At home with St Valentine

'Tis the season to be sensual. Eleanor Bailey on the new touchy- feely interiors

It Feels thick, soft, deep and strong to the fingertips. Passionate colours with the exotic flavour of Eastern promise combine with swathes of cream as smooth as velvet. And we haven't even got past the hallway yet. This is the new wave interior decoration and everything is fluffy or shiny. If your home doesn't yet feel like an ad for Belgian chocolate, then it soon must. For this is the season of the sensual.

New thick, textured velvets, mohair, mock croc, fake leopard skin and puffed-up chenilles are being made by frenzied designers. And consumers are buying it and lavishing their rooms with clashing and contrasting textures in an orgy of the feel good. The feast of St Valentine, the patron saint of the soft and gooey, is the perfect time to join in and make your rooms more touchy.

It means planning in an extra dimension. No longer is colour the only consideration. It may be more complicated but, according to designers, it should be more rewarding to live in. "Texture allows you to feel and experience a place with your body rather than simply look at it," says fashion designer Ann Shore in this month's Elle Decoration - the issue which, in a eulogy to touch, revisits Jayne Mansfield's fluffy pink mansion. Deputy editor Sue Skeen confirms, "It's all about the collision of tactile materials. Rooms full of rich fabrics, it's very Catholic."

This is, perhaps, the next step in a richness revival that has seen bright colour burst back into interior decoration after years of monochrome or pastel. "We have entered an age of indulgence," agrees the fabric designer Bruno Triplet, whose range overflows with damask, textured chenilles and silk, "but people don't buy thicker, more tactile materials to show off, as a possession. It's for themselves, for their comfort and enjoyment. There is a feeling that life is rough outside so inside has to be more of a comfort. Priorities have changed. People are more concerned about having comfort and luxury over practicality."

Evlynn Smith, one half of Precious McBane, the interiors designers that have brought us sheepskin stools says that this development in thinking hasn't come a moment too soon. "Colour is a very personal choice, I hate so-called 'fashionable' colours but good sensual materials are not so much fashionable as vital. I can't stand poor materials. I think people are far more aware of that now. They are prepared to spend more on creating something that is really light."

This need not necessarily mean expensive, but it can mean hunting a bit harder than Habitat. In Evlynn Smith's own flat, she has mixed fabrics like chiffon, diaphanous silks and furs. She describes her West London flat as a glorified bedsit but that it has been possible to make it, "very very beautiful." This has been achieved thanks to the eclectic layers she has strewn together. "I love opaque and translucent fabrics for layering and playing with light. The windows are covered with pink chiffon and when the sun shines through it glows pink." On the iron bed she designed herself is thrown a deep pink satin cover with scalloped edges - just pounds 2 from Portobello market. She has mohair throws and scattered satin cushions to add luxury.

What distinguishes a room like this from the shrines to bad taste that we associate with yester-decade is knowing where to stop. Underneath the extravagance is simplicity. "My ideal is very, very minimal with a few very, very decorative pieces," explains Smith. "Considering that I eat, sleep, work and entertain in the same room, it's very uncluttered." The new tactile sensuality is not necessarily kitsch or a rejection of minimalist values, but an add on.

Interiors editor of Wallpaper magazine, Toni Spencer, says "tactile materials like textured velvet and fake fur are a contrast to the minimalism of today's furniture. Without this sensuality some of the looks can be quite cold."

What the development does signify is a new freedom to experiment in all areas of the home design. There is nothing more hip than lining your concrete floor with pink fur. Consumers are interested in new materials, no longer trapped by the desperation of achieving "good taste". Rosalind Farley, a woven textile designer and recent graduate of the Royal College of Art, has been attracting a lot of attention using polypropylene in fabric. This material is more commonly found in seat belts. But why didn't someone think soon that it would make a good sofa? It's advantage for the Nineties home-maker is that it is shiny and comes in the brightest of colours. "It has attracted consumer interest," she explains. "It feels nice, it's waterproof and doesn't attract dust."

The sensual look doesn't have to cost a fortune. At a shop like Borovicks in Berwick Street fur starts at just pounds 12 a metre. While traditionally the Soho shop is where creative showbiz types like Erasure's Andy Bell buy material for more bohemian outfits, these days thrifty people are coming in to buy up these materials to do up their homes.

What Smith does is to combine the very cheap with the far more expensive. She spent pounds 45 on some Napoleonic crest satin while other materials, like the bed sheet was dirt cheap. That way the overall effect is far more luxurious.

Unfortunately, while the designer's sniff round cheap fabric stalls yields miraculous, beautiful bargains (lemon leather that Smith is going to do up chairs with, sounds as soft and frothy as lemon mousse as she describes it with relish), the amateur often amasses only a jumble sale stall after the old ladies and their elbows have done their worst.

You have to be patient. Don't expect to get everything you need in one go. And while you haven't got want you need, be it curtains, cushions or something more crucial try and do without rather than buying in a cheap, unsatisfactory alternative. According to Smith, it is easier to know what you want if there is space to see. "Knowing what fabric is right is like knowing what you want a room to look like while it is still done up in vile colour. You have to be able to strip down to the bone in your head," says Evlynn Smith. "I would rather live with a blank for a while than clutter my ideas."

Of course designers claim that this is not so much a trend as a development, that once we have started thinking "feel" there is no going back. A bit like ground coffee and Olive oil, it's a burden that will now be with you for life. However, in the unlikely circumstance that you later decide that your baby blue mohair cushions have no place in your decor they are a lot easier to change than the wallpaper.

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