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Everything new is old again

Just when we thought it was safe to use deep jewel tones, polished granite counter tops and lots of faux finishes . . .

The wheel of fashion turns, and the word from New York is that all of those are on their way out. Alas! From up-to-the-minute to over-the-hill in nothing flat.

That was the report from two longtime Tampa designers, Wendy Albano and Gail Appel. The two, who are in business together as Designing Women, have been working a lot in New York recently. They were back home last week to talk to the Congregation Schaari Zedek sisterhood at a lunch after a tour of five homes on Harbour Island.

Okay, girlfriends, so tell us: What's new?

"A sleek, classical mood, normally scaled," Appel said. "We're not seeing a lot of overstuffed, oversized pieces." What they are seeing: plush textures, clean lines "and a vaguely Oriental feel" in "relaxed and calm, neutral colors."

The colors that will make their way into Tampa Bay area decorating in a year or so, Albano said, are gray, silver, slate and "wet cement."

(Industry color experts agree that the soft metallic look is coming on strong. "The increased desire for copper, bronze, silver and brass is part of society's tendency to return to nature in times of uncertainty," said Nada Napoletan Rutka, a past president of the Color Marketing Group, which develops color palettes for industry and fashion.)

Forget about chenille, but look for Ultrasuede, incandescents, velvets and metallic leathers.

Watch for the emergence of fibers (those natural materials again): reeds, raffia, rice paper, parchment. The designers showed a woven-wood blind in black and natural that they said was "immensely popular," but heavy drapery and swags are a thing of the past.

Say farewell to pale, bleached and pickled flooring and get ready for deep cherry, walnut, and ebonized woods. The designers say they're seeing more marble than granite. (If you do choose granite, the April issue of Home magazine recommends a fresh-looking matte finish rather than the highly polished look of the past few years.)

"We're seeing antiques used in contemporary settings; windows virtually bare; and the faux finish that's still popular is classical: gold and silver leaf," Appel said. "We're not seeing a whole lot of ragging."

In traditional settings, "the look is parchment or white walls," Appel said. "Less is more. We're not seeing a lot of knickknacks. We're seeing fine pieces instead."

The designers showed samples of popular trims: a fur fringe made of fine silk, and small gold balls that dangle like those chenille ball fringes that trimmed curtains for decades.

"We're seeing different usages of traditional materials," Albano said, "a very spare manner with very fine antiques against simple pale walls."

Soothing colors

Those simple pale walls might come right out of the new "Serenity Collection" from Benjamin Moore, a palette of 48 colors "that reinforce a feeling of peace and serenity at home." The colors range from dusty pinks through taupes and toffees to soft greens, blues and lavenders.

You have to admire names like "Enlighten Mint" (a soft green), "Inner Peach" (guess what) and "Deja Hue" (a dusty rose, all over again).

The collection includes some of Moore's most popular colors of the past several decades. Let's see, the Vietnam War, political assassinations, Watergate, the savings and loan crisis, Iran-Contra, the Gulf War, the Clinton years/Whitewater, the wretched excess of the 1990s, the dot-com meltdown . . . exactly why was it serene in the years gone by? Well, maybe yesteryear was so traumatic that we needed these serene colors as much then as we do now.

5 steps to perfect sleep

Speaking of soothing, April 1 through 7 is National Sleep Awareness Week. For some people that's every week. For others, it's always National Lack of Sleep Awareness Week.

Barbara L. Heller, author of How to Sleep Soundly Tonight: 250 Simple and Natural Ways to Prevent Sleeplessness (Storey Publishing), offers these five steps to a "perfect sleep environment":

+ Reduce room temperature to 65 degrees.

+ Place a hot water bottle by your feet.

+ Use allergy-free down pillows and comforter.

+ Create a very dark room by hanging blackout liners behind draperies.

+ Inhale lavender from a sachet placed near your pillow.

After you're tucked in, Heller suggests, count your blessings or your breaths, or count backward from 100.