Folding screens have a long history in interior design. In ancient China early examples were made of painted wood. Later, Japanese screens were constructed of more portable paper that was painted, lacquered or gilded. In the 1500’s they were brought to Portugal by European traders, and soon the concept spread across Europe. More than being merely decorative, they can mask an unwanted view, or partition a part of a room based on the need at the time.
For this living room we found an antiqueFrench hand-blocked wallpaper screen, c. 1830, and hung it above the sofa. This piece provides the room a historic foundation. Because of the antique wallpaper, this screen is a work of historic decorative art, providing the space with color, pattern and a delightful scene depicting elegantly attired people amid fantasy architecture.
Mirrored screens do double duty—they hide the unsightly while visually expanding a space. In this Manhattan dining room, an unattractive air conditioner is concealed while the beauty of the room is reflected in the sparkling surfaces of this vintage, three-panel screen.
In this modern New York living room, we created a custom screen as a background for an antique Buddha. The framework was made out of wood that was glazed in a pale, putty color, we then inserted antiqued mirrors to give the piece a dim luster. The mirror reflects light and fragments of the room while the large antique sculpture is presented as a major focal point.
In our room at the Metropolitan Home Showtime House, we were faced with a serious design dilemma—how to conceal an unattractive, poorly placed, and completely unusable fireplace. What to do? Rather than remove it (or redesign it) we chose to mask it with a modern, free-standing screen of our own design.
We made the screen (left) using a framework of walnut, then filled in the panels with various shades of grasscloth. We designed it to have small open “windows” in which we hung sculptures created from twigs and Japanese paper. The screen became one of the most important design elements in the space while hiding the offending fireplace.
Screens, whether antique or newly-made, can give a room that essential element of style while concealing something unappealing or downright ugly. So if you have a design problem that won’t disappear, consider how a folding screen might take your room from dubious to divine.