Totally Tactile

Originally appeared on sothebysrealty.com

A truly inspired interior isn’t just something pretty to look at, it’s an immersive experience felt through every sense—including touch. The plushness of a shaggy rug underfoot, the splendor of running your fingers through a faux fur hide, the cozy lure of a hand-knit ottoman—by incorporating texture and tactility into your design, the look and feel becomes interactive. “Careful and thoughtful layering of a space makes a room come alive,” says Rome, Italy-based architect and designer Achille Salvagni. “Alongside color and materials, tactile elements are extremely important. These are the details that can complete a room and transform it from a clinical, sterile environment into a warm and inviting space,” he says.

Tactility can be expressed in many ways, through textured fabrics and materials, through the art of layering, whether rugs or throw blankets, or through accents and artwork that bring a sense of warmth and depth to a room. “It is important to mix the ingredients in the same way a chef creates a perfect dish, bringing all the flavors together in a harmonious balance,” Salvagni says. Contrasts between hard and soft finishes and light and dark colors are essential. And the room shouldn’t be too crowded—individual pieces need to be able to breathe and stand out on their own, Salvagni says.

Achille Salvagni, who designed the room below, says tactile elements can complete and transform a room into a warm, inviting space
Achille Salvagni, who designed the room below, says tactile elements can complete and transform a room into a warm, inviting space.

Focus on Fabrics and Finishes

The fabrics and textiles you choose are key to creating a sense of tactility. Los Angeles-based interior designer Peti Lau uses plush fabrics, such as cashmere, velvet, and mohair, to add softness to a room. “It’s the same feeling when you put on a high-quality cashmere sweater—it’s just so yummy—the same goes for designing a room with fabrics that are super soft to the touch,” she says. Cashmere can be applied as window treatments. “It drapes beautifully, is incredibly soft, and the consistency of color can be very soothing and set the tone of the room,” Lau says. Lush fabrics such as velvet, embroidery, or silk also work well for drapery.

Woven fabrics, such as mohair, are a great way to introduce textures. They lend incredibly rich color to an upholstery piece and are very durable, Lau says. She also loves to use Mongolian cashmere or a sheepskin rug in a bedroom. “It’s a fantastic way to be connected to your senses—waking up and the first thing your feet touch is that soft, plush rug,” she says. Rugs can also be layered—a faux fur hide over a natural fiber, for example. Designers Michael Violante and Paul Rochford of Violante & Rochford Interiors in Santa Fe, N.M., create a sense of touch in a room by incorporating upholstery on chairs, sofas, ottomans, and lampshades, and through artwork and antiques, wallpaper, glass and steel tables, baskets, and other woven materials like seagrass. They also love to use textiles, such as Navajo rugs, as wall hangings. Tactile finishes aren’t just limited to fabrics, upholstery, or rugs. They can also be applied to walls. Salvagni suggests using alpaca or bronze wall panels.

Nubby wallpaper, plaster-style wall treatments, upholstered pieces, textured tile or wood flooring, and light fixtures are some of the ways you can add a palpable touch to a space, says Nina Magon, founder and principal of Nina Magon Studio in Houston.

Magon first considers the use, durability, and location of the tactile piece itself. “It can be beautiful and add interest, but if it does not wear well, or doesn’t feel good, i.e., fabric that is coarse or scratchy, then it is not functional,” she says.

A bedroom by Peti Lau combines textures and colors.
A bedroom by Peti Lau combines textures and colors

Look to Layering

Layering touchable surfaces adds more interest and depth within your design. For example, using a range of different fabric throw pillows on your sofa will create beautiful layers and add interest for the eye with a range of textures, Magon says.

Salvagni chooses to layer natural textiles including sheepskin, wool, mohair, and velvet, and then adds throw pillows—all while introducing other materials like parchment, bronze, fine woods, marble, onyx, and Murano glass in the way of furniture and accessories in other areas of the room. Rugs, whether hand-tufted wool or silk, against a hardwood or stone floor for contrast, are another way Salvagni adds a tangible quality. “Each of these has a different feel and can help the ambience change during the day along with different levels of light,” he says.

Successfully layering is all about contrasting different elements, say Violante and Rochford. “You don’t want rugs to be too bulky, or accent pieces to be overwhelming; a balance between all the different textures will give you an environment that is comfortable yet stylish, with a bit of depth—and the effect of many things pulled together to create one unified feeling or experience.”

Salvagni creates harmony between textures and colors. “You can have contrast, but it must be balanced and resonate with something else in the room,” he says.

Create Balance

Balancing smooth surfaces with textured ones is key, Magon says. Color and texture are also important. “Make sure the color and texture of your tactile surfaces blend with the other elements in your space so everything feels cohesive,” she says.

Violante and Rochford opt for soft, sheer window treatments along with stone or wood on the floor with a rug adding into the mix. “What you want is a lush, elegant tactile experience that works harmoniously,” they say.

To keep a space balanced, Salvagni uses natural materials for upholstery along with velvet and mohair. “Velvet curtains can be used to lend a sense of drama and grandeur or on the contrary, silk or sheer curtains give lightness to a room,” he says. “Colors, materials, and textures will bring all the pieces together.”

