Furnishings curve back to the past Home: Spring market in High Point emphasizes comfort and detailing.

April 28, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,STAFF WRITER

Whatever happened to the pared-down style of the early '90s? This spring's International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C., stressed overstuffed comfort, luxurious fabrics, rich colors, ornate detailing, and -- above all -- tried-and-true inspirations.

What's new is more curve across a range of styles. Pearson, the upholstery division of Lane, introduced a scalloped love seat in a warm rose shade with half-moon pillows.

Serpentine sofas with curved fronts were everywhere, and Bernhardt offered a wing chair with an S-shaped front and a curvy ottoman that fit snugly into it. Contemporary pieces had arms that flared out from their base.

Even some cabinets, desks and chests sported rococo undulations, although they weren't so pervasive as the upholstered pieces.

Designers looked to the past for inspiration as manufacturers waited to see if retailers would be in a buying mood this market. (Furniture sales have been down for the past couple of seasons, and buyers have been cautious about building up inventory. The styles they did order at the twice-yearly wholesale market will be appearing in stores about six months from now.)

Fresh ideas, for the most part, came in the details like drawer pulls rather than the design as a whole.

"I don't believe in forcing trends," said Julian Alexander about his three new collections for Universal. "We wanted to capture what's best about the 18th century."

He jazzed up his traditional pieces with embellishments from men's fashion: paisley fretwork (ornamental openwork) in a chair back, argyle patterns, drawer pulls from tortoise shell buttons and metal cuff links, veneers in the shape of neckties.

Lane, known for its contemporary, transitional and country furniture, introduced Lynhurst, its first traditional collection in 15 years, based on 18th-century cherry furniture hybridized with Gothic details like arched detailing and clover posts.

The most appealing of the traditional introductions was Going Home, a line of furniture for boys designed by Betsy Cameron for Lexington.

"I'm big into the romantic and practical," said the designer, known for her work as a model in the '70s and then as a children's photographer.

Nostalgic and comfortable, this was adult furniture on a slightly smaller scale -- not kiddie furniture. It was just right for homes with small rooms or apartments. Although designed for the bedroom and home office, the clean-lined oak hutches, dressers and desks could be used almost anywhere in the house.

To keep buyers from being scared off by too-formal furniture, manufacturers showed their 18th century-inspired furniture in low-sheen and highly distressed finishes or in a lighter palette. "It's not intimidating," designers and public relations people hastened to explain.

Other contemporary designers like John Mascheroni of Swaim got into the back-to-the past act. His Sheraton-derived sofa with a high back and serpentine front is still very now in feeling.

Probably the most ambitious introduction at this market was Thomasville's 115-piece Renaissance collection. The company

insisted that the line isn't Mediterranean, a star in the '70s, but "southern European," with fruit-wood or white-paint stucco finishes, sunburst logos, stone and glass tops, wrought-iron bases, overly ornate detailing and lots of leather.

Thoroughly eclectic, and not always successfully so, Renaissance is selling that ambiguous product "lifestyle" -- not just furniture but furniture that says you live like a certain culture.

Likewise, a group of companies was selling the New Orleans lifestyle, with a licensed collection of English and French 18th and 19th century reproductions as well as adaptations of Louisiana-made Creole furniture.

Black consumers -- a traditionally neglected market -- were courted with another licensing program, the Duma Collection from Heritage, inspired by designs from New York's Museum for African Art. The leather furniture, tables, area rugs, decorative pillows and other accessories were spread out over 14 different showrooms.

Even though the past reigned supreme, there were plenty of other trends to be spotted at the spring market:

The new neutral was red -- a deep, rich red with plenty of brown in it. Whether you call it rust or russet or blood orange, it was everywhere in showrooms and it went with just about everything. Continuing to be important was green, particularly a silvery green and a rich bronzy green with a metallic shimmer, often in silk or damask.

Prints were leafy: Foliage of all sorts from ferns to grapevine leaves appeared in tapestry prints, on linen, on stone-washed cottons. They had a homey country feel or were quite elegant.

Diamonds were everybody's best friend, the pattern of note in fabrics and a frequent motif on wood furniture.

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