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Furniture makers make consumers feel at home

THE BALTIMORE SUN

American consumers are going home again, seeking a safe haven from job worries, street crime and a frenzied lifestyle they're too busy to enjoy.

Disillusioned by the excesses of the '80s, these aging boomers are trading in their fancy cars, designer suits and exotic restaurant meals for four-wheel drives, blue jeans and Mom's meatloaf.

More than 65,000 furniture manufacturers, retailers, interior designers and media representatives attending the big semiannual International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, earlier last month, heard this lifestyle message again and again as they shopped for the furniture and decorative accessories you'll be seeing soon at local retail outlets.

Manufacturers targeted this "new" home-centered consumer with comfortable, casual furnishings designed for settling in and relaxing at home with family and friends.

Upholstered chairs and sofas were plumped up and sometimes slipcovered for a homey, well-worn look. Light wood finishes in either natural or washed tones, often distressed, invited foot-propping and active family use.

This easy-living, transitional "American casual" style draws from many earlier periods -- Shaker, craftsman, prairie and mission, Southwest, rustic frontier, country cottage -- but with a softer silhouette and otherwise adapted for function and comfort.

Drexel Heritage brought out a big new American Themes collection in weathered maple and antique painted finishes, arranging and accessorizing the versatile pieces in four different styles: country, Southwest, coastal casual and Shaker.

Thomasville's new Lakehouse collection, a mission-inspired country bedroom group, features simple lines and easy finishes -- golden oak and whitewashed -- that blend well with anything from antiques to contemporary upholstery.

Softer lines and easy comfort marked many of the newest contemporary offerings, too, including Milo Baughman's new Free Style collection for Thayer Coggin. The designer offered a curvaceous modular seating group, an undulating love seat and a whimsically scaled wing chair that are a far cry from the hard-edged contemporary styles of just a few seasons ago.

Mixing and matching

Campaign furniture, with its squared-off lines, brass corner banding and flush brass hardware, made a surprisingly big showing at the spring market. Although the look has remained a staple in some lines for decades, a couple of new collections looked just right for mixing and matching with traditional, Oriental, contemporary, even country.

Ralph Lauren's new campaign-inspired Dressage collection features rich mahogany, touches of solid brass and inlays of gold-tooled leather. Some pieces showcased hand-painted leather in an equestrian theme.

Lane's new Brigades collection of campaign-style furnishings showcases some interesting painted finishes -- one that looks like leather -- along with brass fittings and sturdy metal bases.

Pearson debuted Viceroy, a knockout collection of upholstery, wood accents and rattan with which a British family assigned to India during the turn-of-the-century Raj might have furnished a home.

Fabrics by British textile designer Victoria Morland helped tell the Pearson story of cross-cultural influences -- vivid Indian prints and peasant-made accent pieces blended companionably with period English furnishings and accessories.

Slipcovers everywhere

Slipcovers, which began cropping up at last fall's show as an option with some upholstered pieces, were all over the place this spring. The distressed "shabby chic" versions some houses experimented with earlier were scarce, but a few manufacturers offered soft, pre-washed fabrics for a comfortably frumpy look. Others made their versions as tailored as slipcovers can be.

Mitchell Gold's DesignLine, primarily known for dining and bedroom furniture, brought out two sofa designs and offered stylish slipcovers with each. Slipcovers were also made available for two armchair styles.

Century emphasized the versatility of slipcovers, showing a handsomely tailored sofa and demonstrating its new look with a slipcover of a softer silhouette or different fabric.

Pearson included slipcovers as an option with its new Viceroy collection, suggesting that the British family might need them to spruce up their aging furniture once they were back home again in England.

One of the most exciting new museum reproduction programs at the market was debuted by Drexel Heritage, where an ambitious 33-piece collection of reproductions and adaptations of furnishings acquired by George W. Vanderbilt for his 250-room Biltmore estate in Asheville, N.C., was showcased. The handsome collection includes a varied range of furnishings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Baker looked to Russia for inspiration, with handsome additions to its Stately Homes collection based on antiques in St. Petersburg's Hermitage and other museums. Dr. Natalia Guseva, curator of Russian furniture at the Hermitage Museum, was on hand to help introduce the varied collection.

New York interior designer Mark Hampton adapted country antiques with a casual touch for his new European Country collection for Hickory Chair, turning most often to France for inspiration. A whimsical double-backed sofa and a charming tray table were two standouts.

The 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World was the occasion for Leonard Eisen's new Old Barcelona collection of rustic Spanish country pieces for Pulaski. Pine beds, chests and armoires were shown in a steel brush-distressed natural or stained finish.

Home entertainment

Pennsylvania House, with design and engineering assistance by Mitsubishi Electronics America, entered the growing home theater category this market, offering several handsome entertainment center options for housing big-screen televisions, speakers and other elements needed to create a movie theater experience at home.

