King Tut again on the rise

Traveling museum exhibit puts a little pharoah into furnishings with Egyptian design trend

October 16, 2005|By CHARLYNE VARKONYI SCHAUB | CHARLYNE VARKONYI SCHAUB,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

King Tut fever has infected the world of design. Get ready for everything from pharaoh heads to sarcophagus storage.

Egyptian has become the motif du jour, inspired by Tutankamum and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, a four-city traveling exhibit.

The boy king may seem an unlikely design muse, but he has proven to be an inspiration since his burial chamber was discovered in 1922. The result back then was a worldwide craze for Egyptian design.

He inspired decor from the grave again in the late 1970s with "The Treasure of Tutankhamun" exhibit.

And now he promises to do it again. Savvy buyers - from specialty stores to discount home furnishings retailers - have recognized that King Tut's return to the museum circuit could mean a new epidemic of pharaoh fever. The exhibit opened in Los Angeles on June 16 and closes Nov. 15. It then will travel to the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art in December, to Chicago in May 2006 and to Philadelphia in February 2007.

Michele Lamb, trend guru and publisher of The Trend Curve newsletter, agrees that the King Tut exhibit is a likely muse.

"We had decorative accessories and poster art the first time," Lamb said in a telephone interview. "There was a lot of King Tut paraphernalia, but back then we were a consumer society and not interested in a global point of view. People were not that well traveled. Things have changed. Now I can see King Tut as part of the design mix. I think it will connect with the global design as an accent piece with pieces from Asia and other countries."

Accessories are what the folks at HomeGoods are betting on with a variety of items, including statues of Anubis, the god of death with the body of a man and the head of a jackal-like animal; Nefertiti, the ancient Egyptian queen; as well as statues of pharaohs and cats. Many of the items are inexpensive, ranging from $9.99 to $29.99.

"When King Tut came to Los Angeles and our buyer saw that is one of the most sold-out exhibits, we identified that it was going to be as popular [as] or more so than when the exhibit came in the 1970s," Robyn Arvedon, manager of public relations for HomeGoods, said in a telephone interview.

Although shopping at HomeGoods can be hit or miss for specific items, Arvedon said the national chain will continue to make the Egyptian items available if demand holds. (There are several HomeGoods stores in Central Maryland.)

For those folks who think the Egyptian craze will be more than a fling, there's the 74-inch sarcophagus with bookshelves that sells for $599 at the Ashley Furniture Home Store at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise, Fla.

One of the largest selections of Egyptian design was at Global Imports in Delray Beach, Fla. There's everything from a pharaoh bar with two bar stools ($1,149) to sandstone relief of Egyptian hieroglyphics ($195 for one 3 1/2 -by-5 1/2 feet). Shoppers can also order by catalog.

Twice a year, Global Imports has auctions, and in June, Egyptian was the featured motif. Interestingly, owner Matt Eouse said he wasn't aware of the coming Tut exhibit. Egyptian items have been a part of his product mix for five years.

"I sell one or two pieces a week," Eouse said. "I think people are surprised when they come in and see it. The bulk of the items are sold for game rooms."

Why are some exhibits, like King Tut, fuel for trends and others aren't?

"What works with King Tut is it's something that has really got a distinct style of its own, but at the same time it is adaptable to domestic home," Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, said in a telephone interview. "Some people find a real beauty and elegance in its distinction. Let's face it, those people had a real sense of style."

People also want to take a profound experience and bring it back to their daily life, something Thompson calls the "souvenir phenomenon."

Or it also may be part of what he dubs the "show-off phenomenon."

"When you've got an African tribal mask hanging on the wall or a Polynesian carving in the entryway, it says, `I have been to places that you have not,' " he said. "It also says, `I have tastes beyond the Wal-Mart seascape.' It's a status symbol that shows how well-traveled and expensive your tastes are."

Expensive or affordable, King Tut promises to inspire us. Now where are you going to put that sarcophagus?

Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

For more information:

HomeGoods: For a list of retailers, see homegoods.com

Tut Exhibit Web sites: KingTut.org or moafl.org

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