Interest in classical style really took off in the second half of the 18th century, when Scottish architect Robert Adam began using its elements in fancy homes, says London designer Adrienne Chin. Adam recast urns, sphinxes and vine leaves as decorative elements in mirrors and mouldings.
"Adam's style owed much to the archaeological discoveries of Greco-Roman domestic architecture at Pompeii and Herculaneum," says Chinn.
The historical discoveries also inspired the development of neoclassical furniture, which replaced the fussy rococo style with more linear, geometric silhouettes.
Today, Greco-Roman classicism is the basis of many interior décor styles — Louis XV, Regency, Federal and Georgian among them, says New York designer Elaine Griffin. "As the oldest recognized style, classicism carries with it the approbation of time and taste," Griffin says.
And while it never falls too far off décor's radar, it's really enjoying a moment now.
"Classicism's clean, sleek lines are back with a vengeance this summer, both in a refined way and in over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek style statements," she says.
There are many ways to introduce the style into traditional or contemporary spaces, and at various price points.
"Lamps are a great way to bring a neoclassical touch into your décor — classic urn shapes, columns or classical motifs like acanthus leaves look elegant, particularly when paired with a black card or pleated silk Empire lampshade," Chinn suggests.
Stiffel has a wide selection with silver or burnished bronze bases. (www.stiffel.com )
"Ornate plaster corbels used as brackets for decorative display shelves bring a classical element to a room," she notes. Look for plaster ones, or unfinished wood that you can paint or gild yourself. (www.architecturaldepot.com )
AllModern has pairs of bookends with busts of Hercules or David. The Perseus console from Currey & Company is a sleek, silver-leafed iron piece with a Greek key border. (www.allmodern.com )
At Arhaus, scroll and floral wood carvings frame the Clara mirror, while the Adele dining chair, upholstered in velvet, features inlaid antiqued wood rosettes. (www.arhaus.com )
Restoration Hardware has a group of architectural ornament fragments cast in brass and mounted on museum stands, among them swag and tassel, cornice, and acanthus scroll patterns. Vintage Italian etchings of capital styles would make nice wall art, and so would an intricate charcoal drawing circa 1900 of classical carved marble portraits. A series of intaglio cameos of neoclassical themes are cast in plaster and framed.
The retailer's also got larger pieces, including wooden columns, pillars and plinths that could be used as display stands for artwork — perhaps for a plaster bust of Ariadne, or a carved finial. (www.restorationhardware.com )
Griffin's not surprised that the Greek key motif is a trend.
"Its sleek, straight lines and crisp right angles are perfect counterparts to contemporary design, and are among the few design motifs that truly look great everywhere and with everything," she says.
She likes to use the design in dressmaker-inspired details, such as embroidered tape trim on curtains and upholstery.
Or, if you want a bold look, consider going for an all-over pattern. Smith and Noble offers the Greek key motif in bright combinations of tangerine, navy, red or deep pink with white, or a more subtle pairing of pale grey or aqua with off-white — especially pretty for sheer curtains. (www.smithandnoble.com )
Jonathan Adler is known for his use of Greek keys: he puts the pattern on rugs, throws, china and furniture, such as a needlepointed ottoman and a white lacquered cocktail table. (www.jonathanadler.com )
If you're interested in collecting from this style, antique stores invariably have pieces with provenance. Or check out www.rubylane.com ; the online vintage shop has items including an elaborate desk painted with Pompeian frescoes, a pair of marble lions, salvaged Ionic columns and a circa 1880 hand-painted Italian leather screen.