Why Skirted Furniture Endures

For those who know what they’re doing but also experienced the excesses of the Reagan era, a floral table skirt might seem akin to a shoulder-pads-forward Thierry Mugler dress. “For many, a skirted table first calls to mind fussy, over-ruffled, 1980s-era bad decorating. The key word here is ‘bad’—there were plenty of brilliant versions of this traditional English-country-house style here in America” says Eerdmans, noting that her late friend, the legendary designer Mario Buatta, used them to great effect in historic spaces like the Palladian Villa Foscari using understated fabrics like linen.

And skirting isn’t just for chintz; it can provide the ideal canvas for tour de force tailoring, says Miry Park, vice president of marketing at the fabric house Cowtan and Tout. “From a decorative perspective, [skirted furniture] can offer a great tailored aspect to any room. It can be an opportunity to add passementerie, such as ruche, or fringe and other tailored effects like a ruffled edge or a contrast welt.” Brooklyn-based weaver Scott Bodenner—whose eponymous Bodenner Collection draws inspiration from the work of Dorothy Liebes and Jack Lenor Larsen—notes that fringe has enough movement and shimmer to provide a modern twist on the skirted look. “Long fringe is a way to add softness to spaces while still keeping furniture’s graceful lines. I really love ottomans where the fringe is trimmed to give both movement and still maintain formality. Of course, I’m a sucker for a lot of chintz and frills, but I feel that today’s gestures in skirting are more about form and drape and keeping materials pliant.”

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Culturally, though, there’s no way to avoid the association that skirted furniture is uptight; the only thing to do is have a little fun with it. Sean Yashar, founder of the Culture Creative, a management and communications agency for design, highlights a moment that fans of Sex and the City will recall with a mix of fondness and horror: “The 2001 episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte goes shopping for bedding with her mother-in-law, Bunny MacDougal, delightfully illustrates how trends often skip a generation. As Bunny declared, ‘My dear child, you cannot not have a dust ruffle. It’s unsightly!’ Charlotte may not have agreed, but today more design tastemakers vibe with Bunny’s Waspy taste, reinforcing the pattern of trends being rediscovered and romanticized through a fresh perspective,” Yashar says. “Case in point: the ruffles on Colin King’s upholstery collection for the foremost contemporary showroom Future Perfect. It’s English country recontextualized as cutting-edge.”

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JP Demeyer & Co. fabric skirts the counter of the mudroom of Jean-Philippe Demeyer’s Bruges abode.

Miguel Flores-Vianna

Eerdmans doesn’t disagree. “Whether the pendulum of taste is veering towards more minimalism or maximalism—which could be interpreted as more masculine versus feminine, more streamlined and functional versus more decorative—it historically devolves into a muddied, over-saturated version of itself (as it did in the 1980s).” Inevitably, a backlash follows; the pendulum swings to the other side.

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