A chic yet warm room designed by Violante & Rochford Interiors
A chic yet warm room designed by Violante & Rochford Interiors.

White-Hot Interiors

There’s a restrained beauty about an all-white space; it’s a sophisticated refinement that awes in its absence of color. And, depending on accent features, furniture, and fabrics, the effect can feel warm and welcoming or modern and minimalist.

“White spaces are serene and provide a neutral setting for other more subtle items in the room to shine,” says Amalia Graziani of Noor Property Group, a Manhattan-based real estate development firm. They also create a blank canvas, says Phillip Thomas, founder and principal of Phillip Thomas Inc. in New York City. “You can build a story within the space,” he says. Creating an inspired design is all in the details.

Set against the blue of the water in Miami, this nearly all-white room designed by Phillip Thomas really pops
Set against the blue of the water in Miami, this nearly all-white room designed by Phillip Thomas really pops.

VARY THE SHADES

Playing with different tones of white and cream can keep the room from feeling too stark, says Rome, Italy-based architect and designer Achille Salvagni. He suggests incorporating prints that combine shades of either white or cream on the walls, in the upholstery, or even on the floor. “Small or subtle pops of color or metallics introduced into the room, that come from art and accessories, also add warmth and a level of sophistication,” Salvagni says. “I like to use a warmer white on the walls paired with brighter trim and a cooler ceiling,” Graziani says. “Subtle contrast makes the space feel much more inviting.”

CREATE TEXTURAL TOUCHES

Warming up the room and adding dimension is a matter of texture. “Texture is key in keeping a white space from lacking soul,” Thomas says. “Texture reflects light—both natural and artificial—in different ways, and light excites the eye.”

Salvagni prefers materials such as cashmere, boucle, sheepskin, and mohair, particularly for upholstery, to add warmth, depth, and a sense of comfort. For carpeting, he opts for a plush, warm-toned silk. “I love the idea of complementing a white ceiling and all-white walls with a printed carpet that combines different shades of white and cream,” he says. Hand-knotted and handwoven rugs add sophistication and a sense of luxury to a space, says Lance Thomas, co-founder of Room Service, a fine furniture and interior design firm in Lake Charles, La. “I personally like to contrast the style of my rug to the furniture that sits on top of it,” he says.

Graziani prefers chunky sisal rugs for warmth and texture to offset cool walls. She also loves the contrast of a rough linen weave alongside softer materials such as cashmere and boucle. But texture is not just found in textiles. Lance Thomas recommends wallpapering walls in suede or introducing a lacquered finish on a side table.

A white space designed by Phillip Thomas, feels decidedly upscale.
A white space designed by Phillip Thomas, feels decidedly upscale

 

FOCUS ON ACCENTS

Finishes such as metal play a significant role in achieving an impactful all-white space, Lance Thomas says. “Matte black or iron hardware and fixtures can add stark contrast and a contemporary spin on the space,” he adds. And contrast is a powerful tool. “When the eye sees the truest white and the truest black in a space, all of the other variations of white become richer.”

Given the neutral nature of white walls, there’s a chance to play with interesting hardware and doors, Graziani says. “Sharp stainless door handles, antique glass knobs, or a bold door will shine in an otherwise understated room,” she says. For instance, in one of the white rooms she’s designed, she added three sets of double French doors in place of conventional doors to add depth and reflection. “Adding structural details such as bold beams, chair rails, and paneling also elevates the space and creates dimension,” she says. And don’t forget about greenery, “not only for its vibrant color, but to add a sense of warmth, calm, and fragrance to a space,” Lance Thomas says.

Layering is another important tool. “An all-white space looks best when it feels collected over time,” he adds. For example, a mid-century coffee table would play nicely on top of an antique rug. Or, he recommends framing a vintage piece of art in a contemporary lacquered frame. His other musts: a healthy mix of patterns, patina, and personality, wood furniture, at least one antique—even in a contemporary space—as well as a custom-tailored piece. “When a space feels collected, it creates intention,” Lance Thomas says.

In terms of shapes, Salvagni suggests round and organic forms for sofas, chaises, coffee and dining tables, and even carpets. “These round and organic shapes will accentuate the coziness of the room,” he says.

Black and white contrast well in a room by Lance Thomas
Black and white contrast well in a room by Lance Thomas.

 

LET THERE BE LIGHT

“Lighting is probably the best way to add another dimension and elemental layering,” Salvagni says. The first thing he looks for is to add warm-hued lighting as well as an appropriately proportioned light fixture. “This will create the dimension needed to enhance the ambiance in the room, and when done correctly, always helps to keep a room feeling warm and looking elegantly stylish,” he explains.

“Ambient lighting is a wonderful way to intentionally create depth through highlights and shadows,” Lance Thomas adds. “I love the way a pair of wall sconces can cast shadows onto the ceiling and highlight slivers of surrounding furniture.”

Incorporating multiple sources of light helps a room feel more inviting, Graziani says. “Instead of relying on a central pendant or chandelier, incorporating soft secondary sources of light, such as picture lighting and task lamps, can make a big difference,” she says.