HIGH POINT, N.C. -- The stars at the recent International Home Furnishings Market were a supermodel, a super prognosticator and a fellow who's super rich. Oh, yes, and a familiar kitchen countertop material, but we'll get to that later.
Vanguard Furniture debuted its new line of furniture designed with the help of model Kathy Ireland. Hooker Furniture unveiled office furniture for women that bears the name of trend spotter Faith Popcorn, and Harden introduced publisher and collector Christopher Forbes along with a line bearing the Forbes' family name.
Ireland, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and Kmart clothing partner, drew the largest crowds at the wholesale market, which attracts 75,000 exhibitors and retailers to High Point twice a year.
Inside the furniture industry, the buzz is about growing online sales. Manufacturers and retailers alike are unsure what the Internet will mean to their future. The exhibitors felt more confident offering a glimpse at what consumers can expect to find in showrooms next spring.
Look for bronzes and golds, highlighted by subtle greens and crimsons. Fabrics have a washed tapestry look, even on contemporary designs, giving upholstered pieces a comfortable, lived-in look. Leather continues to be popular, and the hot accent color is red.
Ireland's new line for Vanguard, a Hickory, N.C., company, was a bit of a surprise. It featured soft finishes and friendly fabrics on pieces large enough to welcome lounging. Vanguard calls it European casual with a hint of Santa Barbara, Ireland's hometown. It's not dainty or trendy, and some pieces -- an iron and glass cocktail table, for instance -- are amazingly masculine.
Shelby Pulino-Pigot, Vanguard's vice president for merchandising, said Ireland announced early during the two-year development process that she didn't want men to be uncomfortable with the furniture line, so that was a constant goal.
The collection includes six upholstery settings, two master bedroom looks, two dining room styles and two children's bedroom groups. Upholstery includes lots of washed damasks and chenilles in soft golds, cranberry and green, reflecting a trend in other showrooms. Solid colors were kid-friendly taupe and mushroom.
An unusual iron settee was modeled after a turn-of-the-century English piece. Ireland said her favorite piece was an armoire in a golden-white crackle finish with painted floral detailing.
"What I want to do is take the fear out of furniture," Ireland said, "to make it easy, so it can actually be fun."
Futurist and author Faith Popcorn coined the word cocooning, and her office furniture for Hooker has been dubbed the "Home Office Cocoon."
It consists of two groups, contemporary and traditional, both designed to appeal to women who work at home.
The number of at-home workers has increased by 100 percent in the past five years, to 10.5 million, Popcorn said, and should double again by 2005. And women are leaving corporate America and starting businesses at twice the rate of men.
"A lot of females run companies from their homes, because they want to be with their kids," Popcorn said. "We did a lot of research, and all the women we visited had pictures of their kids on their desks, and all had flowers on their desks."
In the new collection for Hooker, a Martinsville, Va., company, desks feature a built-in flower vase, which fits into a grommet with a cover that can be closed when the vase isn't in use.
The traditional group, or "La Cocoon," is based on French country style and built of maple solids and cherry veneers. It comes in two distressed finishes, antique cherry and antique buttermilk. "Satellite," the contemporary collection, features crisp lines and soft rounded shapes. Finishes are honey-wheat over clear maple and a dark finish with a hint of cranberry.
Work stations in both groups include locking compartments for purses and other personal items, jewelry trays in desk drawers and slide-out coffee cup holders.
Until High Point, Christopher "Kip" Forbes hadn't seen the new collection from Harden Furniture, based on original pieces in his family's homes in France and England.
"It's fabulous," said Forbes, vice chairman of Forbes Inc.
Greg Harden, chief executive officer of the McConnellsville, N.Y., company, said Harden adapted the 30 new pieces from the originals in the 17th-century houses, rather than just reproducing them.
Forbes said one piece -- an armoire, based on an antique in the Forbes family's chateau in Normandy -- was even better than the original. He said all the pieces would look at home in Forbes magazine's New York headquarters.
The armoire is in solid cherry with a clear finish, with hand-carved posts and an arch over the doors. A matching bed in the Empire style features pomegranate finials. There also are several occasional tables with marquetry tops, inspired by the floors in the chateau.
A leather sofa, with tall turned legs and clean lines, reflects the passion that Malcolm Forbes, Christopher's father and the founder of the business magazine that bears the family name, had for motorcycles and black leather.
Three companies -- Pennsylvania House, Gear and DuPont Corian -- pooled their efforts to produce a mix-and-match collection called "Seasonings."
A customer will be able to walk into a Pennsylvania House furniture showroom and personalize her furniture by choosing among design, color and finish options -- including Corian solid-surface countertop material for 10 of the 25 pieces in the collection.
The have-it-your-way idea is not new for Pennsylvania House, but the partnership expands the concept. Gear Holdings has experience marketing coordinated collections for the home, and Corian is such a familiar name that it has become almost synonymous with solid-surface countertops.
The collection features dining furniture -- both tables and chairs -- along with accent pieces such as bistro tables and kitchen islands. A customer can select one of six Corian colors for the tops of the bistro tables and islands. And, for a bit more, she can choose among the other 66 Corian colors to coordinate with her existing countertops.
Because of today's open home designs, in which the kitchen is open to the great room and even the dining room, cabinetry is coming to look more and more like furniture. Pennsylvania House and its partners take that a logical step further, and offer consumers furniture with durable and popular Corian countertop material.