American consumers are going home again, seeking a safe haven from job worries, street crime and a frenzied lifestyle they're too busy to enjoy.
Disillusioned by the excesses of the '80s, these aging boomers are trading in their fancy cars, designer suits and exotic restaurant meals for four-wheel drives, blue jeans and Mom's meatloaf.
More than 65,000 furniture manufacturers, retailers, interior designers and media representatives attending the big semiannual International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, earlier last month, heard this lifestyle message again and again as they shopped for the furniture and decorative accessories you'll be seeing soon at local retail outlets.
Manufacturers targeted this "new" home-centered consumer with comfortable, casual furnishings designed for settling in and relaxing at home with family and friends.
Upholstered chairs and sofas were plumped up and sometimes slipcovered for a homey, well-worn look. Light wood finishes in either natural or washed tones, often distressed, invited foot-propping and active family use.
This easy-living, transitional "American casual" style draws from many earlier periods -- Shaker, craftsman, prairie and mission, Southwest, rustic frontier, country cottage -- but with a softer silhouette and otherwise adapted for function and comfort.
Drexel Heritage brought out a big new American Themes collection in weathered maple and antique painted finishes, arranging and accessorizing the versatile pieces in four different styles: country, Southwest, coastal casual and Shaker.
Thomasville's new Lakehouse collection, a mission-inspired country bedroom group, features simple lines and easy finishes -- golden oak and whitewashed -- that blend well with anything from antiques to contemporary upholstery.
Softer lines and easy comfort marked many of the newest contemporary offerings, too, including Milo Baughman's new Free Style collection for Thayer Coggin. The designer offered a curvaceous modular seating group, an undulating love seat and a whimsically scaled wing chair that are a far cry from the hard-edged contemporary styles of just a few seasons ago.
Mixing and matching
Campaign furniture, with its squared-off lines, brass corner banding and flush brass hardware, made a surprisingly big showing at the spring market. Although the look has remained a staple in some lines for decades, a couple of new collections looked just right for mixing and matching with traditional, Oriental, contemporary, even country.
Ralph Lauren's new campaign-inspired Dressage collection features rich mahogany, touches of solid brass and inlays of gold-tooled leather. Some pieces showcased hand-painted leather in an equestrian theme.
Lane's new Brigades collection of campaign-style furnishings showcases some interesting painted finishes -- one that looks like leather -- along with brass fittings and sturdy metal bases.
Pearson debuted Viceroy, a knockout collection of upholstery, wood accents and rattan with which a British family assigned to India during the turn-of-the-century Raj might have furnished a home.
Fabrics by British textile designer Victoria Morland helped tell the Pearson story of cross-cultural influences -- vivid Indian prints and peasant-made accent pieces blended companionably with period English furnishings and accessories.
Slipcovers, which began cropping up at last fall's show as an option with some upholstered pieces, were all over the place this spring. The distressed "shabby chic" versions some houses experimented with earlier were scarce, but a few manufacturers offered soft, pre-washed fabrics for a comfortably frumpy look. Others made their versions as tailored as slipcovers can be.
Mitchell Gold's DesignLine, primarily known for dining and bedroom furniture, brought out two sofa designs and offered stylish slipcovers with each. Slipcovers were also made available for two armchair styles.
Century emphasized the versatility of slipcovers, showing a handsomely tailored sofa and demonstrating its new look with a slipcover of a softer silhouette or different fabric.
Pearson included slipcovers as an option with its new Viceroy collection, suggesting that the British family might need them to spruce up their aging furniture once they were back home again in England.
One of the most exciting new museum reproduction programs at the market was debuted by Drexel Heritage, where an ambitious 33-piece collection of reproductions and adaptations of furnishings acquired by George W. Vanderbilt for his 250-room Biltmore estate in Asheville, N.C., was showcased. The handsome collection includes a varied range of furnishings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Baker looked to Russia for inspiration, with handsome additions to its Stately Homes collection based on antiques in St. Petersburg's Hermitage and other museums. Dr. Natalia Guseva, curator of Russian furniture at the Hermitage Museum, was on hand to help introduce the varied collection.