Pianos strike chord as decor and as '90s status symbol

January 02, 1994|By Judy Rose | Judy Rose,Knight-Ridder News Service

Grand pianos aren't just for music anymore. They're the new decorating status symbol of the '90s.

They are the element that puts prestige in today's living room, the item that demonstrates you are a cultured person. For people with large rooms and large checkbooks, the grand piano is the new version of past years' sculpture and bookshelves.

"I love the weight it gives to the room -- the size and the bulk," says Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., interior designer D. J. Kennedy. "It helps settle down a room.

"Seventy-five percent of my projects with enough square footage end up with a grand piano."

But what if no one in the house plays? Won't you look like a pretentious dork with a big, useless status symbol?

Not anymore. For an extra $5,000 to $7,000, you can set up your grand piano to play discs, a sophisticated reinvention of the old player piano.

From a 3 1/2 -inch disc, your piano performs 90 minutes of music, full of nuance and expression, as recorded by a professional: Peter Nero, George Shearing, Carmen Cavallaro.

"They're a big part of the business today," says Jim Evola at Evola Music in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "It's putting a lot of piano players out of work."

"We like selling them, but there's a little, little, tiny, tiny bit of purist in me that doesn't quite approve," says Tim Hoy, who owns Hammell Music in Livonia, Mich. He says his business has tripled since 1985, and the bulk of the increase is in grand pianos.

The trend is national, according to Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine.

In the past 15 years, sales of upright pianos have fallen by two-thirds, from 270,000 a year to 100,000, but sales of grand pianos have doubled, from 16,000 to 32,000.

Most grand piano makers are willing to have their product used as decoration. They're turning out pianos in red, white, ivory, chocolate brown and clear Plexiglas. They also are offering a large choice of good woods, such as cherry, mahogany, rosewood, walnut and oak, and many furniture styles -- Chippendale, Italian provincial, whatever.

Buyers willing to wait six to nine months can get any color they want. If you cared to, you could match the blue of a Matisse painting.

But a grand piano is not a cheap item. Very roughly, says Mr. Majeski, the price of a 6-foot grand piano -- a nice size for a house -- might be:

$31,000-$32,000 for a Steinway; $20,000 for a Baldwin; $16,000- $20,000 for a Yamaha; $12,000 for assorted small Korean brands.

Besides being pricey, doesn't a grand piano take away a lot of living space from a living room?

If you have a large living room, asks Mr. Kennedy, how many seating groups do you want anyway? Buy a piano instead of a sofa and two chairs, he says.

"With the price of fine furniture today, you come out about even. They make a wonderful focal point. You need some big anchor piece if the room is that large."

Mr. Evola advises tailoring the size of the piano to the size of the room.

A standard grand piano is about 5 to 7 feet long and works best in a room of 350-500 square feet.

A smaller baby grand -- 4 feet, 7 inches to 5 feet, 2 inches -- can fit in a small room, such as a study.

A concert grand is about 9 feet long, and works best with at least 600 square feet, Mr. Evola says. "But if there's a very talented musician, they might buy it for a smaller room."

Visually, says Mr. Kennedy, the ideal piano is about 6 feet, 4 inches long. His personal favorite would be a classic ebony piano with a satin finish.

Mr. Kennedy plays the piano, and he owns a 9-foot concert grand that is signed by Liberace, Neil Diamond and Ferranti and Teicher.

How much should you spend on a grand piano? It's no surprise Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Evola and Mr. Hoy think you should get a good one.

"The only thing I stress to my clients is, don't necessarily buy the cheapest," says Mr. Kennedy. "You want to buy a good musical instrument, so if you ever go to sell it, the value will be there.

"I've had three in my life and I've never lost money on one of them." And probably won't again with Liberace on his side.

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