Clean And Simple -- Ceramic tile is an ideal medium for the clean, simple and yet still warm look that's establishing itself as a major design trend for 2001.

Romance Is Back -- This design influence is evidenced in simple uses of sheer fabrics, including sensuous materials like silk and satin, for fashion as well as decorating applications.
Consumer designs, products and colors are following a trend that can best be described as asoftening. Even contract products are taking on softened, rounded shapes. Yes indeed, we're in love with rounded shapes - from the return to "older" rounded designs of old car models, like the Volkswagen Beetle and the Jaguar, to the rounded egg chairs of the 1950s. We're also seeing softer, lighter wood tones, which harken back to the simplicity and spareness that the '50s represented.

But don't count out the traditional, colonial looks either. Designers are even giving Williamsburg a new look! Another trend, best described as "Romantic," is well documented in the shelter magazines. You see its influence in sheer drapes around the beds, in the use of sheer fabrics for fashion as well as decorating, and in the smooth sensuous feel of silk and satin. And although we're seeing the use of all of these sensuous fabrics and romantic looks, they're also being used with SIMPLICITY.

Luxury is back, but not in the guise of the ostentatious looks that characterized the 1980s. Today's look is soft and simple, and emphasizes the use of luxurious fabrics. Expressive, exotic woods also complement this fashion trend. This look even translates well in contemporary interiors with a mixture of textures and materials. It's traditional design with a clean spirit!

And we still love gardening. Catalogues and magazines dedicated to this category underscore gardening's rank as the No. 1 pastime in the United States. We still love to bring outdoor looks indoors - in fabrics, rugs and even in the decoration of furniture.

Country is still popular, but it's come a long way from the dark, barn-like interiors of the '80s. Today, it's clean and simple. And simple, Eastern designs are using natural materials to produce looks of serene simplicity.

The ceramic industry has been accustomed to mosaics for a long time. But doesn't it seem like the whole world is a giant mosaic? We even see it in fashion, jewelry, home furnishings, and accessories. The rest of the building industry is just getting around to using mosaics.

There is a move afoot toward extensive use of metals, be they bright and shiny silvers, or matte finishes or collections of colorful metals. Increasingly, we'll see chrome, stainless, platinum, and copper. Copper is the one to watch!

Translucent is popular. We've seen it in plastics for a while now, but today it can be found in acrylic furniture in both clear and colored variations. And if you'd rather have glass, there's a literal profusion of clear glass as well as colored varieties - in fact, pretty much any color you can dream of is available.

Unusual designs that incorporate cork, bark and grass are also prevalent, not only in dinnerware but furniture and other household accessories as well. Even stone, marble and granite are taking on the soft, rounded forms we saw earlier in furniture. More luxurious woods are popular, with mahogany, cherry and maple the clear frontrunners. And skins, be they real or faux, are everywhere.

Also influencing the current trends are a plethora of looks from nature and the garden. You'll find ferns and leaves in a variety of places. In addition, butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees, flies, and wasps are now popular motifs. Roses, the quintessential flower, remain popular, as do daisies, orchids and tulips.

There's definitely an interest in color. This year's key color directions include:

Red -- always popular (I feel) in the United States. Many of the reds you find now are softened or warmed reds.

Pink -- anywhere from pale to fuchsia.

Orange -- never really a volume seller in the United States in a fully saturated form, but it is popular as an accent. From the orange family comes copper. Particularly popular as a metal, also look for copper in soft goods - with metallic, pearlized or some other sort of special finish.

Yellow -- lots of shades of yellow are available, but the volume seller will be a soft, golden hue.

Green -- still popular (especially the yellow-greens) in chartreuse to olive to soft sage. You will still see hunter green in the kitchen.

Blue -- many shades of blue are popular and sell well. The tried-and-true cobalt, indigo and navy remain good perennial sellers. Today, delft, flow blue, Wedgwood, blue-greens, and green-blues fill out this portion of the palette.

Purple -- the color that refuses to relinquish its popularity! Purple is popular in all shades and product categories. Years ago, purple was used as a fashion accent color, but today it's available as a stand-alone color in all product categories. This hot fashion hue is also popular in home furnishings.

Brown -- We're seeing many, deep-rich hues that range from chocolate to warm and cool taupe.

Black and White -- These two hues are always popular. But what's really important is how they are used in combination.

Gray - increasingly, you'll see light and dark values of mostly cool hues.

Color groups

While the direction of individual colors plays an important role in trends, so do groups of colors. Here are four groups that bear watching:

Naturals -- Look for colors that have their origins in natural products, not necessarily beiges or off-whites. What you're most likely to see are hues that are dustier and somewhat grayed.

Pales -- These aren't your ordinary pastels; these are gutsy pastels. However, when they're used in the popular sheer fabrics and translucent products, they appear softer and lighter.

Brights -- This group isn't necessarily neon-like. It's characterized by full-bodied color.

Darks -- Dark color groupings are alive and well, especially if they belong to Ralph Lauren. Look for the old standbys to be enriched and brightened.

So, based on my research, these are the looks, colors, materials, and styles that you'll be seeing more of in the months ahead. Next month, I'll be back on track with showroom management when I'll discuss some ideas on open houses and other ways you can build traffic in your showroom.