High Point style-setters refer to past without reproducing it

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Everything old was news again last week at the massive fall International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C.

Furniture designers and manufacturers debuting their latest wares took a nostalgic look back at everything from simple cottage-style living-room suites to rare early American antiques for inspiration.

Lexington introduced a feminine, Victorian-style bedroom collection inspired by the work of Betsy Cameron, the fashion model-turned-photographer known for her nostalgic, hand-colored shots of children.

Stanley Furniture paid homage to the work of Norman Rockwell, incorporating many of the artist's World War II-era cover illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post into nostalgic fabric motifs and detailing on wood pieces in an extensive new collection.

But the showstopper introduction at this market was an extensive contemporary collection at Directional by designer Larry Laslo, who has made a name for himself designing products, home interiors and such high-profile retail spaces as Bergdorf's and Takashimaya in New York.

Mr. Laslo's new furniture designs are as sleek and sophisticated as the early-century Parisian styles that inspired them, yet they are also comfortable, inviting and touched by whimsy.

His new collection is an attempt to bring to the market contemporary furnishings with a sense of history, yet designed to be comfortable and functional for modern lifestyles, Mr. Laslo told a showroom gathering at the market.

The new pieces seem reassuringly familiar -- arm chairs and wing chairs, camel-back sofas and tea tables -- but exaggerated proportions and unexpected touches make them fresh.

"There's a real difference between things that make reference to the past and dumb reproductions," Mr. Laslo said.

Traditional-looking turned legs on sofas and chairs are washed with silver or gold for a futuristic look. The "wings" on a high-backed chair are pointed up and out just enough to look new.

Wood finishes are wire-brushed rather than formal, and upholstery is luxuriously deep and inviting.

Other notable home furnishings trends spotted at the fall market include:

* Increasing popularity of light-to-white wood finishes.

Thomasville's American Revival collection was inspired by the clean-lined American arts and crafts designs of the Stickleys, but updated from the original dark-wood version with a white-rubbed, golden-oak finish and touches of granite, metal and leather.

Other major light-wood collections include Century Furniture's casual contemporary Cashmere group in maple and ash, Bernhardt's Napa Valley group in oak, Broyhill's Radiance designs in maple, Henredon's oak Laurel Canyon pieces, Drexel Heritage's ash Cabochon Collection and Lineage'soak Fair Haven group.

* Environmentally friendly products and marketing.

Bob Timberlake brought out a new furniture and accessory collection for Lexington in alliance with the Keep America Beautiful organization, using wood from managed American forests, ecologically sound water-borne stains and finishes, hardware made from recycled metal, and reduced or recycled packaging materials. Keep America Beautiful will receive a portion of the sales proceeds from products.

Century Furniture showed woven furniture made from the dried stems of water hyacinth, a highly invasive nuisance plant that makes a self-replenishing alternative to wicker and rattan. The stems are harvested in Thailand, air-dried, braided and woven, producing a handsome product that's much softer and smoother to the touch than wicker.

* Furniture collections with a story to tell. Consumers don't want just a new chair or table, retailers say, they want a big-name designer behind their purchase.

Menswear designer Alexander Julian's new Home Colours collection for Universal Furniture includes subtle apparel references, ranging from an argyle veneer pattern on tabletops to delicate "pinking shears" inlay banding on the doors of a wardrobe.

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Every market produces a couple of showstoppers that amaze viewers. Among those at the fall market:

* Baker Furniture's reproduction of a grand circa-1830 painted Ohio cupboard from Colonial Williamsburg's Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. Executed in bold shades of coral, zTC mustard and green, the cupboard is an imposing piece that will retail for about $17,000.

* Herman Miller Inc.'s handsome, well-organized work environment designed to turn an extra corner of the home into a functional office. The 63-year-old company, which today specializes in commercial office furniture, researched specific home work-space needs and developed desk, shelf and drawer components to fit the average residential space. One configuration in solid cherry will sell for $3,900, while a slightly smaller version in white vinyl sells for $1,400.

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Furniture and accessory designs introduced at the fall market generally make it to retail showrooms by late winter or early spring.

COLOR AND FABRIC TRENDS

From showroom to showroom at this week's International Home Furnishings Market, one color story repeated itself.

Sage.

The softly shadowed green that evokes dew-touched early morning in the herb garden paired appealingly with copper or tangerine, blueberry or a shade of lavender one color forecaster called "crushed violets."

Sage and dozens of other shades of green continued to lead the nature-themed color palette in home furnishings, ranging from parsley and moss to chartreuse and green apple.

Yellows continue to grow in importance, from shades of saffron and goldenrod to lemon and banana.

Red tones ranging from paprika and claret to brick and barn-red pair nicely with the garden greens.

And look for lots of strawberry-ice-cream pink now that Ralph Lauren has introduced lacquered tables in that shade, pairing them with crisp black and white solids and plaids.

A neutral palette, incorporating caramel, toffee, cream, taupe and sand, remains elegant, especially when executed in richly textured fabrics.

And a paler neutral range is showing up now in pearl tones so delicate as to appear almost sheer. Cynthia White, a trend forecaster with Cotton Inc., called them "frosted, frozen, fragile colors."

Texture was the name of the fabric game this market, with everything from silk and linen to tapestry and leather sporting washed, sueded, distressed, crushed, wrinkled or puckered looks.

Look for mix-and-match fabric combinations on upholstered pieces. Some manufacturers called it "color blocking" while others referred to "layering."

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