Bring it home and blow it up Furniture: The popularity of inflatable chairs and sofas is ballooning.

May 24, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

It's so cool it's hot! It's puffy! It's futuristic! It's retro Day-Glo! It's . . . well, you get the idea.

Inflatable furniture made from heavy-duty PVC vinyl is simply the most fun inexpensive furniture on the market right now. If the Pillsbury Dough Boy were a chair, he'd look like this.

You can buy a roly-poly, tangerine-orange or midnight-blue sofa for $60 or $70. When you get tired of having it in your living room, hey - take it to the swimming pool. It floats.

As long as you don't have a cat with sharp claws or a careless smoker in your family, you're OK. You might be OK anyway. Inflatables come with patch kits.

Don't look for blowup furniture where your mother bought her sofa. It's sold in retail chains that cater to teens (like Claire's Boutiques and Contempo), music stores, mail-order catalogs and a number of Web sites. Air chairs cost under $50; inflatable tulips - a hugely popular accessory, for some reason - are around $5.

"Our inflatable furniture sells great," says Heather Creason, manager of Claire's, an accessory shop in Towson Town Center. have people jumping up and down on it all day."

Nouveau Contemporary Goods, the Baltimore store that specializes in retro chic home furnishings, was a bit ahead of its time last year when it introduced an upscale version of inflatable household items.

"They bombed. They just didn't sell," says owner Steve Appel.

So who would have thought that the local bubble-gum set would embrace inflatables?

Actually these marshmallow-looking chairs and sofas appeal not only to youngsters but to college students in dorm rooms, anyone who moves a lot and those who enjoy a little quirkiness in their lives. You can carry a whole living room in the trunk of your car. A deflated chair is about the size of a large book, one that weighs a quarter of a pound. Blow it up with a foot pump that sells for $6 (or your bicycle pump), and it can hold a 300-pound man.

"Inflatables really took off about 18 months ago," says Kenneth ,, Tawil at Nuvo, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of blowup furniture and household items. Why? "There's a very high 'oooh' factor. You want to interact with it when you see it."

Most of today's customers probably don't realize they're taking part in a '60s-pop revival when they buy these brightly colored blowups.

"Their portability and purity worked very well with the '60s rebellion against what mom and dad had, so they appealed to the Woodstock generation," says James Abbott, curator of decorative arts at the Baltimore Museum of Art. "But because of NASA and the space age, the 2001 minimalist approach to decorating, they were also popular with the mainstream."

That's the past. The future is at IKEA - or will be this fall. The Swedish home-furnishings company is planning to introduce its IKEA a.i.r. line of inflatables here. (The initials stand for "air is a resource," according to public-relations manager Marty Marsten.)

IKEA's version of blowup furniture, already available in Europe, is constructed of individual cells inside a colorful slipcover.

"That way the whole thing won't deflate if you sit on it with a nail in your pocket and puncture one cell," says Marsten.

INFLATABLES ON LINE

An easy way to buy inflatable home furnishings - or at least to get an idea of what's out there - is through the Internet. Here are some sites worth visiting:

* www.bubblefurniture.com

* www.flipo.com

* www.inflatearoom.com

* www.neverpayretail.com

Blowup furnishings even have their own exhibition on the Internet. "Just Add Air: A Thirty Year Chronology of Inflatable Design, 1967-1997" can be found at the www.retromodern.com site.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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