HIGH POINT, N.C. — High Point, N.C.--Well-worn cowboy boots and sweat-stained Stetsons. Iron horseshoes and coiled leather lariats. Red and black buffalo-check flannel and rough-bark logs. Deeply fringed suede and butter-soft leather.
Furniture retailers and interior designers from all over the world who gathered here for the massive fall International Home Furnishings Market last week were treated to a nostalgic trip back in time to America's Old West at dozens of showrooms.
From the ridiculous (a lamp made out of a battered old cowboy boot) to the sublime (irresistible flannel upholstery fabric in a bright red cowboy "pajama" print pattern), the world's largest wholesale furniture market offered happy trails to buyers edgy about the economy and uncertain about how the impending presidential election will affect business.
Such major manufacturers as Lexington Furniture Industries and the Lane Co. were among those gambling that Old West is the next direction for the popular country style in home furnishings. Both brought out major new collections of rugged bunkhouse-style furniture, including everything from lodge-pole-framed sofas and old-fashioned iron beds to
cowhide-wrapped accent tables and deep ranch cupboards outfitted as entertainment centers.
Many other manufacturers without major Western-style introductions this market accessorized a room setting or two in the homey style, lining up battered boots at the foot of a bed or hanging colorful beaded cowboy belts on the wall like art.
Cowboy chic hit the fashion industry first -- spearheaded by Ralph Lauren -- and it was just a matter of time before home furnishings were affected, trend researcher Michelle Lamb told the media at an early market gathering.
"You just have to look at the age of the baby boom population today to understand why the cowboy look is big now," explained Ms. Lamb. "They are at that point in midlife when you start looking backward -- and all the cowboy stuff is very friendly and familiar."
Lexington collaborated with best-selling country design writer Mary Emmerling to produce American Country West, a comprehensive 80-piece collection of furnishings in wood, iron, leather and other natural materials. GuildMaster offered a companion accessory line of more than 300 pieces, ranging from leather-covered boxes to miniature tepees made into lamps.
Lane offered Big Sky Country, 70 wooden pieces plus upholstered furnishings that run the gamut from a camelback sofa in pony print chenille to a "Cowpoke's Bar" with rustic horseshoe-detailed bar stools.
Retailers seeing the collections for the first time seemed enthusiastic -- a market publication noted that the first couple of "cuttings" of Lane's new collection had sold out by the end of the show's first week.
Furniture for young adults
In another direction, several manufacturers brought out mid-price home furnishings collections geared toward a younger consumer, targeting young adults who buy their clothes at the Gap or J. Crew and spend their Saturday afternoons browsing at Home Depot.
Spare, clean lines echoing Shaker, Mission and Scandinavian styling mark such new offerings from Tell City Chair (Trails), Broyhill (Directions) and Pennsylvania House (Purely Stated). All offer natural wood finishes and antiqued paint effects in black, cream and green. Tell City included some rustic hickory pieces and a whimsical sled cocktail table for a mountain lodge touch.
Milling Road, a division of Baker Furniture, targeted young consumers with deeper pockets with its 38 new Milling Road Country pieces this market. One of the most appealing introductions is a graceful four-post tester bed in hand-rubbed Ponderosa pine, with carved ball and claw legs. The queen-size version will retail for just over $3,000.
Retro "moderne" styles from the 1930s and 1940s showed up in striking collections at several showrooms this market, including CollingWood and Henredon.
CollingWood's new Opus One collection -- named for Jimmy Dorsey's 1944 gold record -- blends maple and white ash burl in a blond or cordovan finish with eye-catching deco curves, exquisite hardware, unframed mirrors, and thick slabs of glass for a stunning presentation.
Henredon's Savoy collection, the result of a collaboration with Bloomingdale's Ray Brandt, pairs sleek curves with rich woods and distinctive hardware in the deco style.
"American Casual" -- a transitional style that falls somewhere between contemporary and traditional and emphasizes comfort and function -- is a category that gets bigger each market. For fall, handsome new collections from major firms Thomasville (Terrace Garden), Drexel Heritage (Crosscreek) and Henredon (Enchantment) offered this versatile look.
New furniture and accessories shown at High Point in October will begin to appear in local stores by early spring.
Other new collections