Interior designers in the '90s are starting with a clean slate.

Gallery-white, beige and silver mushroom walls are can vases for accent, and changeable colors are signatures for the "classic" look touted by today's decorators.Bleached maple cabinets are replacing dark oak ones. Light tiles, marble, carpets - even sisal, a hemp-like material - are covering floors, while spacious windows are undressed or slightly draped with light-filtering fabric shades, shutters, blinds or lyrical valances.

Even large pieces of furniture are covered in neutral fabrics in today's homes, where rooms - once separate vignettes - are unified by a common thread.

"We like each house to flow through, so we have a common thread weaved throughout the house - whether it's the same carpet or wall covering," said interior designer William Flemming. "If it's very subtly done, you can tie together an entire house, making it appear bigger, more cohesive, tailored."

And light. Yes, light is in.

And it's focusing on color.

"In design school we learned that color is to be used more like nature uses color. That is, during the long periods of the year - like summer and winter - the colors are very muted," said interior designer Gayl Baddeley. "During the short periods like spring and fall, colors are very bright and vivid."

Baddeley and his associates use color in cushions or accessories to warm up tailored light settings.

"We are going into a trend where we are using the jewel tones that have gone a step beyond the pastels. Deeper shades of color are also being used, such as rich aqua marine, salmons, shrimp, amethyst," said Flemming. "But using them with a light-colored background gives it a completely different feeling."

In reality, any color is in vogue. So is high contrast - the use of gray, black and white; gray, black and beige.

Baddeley doesn't try to change people's color tastes; he tries to work with them.

"If you want to use red in 1991, you can do it. But it always has to be done in good taste," he said. "If you did a room in red-flocked wallpaper in 1970, you could still do it in 1991, but it wasn't good in 1970 and still wouldn't be in 1991."

Ditto for the big bold prints of the 1960s.

If Baddeley's clients want prints, he uses prints. But today they're softer, subtler and used as accents.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the classic look is the chance for homeowners to be eclectic.

Priceless possessions that never matched are now being mixed, allowing the homeowner's personality to shine through.

According to Baddeley, styles are merging - living happily under one roof. "Most people thought if I do gold or brass, I have to stay with it. But the whole trend now is toward a combination of brass and chrome - brass with stainless steel. Even a black nickle finish with black chrome."

Traditional's warmth is taking the chill off contemporary's serenity. Antique cupboards are displaying Chinese cloisonne bowls. Victorian and French chairs merge with spherical consuls and side tables. Renaissance paintings hang in modern room settings.

Even new-wave lamps and sculptures sit alongside traditional couches, while Mormon pioneer hutches complement clean-lined tables and chairs on a sea of neutral carpet.

The new and the nostalgic are blending nicely, creating an interesting marriage in the homes of the '90s.

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Design tips aren't costly

Most people dream of having a home that Architectural Digest would want to feature.

But most don't dare hire an interior decorator to help make their dream a reality. They simply don't believe it would be in their budgets.

But interior designer Gayl Baddeley insists that's a misconception. His advice is free.

What costs are carpets, wall and window coverings and furniture ordered through Baddeley.

The better the quality, the higher the costs.

But Baddeley and his associates liken themselves to travel agents who stop around for the best deals - saving customers time in the process.