottom of her pot. One day she punched holes in the bottom of the pot, and lined the inside with a sheet of blotter paper ripped from a school notebook. She filled the pot with grounds, set it over a coffee cup, poured boiling water over it—and the first disposable coffee filter was born. The Melitta company still manufactures paper filters today—along with ground coffee, single-serve coffee, coffee makers, pour-over manual coffee brewers, and accessories.
HOME SECURITY SYSTEM
Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922–1999)
Home security system inventor Marie Van Brittan Brown.
This invention’s got nothing on today’s smart houses, but hey, we all have to start somewhere. In this case, “somewhere” is Marie Van Brittan Brown’s hometown of Jamaica, Queens, where she lived with her husband, Albert Brown, an electronics technician.
A nurse who worked odd shifts, Marie often worried about her safety in their high-crime neighborhood, so she designed a security system, showing camera images of the front door, that could be operated from her bedroom. She and Albert created a prototype that worked, and were granted a patent for the invention in 1966. Home security system technology has come a long way since then, but it was Marie’s invention that inspired it.
FOOT PEDAL TRASHCAN
Lillian Gilbreth (1878–1972)
Lillian Gilbreth: She invented the kitchen triangle, too.
Lillian Gilbreth made trash disposal a lot less icky when she invented a can with a lid that opened with the touch of a foot. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story of a woman who dedicated her life to problem solving both inside (she came up with the idea of shelves inside refrigerator doors—who knew?) and outside the home. Dubbed the “mother of modern management,” the inventor of the foot pedal trashcan was an author, industrial engineer, and mother of twelve, who with her engineer husband, Frank, tested efficiency ideas in their New Jersey home. Two of their children later wrote a best seller about growing up in the Gilbreth household; Hollywood turned it into a movie: Cheaper by the Dozen (1950).
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Ruth Wakefield (1903–1977)
Ruth Wakefield, the mother of the chocolate chip cookie.
One of our favorite home improvements of all time is the delicious aroma of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. Thank you, Ruth Wakefield!
Ruth was a dietician who, with her husband, Kenneth, ran a roadside inn in Massachusetts in the 1930s. Ruth was known for her cooking, especially her homemade desserts, so travelers looked forward to stopping at the Toll House Inn (see where we’re going with this?).
Legend has it that one day, Ruth was baking a batch of cookies when she discovered she was out of baker’s chocolate. She substituted broken pieces of Nestle's semisweet chocolate, but they didn’t melt as expected. The result was the accidental invention of what Ruth called Toll House Crunch Cookies. They were an immediate hit, and according to most surveys taken over the years, the chocolate chip remains the most popular cookie in America.
Our four-legged friends spend a lot of time on our rugs. And occasionally—for reasons pet owners are all too familiar with!— the rug gets the worse end of the deal. That's why pet-friendly rugs are essential household items for the savvy pet owner. To be considered pet friendly, a rug has to meet three nonnegotiable criteria:
Easy to clean
We have some rug recommendations that are sure to stand up to almost anything Fido and Fluffy can throw at them, from muddy paws to sharpening claws. These are also great rugs for high-traffic areas.
Pet-Friendly Rugs for Simple, Sturdy Elegance
If your pet prefers to snooze on a colorful rug with a subtle pattern, both our Willow Grove and Splendor Lake rugs are great options.
The Willow Grove rug is a handwoven rug with a herringbone pattern. It's made from 100% UV stabilized polyethylene terephthalate—also known as PET, what a coincidence!—which is a durable polyester fiber created from recycled plastics.
Another option, made from similar materials, is our Splendor Lake rug. This one has a subtle trellis pattern, and, like Willow Grove, is woven by hand.
Both of these are indoor-outdoor rugs that are fade resistant with UV protection. PET is a quick-drying material that doesn't absorb liquids, so it's not prone to mold or mildew. These rugs are available in six colors and in three sizes to fit your space: 2'3" x 3', 5' x 8', and 8' x 10'. Even better: They're reversible for long-lasting value.
Rugs that Make a Bolder Statement
Sometimes, a space needs some bold pattern to spice it up. These striped pet-friendly rugs will wake up your space so your pet can cavort in style.
Our La Grange rug is perfect for a relaxed space and versatile; you can easily picture it in a cottage or in an urban loft. It has a flat weave that's handwoven from the same high-performance fibers as Willow Grove and Splendor Lake. Like those two rugs, it's also reversible, and it's an indoor-outdoor option.
La Grange is available in black, navy, or camel with a contrasting ivory stripe. It's also available in three sizes: 2'3" x 3', 5' x 8', and 8' x 10'.
Let's turn to a different kind of striped statement: a traditional rag rug look with a slightly whimsical pattern. This rug is crafted from 100% polypropylene in a traditional braided pattern, and it's sewn around the sides to ensure it doesn't unravel.
You'll never guess where we got the idea for this pattern: Mickey Mouse. That's right—this Mickey Mouse stripe rug is actually from our Ethan Allen | Disney collection, and it's inspired by classic color combos from early Disney cartoons. It's traditional with a twist, and when people ask you about it, you'll have an interesting story to share! Like our other rugs, it meets the pet-friendly criteria and can be used indoors and out.
The reversible Mickey Mouse stripe rug is available in three color combos and in three sizes: 5' x 7', 6' x 9', and 8' x 10'.
Rugs for Kids' Rooms
Mickey Mouse isn't only for grown-ups. We have another Disney-inspired option for your favorite kiddo (or the kid in you): our braided Mickey Mouse rug.
Like the Mickey Mouse stripe rug we showed you earlier, this one is reversible, braided, and made from 100% polypropylene, a material that stands up to all kinds of messes, whether they're made by little humans or furry companions.
We love the concentric braid pattern and the bold color options (there are four). We also love the idea that you can place this rug anywhere. You can stand on it in front of your baby's crib and sing lullabies, or you can stand on it in front of your kitchen sink, doing dishes while your cat or dog watches (they want to help you, but they don't have opposable thumbs).
One More Thing
We have a gorgeous new line of Home & Garden fabrics coming out, including indoor-outdoor rugs that meet all the pet-friendly criteria. Take a peek at them in our latest H&G lookbook if you need even more pet-friendly rugs to choose from!
Here's to all the fun we have with our pets—and how nice it is when the cleanup is easy!