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Your Home: Patent on Pizzazz

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RISMEDIA, Jan. 31, 2008-(MCT)-The stuff that put the gloss on your Mary Janes is now adding a little glitz to the home. Patent leather has sauntered off the fashion runway and into our living spaces, lending its gleam to accent pieces, accessories and even upholstery. It’s still a niche product in the home, but some designers think it’s coming into its own.

In most applications, patent leather plays a supporting role. Think of it as adding a bit of sparkle to a room in the same way the perfect piece of jewelry puts that finishing touch on an outfit, furniture designer James Stuart Duncan said.

But this supporting player has the potential to steal the show. It’s glossy. It’s glamorous. It’s almost downright decadent.

New York furniture designer Mariana Antinori started incorporating patent leather into her line about a year ago, after seeing the shimmery skin being flashed on shoes, belts, raincoats and just about every fashion accessory imaginable.

It adds a hint of richness and modern style to a room, “a little bit more of a flair,” Antinori said. She’s wrapped it around mirror frames, woven strips of it into a bench seat and upholstered an ottoman in it, which she accented with nailhead trim.

It’s also an easily cleanable surface; just a spritz of Windex takes care of it, said Joel Wolfgang, who recently joined Studio W Interior Design Group in Bath, Ohio. He’s put patent leather on ottomans in heavily used settings like family rooms, as well as on barstools, where the leather’s shimmer lightens the heavy structure of the bar.

In limited use, patent adds a bit of gleam and “allows you not to take things so seriously,” he said. Too much, though, and the look becomes akin to a cheap pair of shoes.

DURABLE BUT NOT COMFY

Patent leather is leather that’s been treated with an impermeable finish to give it a hard surface and high gloss. The finish makes the leather highly durable but not particularly comfortable for seating, so patent leather is often limited to accent pieces.

Duncan, however, went out on a design limb by using it to upholster a sofa-in hot orange, no less. But that was mainly a vehicle for attracting the attention of the interior designers who make up the market for his business, based in Palm Beach, Fla.

Patent leather’s stiffness makes it hard to use for upholstery, said Duncan, who sometimes substitutes vinyl, depending on the application. The back of the leather must be shaved to create corners, and that weakens the material, he explained.

“It’s not necessarily something I recommend for furniture that people will use on a daily basis,” he said.

Rather, he thinks it’s best on smaller, lesser used pieces-attention-getters like his graceful Louis XV chair with a seat and back cushion covered in black patent. Duncan said it’s been a popular seller among his designer clients, even at a cost to them of $2,200.

What makes the chair work is the juxtaposition of the patent leather, a material with a decidedly modern feel, with the chair’s highly traditional form. The combination allows the piece to work in a contemporary setting, he said.

Then there’s that hint of danger. “I think there’s a certain bad-boy element” that attracts people to the chair, Duncan said. “There’s something a little seductive about it.”

FAUX PATENT LEATHER

Patent leather in its natural form may be a bit of a drama queen in some applications, but designer Candice Olson is out to tame its temperamental ways. The HGTV star recently introduced faux patent in her collection for Ohio’s Norwalk Furniture.

The imitation patent leather used on Olson’s furniture, a product called Patine from Ultrafabrics, is made up of a polyurethane surface and a rayon backing. It’s not as glossy as real patent leather, but it’s more supple, more breathable and silkier to the touch. And from a furniture maker’s standpoint, it’s easier to work with on upholstery.

Patine is also durable and easy to clean, said Debbie McKirahan, Norwalk Furniture’s creative director _ perhaps just the combination that could make patent leather appeal to the masses.

Olson is making the faux patent available on most pieces in her collection. Initially, only black was available, but two additional colors, bittersweet chocolate and white, are being introduced this month.

The designer chose the material for its ability to bring light, energy and just plain fun into a room, McKirahan said.

“She feels every room needs that sparkle. … It will be a statement piece, a conversation piece.”

For all its glamour, Antinori said, she found patent leather a difficult sell initially. Some designers just don’t find it to their liking, she said.

But it’s caught on in metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, where what she calls the “cold hotel look” is trendy. In that kind of setting, patent leather adds a little shine and a retro `70s feel while still maintaining a modern edge, she said.

Antinori thinks patent leather’s star is rising. We’ll be seeing more of it in the home in the next couple of seasons, she predicted.

Just maybe, this could be patent’s time to shine.

© 2008, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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