King Arthur was said to have chosen a round table as a symbol of equality, so nobody sat at the head. Andrea Palladio inserted arched windows into facades of his Renaissance structures, and the “Palladium” window later became an iconic motif of ‘80s megamansions. And who can forget the glamorous swirls associated with Art Deco styles?
Curves never disappeared from the design repertoire. They simply took a back seat periodically, most recently when straight edges and sleeker designs gained favor. Lately, they’ve been front and center once again, from windows to sectionals, tub chairs, tables, lights, and even fabrics and tiles with curved patterns.
Though today’s curves are made to mesh with subtle interiors, they haven’t lost their inherently graceful appeal — or the impact that comes from showing off a curve where there could have been just another straight line. Architects and designers say curves are chosen for a range of reasons:
▪ In architecture, they’re often the best solution to fit a building on its site and capture views, as the firm Fitzgerald Associates Architects in Chicago did in designing an elliptical-shaped, 46-story building in Chicago. “A big curve offers the living spaces more expansive views,” says the firm’s Steve McFadden.
A big curve offers the living spaces more expansive views.
Steve McFadden, Fitzgerald Associates Architects
Chicago architects Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker of Cohen-Hacker Architects designed curved windows for a similar reason for manufacturer Pella Crafted Luxury’s new line. “Curved windows also work well as an entry device to move people in and through a space,” Hacker says.
▪ They can offer a strong contrast when most shapes and lines are straight, rectilinear or square. A curved stair will immediately engage visitors, says Chris Texter, architect with KTGY Group Architecture + Planning, based in Irvine, California.
▪ They create a feeling of comfort by mimicking the human body and nature’s organic forms, says Elaine Griffin, a New York designer and author of Design Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator (Gotham, 2009). Lori Carroll, a designer in Tucson, Arizona, brings curves into her designs through a flow of soft shapes, from round sinks to counters, islands, and showers, and fabric and tile designs.
But to use curves to best advantage, scale, placement and the number of curved elements requires thoughtful planning. “If enough, a round mirror might be able to stand on its own on a wall,” says Randal Weeks with Aidan Gray Home, a design firm in Dallas.
Repeating the form is the approach Instrata Lifestyle Residences took in renovating its NoMad building in New York City. Couches in the shape of demilunes, or crescents, were selected to soften the lobby, which had mostly straight edges. “Your eye now goes right to them,” says Rob Neiffer, a director at Instrata’s parent company, Invesco. The same motif was used in bathrooms with demilune sinks to warm spaces at another project where a lot of marble was used.
I strive for balance and for a curve to act mostly as an exclamation point.
Lori Carroll, designer
The idea of repetitive curves became the inspiration for design director K. Tyler in working on a vacation house on Lake Michigan in the shape of a C. Her firm, Morgante-Wilson Architects in Chicago, designed the C so its outside edge curves toward the lake and nested a pool on the opposite side, then repeated the C within the home with a large round seating group, which breaks up the space and adds some whimsy.
Sometimes, Tyler says, a curve can be purely decorative, the idea her firm took in hanging an old wooden bike on a wall as a sculpture in another project. Her colleagues liked the shape so much that they punctuated the second floor of their office building with a round powder room with skylight. “That space was carved out to be dramatic and a memorable wow for clients. It wowed me when I came the first time,” she says.
Designer Kelly Schellert of Ceanii Artful Interiors in St. Louis uses curves repeatedly in her designs to add rhythm and liveliness, which she doesn’t think straight lines provide. “They add so much more three-dimensionality,” she says, and has gone with arched hoods over a range, curved islands, floors embedded with curved river rocks and curved leaded glass patterns in glass cabinet fronts.
Can there be too many curves? Absolutely, these experts say. Tyler, who likes to layer patterns on top of one another, provides relief by pairing them with solid choices. Griffin uses them sparingly for some cross-pollination — placing curved pieces in different corners, for instance — rather than in excess. And Carroll pays heed to her well-honed eye for confirmation that she hasn’t visually overwhelmed a room with them. “I strive for balance and for a curve to act mostly as an exclamation point,” she says. Which is something every space needs.