Country comfort was the high point at High Point Farm-fresh FURNISHINGS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A nostalgic American farmhouse style created a stir earlier this month at the massive fall International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C.

Twice a year, nearly 70,000 furniture retailers, interior designers and media representatives from all over the world converge on this small Southern town to see what's new from more than 1,900 furniture and accessory lines, showcased in about 7 million square feet of exhibit space.

News this market was a farm-fresh slant on the popular casual country designs that fill consumer demand for comfortable, functional furniture that stands up to real-life wear and tear.

Manufacturers offered sofas and chairs as plump as feed sacks, turned out in durable denims, cozy checks and novelty barnyard or garden prints.

Knotty pine and mellow oak, left natural, whitewashed or painted, were the approachable choices for tables, chests and exposed wood accents on upholstered pieces. Patchwork quilts, vintage linens and nostalgic accessories completed the farmhouse look.

John DeCristofaro, a New York artist and sculptor, collaborated on a whimsical collection for Lexington Furniture Industries that included a fence-post bed (about $500 retail), shutter-inspired painted armoire (about $2,000) and fabrics featuring tractor, barnyard and chicken-wire motifs.

Furniture designer Jim Peed's big "Country Cousins" collection for Century Furniture included nostalgic farmhouse and cottage pieces in knotty pine, oak and walnut. Among the standouts were the massive "Oaklahoma" four-poster bed (about $2,200) and a handsome hickory-stick settee (about $1,300).

Not all the comfortable, casual styles on display at market were from down on the farm, though.

Century's broad country presentation for fall also included a refined Mission-style group inpecan, and Lineage's handsome new SimpleExpressions collection showcased an elegant, Shaker-style silhouette.

Many contemporary introductions were well-padded and built for comfort, too. Milo Baughman's new asymmetrical "Interloc" sectional for Thayer Coggin (about $6,500) was designed to provide comfortable seating for several people at once -- regardless of their size.

What not to miss

When the newest market offerings make it to local retail showrooms early next spring, don't miss:

* Hickory Chair's beautifully executed reproductions and adaptations of George and Martha Washington's furnishings from historic Mount Vernon. The handsome secretary-bookcase at which Washington worked each morning has been changed only slightly in reproducing the original 1796 John Aitken design, and the result is magnificent (retail price about $13,000).

* Baker's graceful new Vienna Tour collection in the Biedermeier style, featuring elegant, architectural lines and honey-colored ash burl and agnegre veneers. One particularly striking piece is a step-top chest, with each of the top three drawers becoming progressively smaller as they go up (about $3,500)

* Thomasville's new Grand Classics collection, a blend of Biedermeier and French Empire influences, executed in bird's-eye maple and striking Nordic Flame birch veneers with ebony inlays. An elegant secretary in this group will retail for about $1,300.

* Bassett's affordable new American Journey collection of 150 antiques-inspired pieces from all sections of the country. One nostalgic offering is a cottage-style dresser with oval mirror for about $600.

Hot spots

Trying to spot emerging trends at the massive International Home Furnishings Market is a hit-or-miss proposition at best.

But when you scatter dozens of home furnishings and design editors and writers throughout 7 million square feet of exhibit space for several days, they should come away with more than sore feet and squinty eyes, right?

Based on brand-new merchandise talked about, looked at, felt, tripped over or collapsed upon over the past few days, these trends bear watching:

* Best seats in the house: Now that furniture manufacturers have produced every imaginable size, shape and configuration of display units for "home theater" electronic gear, the industry finally is turning its attention to front-row seating for the show.

Comfortable contemporary sectionals designed by Milo Baughman and Skip Culler for Thayer Coggin have asymmetrical lines that allow each family member to pick a spot where seating depth is the perfect fit.

A new sofa design at Century turns inward at the ends so the family that watches television together can view each other during the commercials. An over-scaled chair at Mitchell Gold's Design Line Ltd., with a seating depth of 40 inches and dramatically curved arms, is the perfect command post for electronic adventure.

Baker Furniture's new French Salon Couch is elegant enough for any setting, and its three-piece sectional design allows versatile seating for several viewers.

* Suite dreams: Showpiece beds are everywhere this market, in styles that range from gracefully curving sleigh beds, to bold lodge-pole pine four-posters, to dramatic metal canopy designs. The expanded master suite every home buyer clamors for requires a spectacular bed as its focal point, and manufacturers are producing designs that go straight to the heart.

Bernhardt's romantic new Palm Court collection offers a hint of the tropics with its raffia-wrapped sleigh bed. Baker's new Vienna Tour sleigh bed rises like a throne from scrolled feet, its exposed side rails as beautiful as the curved head and foot boards. Thomasville's imposing new Country Inns and Back Roads pine four-poster won't be hidden by an entire pile of

pillows.

Beds on such a bold scale dwarf traditional side tables, so market designers offered fresh ideas for holding bedside essentials.

One showroom placed a dressing table and chair next to the bed, where it served both functions handsomely.

At Century, showroom designers flanked the massive "Oaklahoma" bed with a round wooden kitchen table big enough to hold a lamp, books, photographs, flowers and more.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

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

* Bassett Furniture Industries, P.O. Box 626, Bassett, Va. 24055. (703) 629-6000.

* Bernhardt Furniture Co., P.O. Box 740, Lenoir, N.C. 28645. (704) 758-9811.

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

* Hickory Chair Co. (div. of Lane), P.O. Box 2147, Hickory, N.C. 28603. (704) 328-1801.

* 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.

* Mitchell Gold's Design Line Ltd., P.O. Box 819, Taylorsville, N.C. 28681. (704) 632-9200.

* Pearson Co. (div. of Lane), P.O. Box 2838, High Point, N.C. 27261. (919) 882-8135.

rTC * 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.

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