Furniture forecast is a backward look to old-fashioned style, value and comfort

January 09, 1994|By Linda Bennett | Linda Bennett,Contributing Writer

The beginning of a new year brings out the trend forecaster in all of us.

Something about trading in those dog-eared old calendars for fresh new ones makes us feel comfortable predicting what's hot and what's not for the next 12 months.

The old year was marked by a confusing mixture of home-related trends.

New and existing house sales were brisk for much of 1993, thanks to low interest rates and pent-up demand. But business for furniture manufacturers and retailers merely had "improved to slow" by the end of the year, according to Linda Jones of Masco, a giant corporation involved in both home building and home furnishings.

One thing's for sure -- in 1993 many American families put the frenetic, affluent '80s firmly behind them and moved toward a simpler, easier lifestyle centered around the comfort and security of home.

So what design trends are likely to affect our home-furnishing tastes in 1994? We offer five predictions of important styles to watch over the next dozen months:

Cottage Charm

From lake house to urban loft, Americans are embracing an eclectic, unaffected "cottage style" that looks evolved rather than contrived.

This cozy, comfortable blend includes plump sofas with bun feet, vintage wicker, easy slipcovers, old-fashioned lamps, nostalgic accessories, homey checks, plaids and prints.

In the cottage style, a fresh coat of white paint instantly coordinates mismatched wooden or wicker furnishings gathered from relatives or yard sales. Furniture manufacturers simulate this eclectic look, lavishing white paint on headboards and bedside tables, kitchen tables and chairs.

Look for sofas or chairs upholstered in two or more fabrics, either subtly coordinated or boldly patchworked. And expect plenty of pine, both painted and left natural.

Biedermeier Basics

Sleek neoclassical styles were a big furniture influence in the last part of the 18th century. The end of the 19th century saw a revival of the simple elegance of Biedermeier designs.

And now, as the 20th century draws to a close, the classic motifs, simple lines and approachable formality of the distinctive Biedermeier/neoclassical style again emerge as an interesting new direction.

Look for simple geometric shapes, classical architectural elements (columns, pilasters, pediments), and recurring motifs of lyres, acanthus leaves and palms.

And even more important, look for stunning utilization of beautiful woods and wood veneers, often in light, clear finishes accented with ebony and brass.

Baker and Thomasville brought out beautiful new Biedermeier-inspired collections at this fall's International Home Furnishings Market in North Carolina. These graceful lines and beautiful woods look good with any style.

More for the Money

Americans are looking for extra value in the furniture they buy, both in terms of quality of materials and workmanship and in the perception that an item truly is out of the ordinary and worth buying.

Manufacturers are responding by adding all sorts of extra functions and features to make their sofas, tables, chests and other products stand out from the crowd.

Look for entertainment units that not only hold TV and stereo components but also have storage for VCR tapes and CDs. China cabinets may feature secret compartments for silver storage; dressers and wardrobes often include concealed panels that pop open to reveal pegs for hanging jewelry or ties.

Tell City has made a big splash with an armoire outfitted as a mini-kitchen for the master bedroom. Lexington recently brought out a nursery changing table that converts later to a TV stand.

There are curio/coffee tables, a bed with a built-in TV shelf, sofa tables that open to reveal deep storage compartments, and handsome secretaries with unexpected storage options.

Sitting Pretty

Face it -- American families are spending more time than ever at home in front of the big-screen TV, watching cable or rented movies. And manufacturers now offer all manner of state-of-the-art entertainment systems to hold that electronic gear.

New in 1994 are seating options for families facing this wall of TV equipment. There are still plenty of run-of-the-mill sofas and modular seating arrangements out there, but some of the major manufacturers are beginning to offer something different for the media area.

Look for comfortable, handsome "shelter" sofas that literally enfold those who sit on them. And several brand-new sofas are designed so they curve inward at each end -- family members sitting side by side in front of the TV can at least look at each other during commercial breaks.

And look for stylish new modular configurations that include such amenities as projection tables, flip-up eating surfaces and hidden storage for the remote control device.

Clothes Make the Couch

One of the strongest new directions for 1994 is the use of fabrics traditionally associated with clothing for upholstering furniture.

Denim, twill, khaki, cable knit, flannel, oxford shirting, corduroy, rugby stripes and tartan plaids abound in the marketplace, covering sofas, chairs, ottomans -- even lamp shades and picture frames.

These fabrics, a perfect match with rustic log-cabin style furnishings, offer comfort, easy care and the casual style American consumers demand.

Alex Bernhardt, one of the furniture manufacturers who pioneered the use of apparel fabrics as upholstery materials, explains: "There is no generation gap for denim. Whether people are 25 or 55, they like to sit on what they wear."

Look for these casual, durable fabrics on tightly-upholstered sofas and chairs, and used as slipcovers and accent pillows too.

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