HIGH POINT, N.C. — High Point, N.C.--The mood was edgy but cautiously upbea at the recent spring International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C.
With the war won and patriotism running high, many of the market's 1,700 exhibitors displayed flags and bunting in their showrooms and all tried their best to woo wary furniture retailers into stocking up for the business upturn they've been told is near.
But coming off several flat to bad years, retailers either were looking for good prices and basic styles to attract value-conscious consumers or were searching for something truly out of the ordinary to lure shoppers back into their stores.
No official numbers are available yet (the market ended April 26),but attendance was noticeably off at the massive market, which usually attracts upward of 50,000 manufacturers, retailers and interior designers to seven million square feet of furniture display space each spring and fall.
"Comfort" was the catchword heard throughout the sprawling market complex this season.
Furniture manufacturers touted soft, shapely upholstered goods -- even in contemporary styles -- along with other furnishings designed to appeal to the consumer's desire for a nurturing, personalized home environment.
And while furniture that feels good when you sit on it and warms your heart when you look at it doesn't make banner headlines, it does make sense.
Trends to note when these spring introductions make it to retail showrooms by late summer or early fall:
*All-American style. After decades of furnishings tied to the old country -- French Provincial, Italian Provincial, Mediterranean, English Country, Eurostyle -- this market showed a definite bent toward American style.
Broyhill's new American Frontier collection loosely interprets occasional and upholstered pieces from this country's past, tracing the settlers' trek westward from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River and beyond.
Pennsylvania House brought out the eclectic 80-piece American Sampler collection of adaptations from early 19th century furnishings, handsomely executed in cherry, pine, wicker and wrought iron.
Hickory Chair, a division of the Lane Co., looked as far west as the Alsatian village of Castroville, near San Antonio, for adaptations of Texas antiques for its diverse American Digest collection.
GuildMaster's direction was all-American, too, with introductions of painted occasional chests and tables in an early nautical motif, along with reproductions of early American wooden toys and a whimsical star and heart chair in red, white and blue.
Two of the major manufacturers concentrated on exquisitely executed reproductions of early pieces in American museum collections -- Baker for Colonial Williamsburg and
Century for the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich.
*Youth furniture grows up. The current baby boomlet has made waves of tidal proportions in the juvenile furniture market, once a near-wasteland of flimsy construction and awkward styling.
With another predicted baby boom on the way by early next year, a dozen or more stylish youth collections -- some with pricey special options, like jewelry drawers -- were brought out this market. Among them were five collections by Thomasville, Penn Pals by Pennsylvania House, Rooms to Grow from Lexington Furniture Industries and Popsicles by Etc. (Environmental Teen Concepts).
*Flexible furnishings. Youth furniture showrooms made a point of showing how various configurations of available components can provide a comfortable environment from crib to college, but versatile furniture for adults was popular, too.
Each piece in Hickory Chair's new collection of "library furniture" -- chairs, sofas and ottomans inspired by English men's club furnishings -- is fitted with casters so it's easy to pull around wherever needed for cozy conversational groupings.
Occasional shelves, chests, armoires and entertainment units that serve numerous purposes in several different rooms of the house make up a category that continues to be important to families who move often or don't have a lot of room to spare.
*Softer silhouettes. The word "overstuffed" took on a whole new meaning with Dapha's collection of enveloping horsehair- and down-upholstered pieces in a traditional vein by Anthony Browne, an interior designer whose clients include Oprah Winfrey.
Even contemporary styles were softened in many showrooms, notably the sculptural, but delightfully comfortable, Romantic Modern collection designed by Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin.
*Heavy on metal. Metal continues to be a major story in home furnishings and the newest looks this market were the silver tones. Polished steel, pewter, chrome, silver leaf and sterling were all there, followed closely in importance by copper and bronze.