Ecology sets the tone at furniture show


About every 30 years, it happens: People look around, see the result of apparently reckless spending and polluting (or war) and whammo! . . . Earth-friendly products and "earth colors" are "in" again.

In San Francisco earlier this year at the 1993 furnishings market for retailers, the "eco-think" home furnishings looked natural and maybe even less expensive (don't kid yourself) than in years previous.

The colors this time around aren't orange or avocado green. They're terra cotta and khaki.

The furniture? Guaranteed to be made of trees that aren't endangered and don't damage rain forests if harvested.

The fabrics? Said to be patterned and finished with easily biodegradable products. Forget formaldehyde; too much of an allergen. Forget dyes that pollute rivers.

Natural is the watchword: Natural dyes used for coloring. Natural fabrics that have never been near formaldehyde.

In many cases, translate "natural" to "ethnic." The looks are not difficult to define. They have either brilliant or faded colors in traditional folk patterns -- think of a well-worn antique Persian rug or those Indian bedspreads flower children took to concerts in the 1960s.

Like society in general, the home-furnishings industry has discovered a vast and worthy cultural diversity of colors, styles and shapes.

Even one of the glossiest decorators and furniture designers in Los Angeles (Sally Sirkin Lewis) told a large market audience that she values a $3 per yard Indian cotton print -- used in the right place -- as much as a $500 per yard Parisian fabric.

The variety of ethnic-influenced products shown at the San Francisco market included North African pottery elegantly decorated with nickel silver (shown by OMART); a profusion of checkerboard and quilt patterns woven into rattan furniture (from the Philippines for Cat Walk); African patterns used to decorate fabric, and a Masai pattern painted on an entertainment unit from Dunkirk (made in Palm Desert for $3,500).

East Indian motifs -- see the movie "Passage to India" for this look -- flourished throughout the market. They were the basis, for instance, for Victoria Moreland's evocative Raj collection of fabrics and furniture for Lane.

Paisleys, one of India's oldest weaving patterns and much copied over the centuries, now have been printed and woven on modern fabrics from Grey Watkins and Lady Spencer Churchill (she should know) at Randolph & Hein.

Homage to both Africa and Asia was evident in the cerulean-blue and jungle-green ceramics that featured marching elephants, tropical birds and Asian architectural themes.

"I have always been fascinated with the forms and decorations of Asian pottery," said Barbara Jensen, who hand builds and decorates the lamps and accessories that are thrown by Mick Marineau. "We work in a series, but everything is one of a kind because it is all made by hand."

The color issue is a hot one, according to San Francisco textile expert Barbara Beckmann and Los Angeles color forecaster Sue Ross, a member of the Color Marketing Group, the organization that supplies color forecasts to many industries.

Ms. Ross said the 1990s will show a major shift from saturation of colors to a sun-baked, vegetable-dyed range, colors that stress "the importance of the environment and the economy."

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