Face Value

At High Point, manufacturers line up big names to lure customers to showrooms

October 26, 2003|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

The average American furniture buyer may not recognize companies like Southern, Palecek, Bernhardt, Vaughan and Shady Lady. But Antiques Roadshow, the National Geographic Society, Martha Stewart, NASCAR and Woolrich?

Those are names you know and trust.

Driving brands

The designers of the new NASCAR Collection by Vaughan Furniture toned down the stock car theme for its adult line. Some of the furniture's cherry veneers had a checkerboard pattern that might suggest a checkered flag, but could just as well be a traditional country check. The NASCAR youth furniture had more obvious fan appeal, such as a dresser with a curio display for stock car collectibles. The NASCAR logo appeared inside the grown-up furniture; it was more prominent on the kids' furnishings.

"Vintage," which sounds more comfortable and casual than "antique," was the buzzword for Southern Furniture's new Antiques Roadshow Collection, 25 upholstery pieces linked in design to actual antiques appraised on the popular PBS show.

Woolrich hoped its clean, classic, casual image would translate to furniture with its debut line, Timeless Retreat. The transitional furnishings (that is, not quite contemporary) included upholstery and case goods, which is what the industry calls pieces of furniture like chests of drawers and bookcases, by Lexington, and lighting by Shady Lady.

Forget her legal problems. Martha Stewart knows tasteful home furnishings, and American consumers know she knows. Her first two collections for Bernhardt have done very well. For this market, she introduced Turkey Hill, a handsome 115-piece collection of eclectic case goods and upholstery named after Stewart's farmhouse in Connecticut.

For those who thought La-Z-Boy could never be hip, designer Todd Oldham of MTV fame begs to differ. His introductory collection of contemporary furnishings and accessories for the upholstered furniture giant was geometric, stylish and lots of fun. He used vinyl instead of leather because Gen Y'ers might be uncomfortable with animal hide.

They're young and buying

The Todd Oldham collection was the most visible proof that licensing wasn't the only news at the October market. Contemporary furniture -- simple and very modern looking -- could be found in a range of showrooms at almost every price.

"Many manufacturers are recognizing the strength of twenty- and thirtysomething consumers, folks who are in the acquiring stage of their lives," says Patricia Bowling, director of communications for the Ameri-can Furniture Manufactur-ers Association. "Up until now, they've been interested in ready-to-assemble."

These buyers want something beyond IKEA, but they haven't made any clear decisions about what their style will be. Contem- porary's clean lines allow them to add furnishings in the future without creating too much of a mishmash of styles. Bassett's Echo Collection, for instance, targeted young consumers with trendy new additions called Nitrogen and Oxygen to the original urban chic collection, Carbon.

Other newsmakers at the fall market included:

* Pretty woman. A feminine and very new-looking aesthetic pervaded several collections, such as Century's Annika's Cottage. They featured softer lines, carvings, pastels and a smaller scale. Even pink made an appearance.

* Tropicana. Casual was once again important, and tropical materials like bamboo, woven wicker and sea grass produced a relaxed feel. These pieces work for second homes, beach houses or anyone who likes the island look.

* The L-word. On the countertrend front, some manufacturers were willing to say "luxury" upfront, with its connotations of a more formal lifestyle.

* European lite. Villa Antica from Stanley had a French and Italian heritage but was delicately scaled. Other collections featured pared down or more clean-lined versions of traditional European furniture.

* X-games. In recent years, outdoor living rooms have gotten more and more elaborate. Some of the high-performance fabrics used are so beautiful and durable they are being brought indoors. Thomasville's Extreme Fabrics Program, suede-soft and extremely rugged, is a prime example.

* Color me ... colorful. Whatever happened to safe neutrals? Bassett, for instance, offered 25 colors of microsuede.

* Showstopper. French Heritage introduced the Office-in-a-Bed, which redefines multifunctional. Built of solid cherry, it had multiple storage and work areas within easy reach of the slugabed.

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