Kelly Gale Amen was featured in the Sept/Oct ’76 issue of Residential Interiors where he spoke with Ruth Miller Fitzgibbons about his use of upholstery in his decorating process. Fabric, which has long been confined by traditional ideals, is one of the most diverse decorating tools an interior designer could utilize. The fabric acted as an alternative wall covering in this project and also provided a great way to deaden noise in an older home. With an arsenal of cotton, silk moire, and gauzy muslin, Amen created a comfortable, restful retreat for the homeowners.
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Padding the Way By Ruth Miller Fitzgibbons
Some time ago we began to face the fact that fabric needn’t be confined to furniture and draperies. As soft-textured linings for walls and ceilings, fabrics cushion the hard edges of plaster and sheet rock Psychologically, their effect is serene and even sensuous – recalling a womb-originating tranquility burrowed deep in our early consciousness.
Interior designer Kelly Amen, ASID, in designing for a professional couple in Houston who had purchased a badly worn house of 60 years, has made fabric perform in its most versatile capacity. Utilizing the arts of the upholsterer for diverse effects, Amen has fashioned a series of rooms that are each one a surprise, yet very much of the same mold.
What he really aims for in this house is contrast – within a field of neutrality that so often is deemed essential to comfortable, restful living. Here variation begins with textures – silky moire, gauzy muslin, nubby sisal and natural cottons, rough exposed wood – and ends with select accents of color that break the natural palette on a consistent and concentrated schedule.
No more costly than a standard paint and sheet rock treatment, the fabrics were applied by upholsterer Thomas Goodwin in several manners that are old tricks of the upholstery trade. Shirred muslin stretched and draped tent-fashion provides an enclosure for a converted bedroom that functions as a combination yoga/guest room. Another guest bedroom, tucked away on the third floor in what was an attic/loft, wide-wailed panels of natural cotton edged with fat cushy welts. A box-pleated oyster moire is a tailored yet elegant treatment for dining room walls.
Amen’s imaginative use of upholstered walls and ceilings corrects at least partially functional deficiencies hammered home by Amen’s experience of actually living in the house during design and construction phases. The spaces were “woefully inadequate” in terms of both insulation and acoustics. “You could hear pages turning from the ground floor living room to the attic loft before we upholstered,” Amen recalls. The effect on the air temperature was noticeable also – dropping some 10 degrees cooler in the master bedroom, where suede ceiling was employed.
With no architectural changes, Amen’s rehabilitation successfully converted the existing rooms into spaces that compliment rather than clash with the owner’s living requirements. Says the owner, “The house is everything I’ve ever wanted, but couldn’t have conceived of until now.”