High Point, N.C.--An optimistic American Modern style emerged last month at the massive International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C., where more than 65,000 furniture manufacturers, retailers and interior designers gather twice a year for this country's largest introductory furniture market.
Not to be confused with the hard-edged, glass-and-steel, minimalist contemporary category, this new modern style borrows timeless elements from the past but reinterprets them for family life in the '90s.
Look for graceful, pared-down silhouettes, comfortably cushioned seating, flexible and functional design, and beautiful wood used in ways that show off its natural markings.
"We have to throw away all our ideas about what contemporary is," designer Raymond Waites told a luncheon seminar audience at the market.
"Contemporary means 'marked by characteristics of the present period,' and there is nothing about glass and steel rectangles that is characteristic of the '90s," said Mr. Waites, who is creative vice president of GEAR and designer of a new modern collection for the Lane Co.
Among the best examples of the new American Modern style introduced at the spring market were:
* Drexel Heritage's Classic Statements collection in golden fiddleback maple, accented with black, ivory, silver leaf and antique nickel. Pieces in the group include a round dining table with spider legs, a maple and pewter-tone metal four-poster bed and a versatile wardrobe with building block drawers.
* Raymond Waites' new GEAR Collection, a comprehensive 73-piece introduction grouped into three specific lifestyle settings. Designs within the collection range from a plumply stuffed sofa on turned legs to a dramatic gold-leaf console with classical detailing. A sunburst motif runs throughout the collection and its accessories.
* Milo Baughman's new Light Wave collection for Thayer Coggin Inc., consisting of 12 comfortable seating pieces and occasional tables. Spare yet undulating lines mark this group, which includes a sensuous chaise, several chairs, a sheltering high-backed sofa and asymmetrical tiger maple tables that can nest or bunch.
This clean-lined modern style was not the only news-maker at market. Several furniture manufacturers brought out new collections based on 18th- and 19th-century Colonial West Indies styles.
Mahogany was usually the wood of choice because of its strength and resistance to insects and the elements, so most of the new introductions are crafted from mahogany, too. Rather than the formal, highly polished finish consumers expect of mahogany, though, this is a sun-softened, slightly distressed finish that's informal and very livable.
Milling Roads, a division of Baker Furniture, collaborated with the St. Croix Landmarks Society, Whim Museum and colonial furnishings expert Michael A. Connors in designing 22 pieces for its West Indies Collection. One conversation piece is a graceful, mahogany planter's chair with woven back and seat. Extendable arms were designed so the weary planter could elevate his swollen feet at the end of the day.
New York interior designer Mark Hampton also brought out a Colonial West Indies collection, his for Hickory Chair, a division of Lane. One of this group's signature pieces is the planter's bed, a mahogany four-poster with massive turned posts and hand-carved pineapple detailing.
A romantic cottage style -- cozy but not country -- also was showcased by several manufacturers this market.
Pearson, another division of Lane, set a cottage tone in the showroom's front vignette, creating a homey living area centered around a plump, turned-leg sofa upholstered in not one, or two, but three fresh spring fabrics -- a ribbon chintz, a small scale print and a crisp plaid, all in coral, yellow, blue and white.
Lineage, which markets its furniture and accessories in coordinated lifestyle "pavilions," brought out a nostalgic collection called American Tapestry reminiscent of pieces from America's past.
Recurring motifs -- picket fences, thick bottle glass, weathered shutters -- are interpreted throughout the collection to carry out the nostalgic theme, as in the occasional tables with picket fence wood trim.
Broyhill introduced Candlewood, a moderately priced collection with a lot of style, showcasing light woods, homey fabrics and such familiar cottage details as carved gingerbread trim and turned legs. One unusual piece is a high-backed, amply padded shelter settee.
The rustic lodge look that's been so important for the past several markets is holding on, although the wild West variation that was red-hot last fall seems to have moseyed off into the sunset.
Hickory Chair added a lodge category by expanding its 10-year-old American Digest collection of historically inspired furnishings with a rustic Adirondack-style group made from cherry, hickory poles, wicker and rawhide.
Tell City Chair Co. added to its well-received, rustic Trails collection with bedroom furniture, including a nostalgic, evergreen cutout sleigh bed.
Light wood finishes continue to dominate the marketplace, from low end to top of the line.
In fact, Century Furniture Industries introduced Cinnabar, a new Oriental group, and offered it exclusively in a bisque-finished, white ash burl veneer.
"It would have been unheard of just a few years ago to bring out a new group with only a light finish and not dark," mused Nancy Shuford Dowdy, senior vice president of Century.
The home furnishings ordered by wholesale buyers at spring market will begin to filter into local retail outlets within a few months.
* Tortoise shell. The rich, dark brown and black coloration of a faux tortoise finish adds elegance and a sense of heritage to boxes, tabletops and more.
Spotted at Pearson on a rattan group in the Viceroy collection, in Raymond Waites' GEAR collection for the Lane Co., and all over the accessories market.
* Celestial motif. Stars, sunbursts and moons were everywhere, in the shapes of tables and ottomans, on upholstery fabric, on pillows, ceramics, as plaster and gilded wall ornaments.
* Metal. It's everywhere and it's growing in importance each market. Tables, chairs, beds, benches, accessories, in iron, steel, aluminum, pewter, silver and gold leaf.
It's available burnished, polished, rusted, high-end to moderate to low. Versatility and style make this a category to watch. Outstanding items: Bernhardt's leather and antiqued metal poster twist bed; LaBarge's tables.
* Baker Furniture (Mastercraft, Milling Road), 1661 Monroe Ave. N.W., Grand Rapids, Mich. 49505. (616) 361-7321.
* Bernhardt Furniture Co., P.O. Box 740, Lenoir, N.C. 28645. (704) 758-9811.
* Broyhill Furniture Industries, 1 Broyhill Park, Lenoir, N.C. 28633. (704) 758-3111.
* 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. (division of Lane), P.O. Box 2147, Hickory, N.C. 28603. (704) 328-1801.
* LaBarge, 300 E. 40th St., Holland, Mich. 49422. (616) 392-1473.
* 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.
* Lineage Home Furnishings, 4000 Lineage Court, High Point, N.C. 27265. (919) 454-6688.
* Pearson Co. (division of Lane), P.O. Box 2838, High Point, N.C. 27261. (919) 882-8135.
* Ralph Lauren Home Collection, 1185 Avenue of the Americas, 9th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10036. (212) 642-8700.
* Tell City Chair Co., P.O. Box 369, Tell City, Ind. 47586. (812) 547-3491.
* Thayer Coggin, P.O. Box 5867, High Point, N.C. 27262. (919) 841-6000.
* Thomasville Furniture Industries, P.O. Box 339, Thomasville, N.C. 27361. (919) 472-4000.