Real Furniture Has Curves

Tired of all the minimalism, designers are taking inspiration from feminine form, fashion

February 25, 2007|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Reporter

IT'S A HOME DESIGN TREND THAT has legs. Curvy legs.

Feminine styling -- curvaceous contours, slimmer silhouettes and dressmaker details -- has taken wholesale furniture buyers by storm in the past year or two. These are the graceful pieces Maryland shoppers are now finding in local retail showrooms.

Eyes accustomed to minimalist pieces and chunky chairs-and-a-half designed for McMansions (both of which looks are still around) will see plenty on furniture store floors to appeal to their softer side.

At the same time a whole range of home furnishings designers who happen to be women have appeared on the scene -- from Victoria Hagen for Target to Barbara Barry for the high-end furniture company Henredon. Fashion designers like Jessica McClintock and TV series hosts like Candice Olson are now designing upholstery and case goods.

Coincidence? We think not.

"It's not a coincidence, but it's not conscious," says Alexa Hampton, a New York interior designer who introduced her first line of furniture for Hickory Chair in 2005.

Even Metropolitan Home, which used to concentrate on interiors that featured pared-down contemporary furnishings, has jumped on the bandwagon.

"Mid-century modern ruled," says Linda O'Keeffe, director of design and architecture for the magazine. "People used to say, 'It looks so Met Home.' We're past that."

A room with a camelback sofa or a sweetly fringed cushion can now make its way onto the magazine's pages. It's the careful way the room is edited that makes it Met Home-worthy, says O'Keeffe, not the style of furniture.

"Mid-century modern [furniture] has been in vogue for so many years now, people are experiencing fatigue," says Hampton. She says she believes people are more than ready to leaven the style with pieces that have curves and flourishes, if only to distinguish their rooms from other interiors.

"The '90s paring-down minimalist look is so pervasive people are looking for a way to insert character," agrees New York-based designer Celerie Kemble, whose home furnishings line is called Celerie for Laneventure. "There's more room for pieces that please, a hunger for something lush and abundant."

Some of it is a return to organic forms such as billowy or petal-like shapes. She points to the revival of Dorothy Draper deco and Hollywood glamour, so we're seeing more faux painting and creams and whites in high-end furniture. "Hard lines are being softened by the grace of deco forms."

Drawing from fashion

The inspiration for much of this more feminine furniture is just what you might expect: fashion runways. Styles have gotten a little more polished and a little more formal, says Margaret Russell, editor-in-chief of Elle Decor. Shapes have more volume, fabrics are more luxurious. A couple of years ago, fashion hardware like big zippers were a craze. Now that's being translated to wonderful handles and other ornate hardware on chests and desks.

Russell believes this more feminine furniture works whether you have a great room to fill or an urban loft.

"Historically, stately homes had small groupings," she points out. "You create different areas [of furnishings] instead of a gigantic sectional. It makes for more interesting spaces."

Not all of these feminine designs are traditional or ornate. Someone like Los Angeles designer Barbara Barry produces unadorned furnishings with simple lines, but her pieces are softer and smaller scaled.

And not all the designers of this more refined furniture are women. Thos. Moser -- a company that started off 35 years ago building Shaker-inspired wood furniture -- just introduced its first line of upholstery. The company describes one dining chair as having graceful proportions and a "narrow waist." David Moser, the designer, says he simply likes curves and organic shapes right now.

Keeping men in mind

The big question is whether more feminine furnishings will appeal to buyers of both sexes. Conventional wisdom, Alexa Hampton points out, says that women shop for looks, while men shop for comfort.

But, she believes. "Men have a tolerance for prettiness. They will go along with it if [the furniture] is comfortable. The best feminine design has to feel comfortable to men."

The popularity of feminine-styled furnishings will continue at the wholesale High Point Market in late March, says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance. Former fashion model turned restaurateur, television host and designer B. Smith has created a line of upholstery for Clayton Marcus. The Jessica McClintock line for C.R. Laine will have new additions, and neoclassic design will take an updated twist with designs by Alexa Hampton for Hickory Chair.

"Its popularity continues," says Hirschhaut. "The industry has realized there's a strong consumer demand for high style."

The feminine side

Here are some of the characteristics of these more feminine looks in furniture, whether they are traditional, transitional or contemporary:


Graceful, refined lines

Slimmer silhouettes

Smaller scale

Dressmaker detailing, such as button-tufting and scalloped skirts

More elegant, polished fabrics

Polished, not weathered, surfaces

Beautiful hardware that functions like jewelry

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