Home office is another popular new furnishings segment, as the growing number of people who work at home demand something between inexpensive ready-to-assemble computer furniture and executive office styles.

For this market, Lexington Furniture Industries brought out sturdy, appealing country-style table desks, computer credenzas, glass-fronted lawyer bookcases and storage/filing chests in its Weekend Retreat line and popular Bob Timberlake collection.

And for the family who has a computer but doesn't want or need a complete home office, Romweber showed an innovative computer armoire designed by Jim Peed. The handsome pine or cherry cabinets open to reveal pull-out keyboard trays, flip-down shelves for a mouse or paperwork, printer storage and more.

Showstoppers

At a market as massive as the one in High Point -- 1,800 exhibitors, 150 separate buildings, 7 million square feet of showroom space-- it takes a special product to stand out after fatigue sets in.

Some products impress the viewer because of their workmanship or design; others just because they're charming or fall into the category of why-didn't-I-think-of-that?

Among the standouts at the spring market were:

* Baker's exquisite Russian neoclassical table desk, with intricately carved lyre-shaped supports, gold leaf-embossed leather inlay top and rich honey-colored veneers. This magnificent collector's piece will retail for just under $10,000.

* Ralph Lauren's Hastings armoire, elegantly executed in mahogany, with solid brass medallions and hand-forged brass hardware. This handsomely proportioned piece -- 5 feet wide and 7 feet tall -- can be used for clothing storage as intended or as an entertainment center. An optional interior deck unit includes small wooden niches and attached leather pouches for storage, along with a signature Ralph Lauren clock. Suggested retail price is about $11,275.

* Pearson's Star of India ottoman, introduced as part of the new Viceroy collection for which Victoria Morland designed Indian-inspired fabrics. Closely tufted and just over a yard across, the star-shaped ottoman would be the perfect accent for an understated room, and would add to the fun of a more dramatic setting. At retail, the ottoman will cost about $1,200.

* Charlotte Moss' charming memoire screen, designed to complement a special salon setting the New York designer put together for Century Furniture. The four-panel screen, upholstered and then crisscrossed with contrasting grosgrain ribbon in a latticework design, is perfect for tucking away small mementos like theater tickets, cards and photographs -- a very elegant bulletin board, if you will. The screen, which is close to 6 feet tall, will retail for about $1,500.

* Mitchell Gold's DesignLine's upholstered console tables and skirted round tables, which combine stylish detailing and reasonable price. If you've ever shopped for a table to skirt, you know the usual options are either shaky and insubstantial or too nice to hide. Mitchell Gold's versions are sturdy and come complete with skirts selected from a variety of pleasant fabric designs. The 48-inch rectangular console table, which comes pre-assembled, features a muslin-covered frame concealed under a tailored skirt and topped with glass -- for about $350. The 30-inch round table, with handsome fabric skirt and glass top, comes unassembled in a box and costs about $200.

* Broyhill's painted curio cabinet, with its bird cage shape and charming assemblage of parrots and tropical greenery, on a wood and iron base. An eye-catching accent piece, the cabinet will retail for about $800.

For information on furniture availability in your area, contact:

Baker Furniture, 1661 Monroe Ave. N.W., Grand Rapids, Mich. 49505; (616) 361-7321.

Century Furniture Co., P.O. Box 608, Hickory, N.C. 28603; (704) 328-1851.

Drexel Heritage Furnishings, 101 N. Main St., Drexel, N.C. 28619; (704) 433-3000.

Hickory Chair Co., P.O. Box 2147, Hickory, N.C. 28603; (704) 328-1801.

The Lane Co., P.O. Box 151, Altavista, Va. 24517; (804) 369-5641.

Lexington Furniture Industries, P.O. Box 1008, Lexington, N.C. 27292; (704) 249-5300.

Mitchell Gold's DesignLine Ltd., 209 35th Ave. N.E., Hickory, N.C. 28601; (704) 324-1796.

Pearson, 1420 Progress St., High Point, N.C. 27261; (919) 882-8135.

Pennsylvania House, Lewisburg, Pa. 17837-1388; (717) 523-1285.

Pulaski Furniture Corp., P.O. Box 1371, Pulaski, Va. 24301; (703) 980-7330.

Ralph Lauren Home Collection, 1185 Avenue of the Americas, 9th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10036; (212) 642-8700.

Romweber Furniture Co., Four South Park Ave., Batesville, Ind. 47006; (812) 934-3485.

Thayer Coggin, 230 South Road, High Point, N.C. 27262; (919) 841-6000.

Thomasville Furniture Industries, P.O. Box 339, Thomasville, N.C. (919) 472-4000.

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