Furniture makers unveil new designs, but will they have

Trendsetters: Furniture makers unveil new designs, but will they have

Bradford McKee New York Times News Service

HIGH POINT, N.C. — Among the infinite variety of new furniture at the fall International Home Furnishings Market, which closed here Oct. 20, there are signs that, in terms of taste, the rich are getting poorer. There are also reasons to think that discerning consumers can get what they pay for — in the best sense, that is.

Throughout entire floors of the 11.5 million square feet of showrooms here, where the American and, increasingly, the foreign furniture industries trot out their latest looks twice a year to buyers and dealers, there is often greater evidence of money than sense. Furniture that would not seem to sell itself is given to gimmicks, particularly the many one-off celebrity licensing deals, to help move it along.

For example, Bassett Furniture ( unveiled chunky reclining couches (starting at $1,955) and sectionals and chairs under the imprimatur of John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Denver Broncos, and a litter of Elway-approved home-theater options for armchair athletes.

“Two years ago I didn’t think about furniture, but now it’s a lifestyle,” Elway said at Bassett’s publicity party.

Since upper-income consumers began talking themselves into buying ever-larger forms of large-screen televisions, furniture makers are overwhelming the consumers with increasingly clever forms of display – – or disguise. The Cityscape “plasma hideaway console” by Hooker Furniture ( has a remote-control key so viewers can make the screen drop into a hiding place without ever leaving their seats. Were it not for the fancy mechanics inside, the console, with ribbed-glass cabinet doors, would scarcely sell for the suggested $3,499. Yet the company offers higher-end models, too.

Bargains did not abound at this market, unless wood veneers that look almost like vinyl are just your thing, but a hard look turned up a number of finds for middle-market value hawks. (Consumers who quail at furniture prices should know that manufacturers have held their prices remarkably steady, even as costs for fuel and materials have gone up.)

Given the exorbitant prices elsewhere in the market of fairly average-looking pieces, the marriage of good quality at a decent price often came as a shock. The Bernhardt Furniture Co. ( issued 132 pieces in two new lines of wood furniture, called American Anthology and Park West, under its own name, and added 43 items to its existing Martha Stewart Signature collections.

American Anthology, derived from Federal-era cabinetmaker designs, included the extra-high Gathering Table (36 inches high; top expands to 60 inches square, $999) and 22-inch-high leather-covered benches ($725) and side chairs ($699) in a cherry wood finish. Among Bernhardt’s Martha Stewart additions (spare the jokes please) is the wood-framed Merton armchair ($750), shown in blue-gray upholstery with houndstooth stripes of gold and blue. Its straight back recedes in a sleigh profile near the bottom, with subtle bevels along the arms.

The company is planning a big introduction of a new line by Stewart next June, a few months after her scheduled release from prison, said Gael Towey, the creative director of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. It would seem that other furniture makers have started copying Stewart’s quality quotient, having seen how readily consumers have snapped up her goods.

A young Swedish company, Allinwood (, made its first appearance at this market with the austere Settler collection of well-built wood tables, beds and cabinets designed by the founder, Annika Marklund.

“I went to the Northeast and looked at a lot of Shaker villages,” Marklund said. “We look back, but we make something new.” The wafer- thin top and long peglike legs of the Settler dining table ($1,303), available in brown or white, offset the outwardly curving lower legs of its chair ($381), available also in black.

Lighting designs at this market often do not seem to know whether they are looking back or forward. The rainbow array of lamps by Babette Holland Design (, based in Brooklyn, look resolutely ahead. Holland’s Manhattan Twilight line features the Slugger lamp ($400) in iridescent, hand-spun aluminum that looked and felt like glass, grading in hues from charcoal to red to pink.

For a candle-powered alternative, Zodax (, based in Los Angeles, showed a new, delicate set of hurricane lanterns called Carina Capiz ($15 to $45), wrought of translucent capiz shells with antique copper wire in a basket-weave pattern. The design puts faith in the raw material.

Up the price scale a bit, the best new things at Mitchell Gold (, as ever, rely on basic forms with virtue lying in careful proportions rather than embellishment. The Scooter sofa (starts at $2,400) and chair ($1,640) have simple legs dropping onto wheels akin to those of in-line skates in lieu of casters, and the chair has a metal pull on its back.

At the British outdoor furniture company Barlow Tyrie ( standard teak seating yields to a tough but supple mesh called Textilene in the new Equinox collection of chairs ($769) and chaises ($1,499). The sleek frames, wrought in marine-grade stainless steel with hidden wheels, have the slightest teak trim along the sides or arms, and the fabric comes in gold, titanium or black.

Besides all that trim minimalism, one must have some texture, like that of the new Dry Stack lamps from Natural Light, based in Panama City, Fla. The floor lamp, at 69 inches tall ($680), is made of hundreds of bronze-ish cubes of stone. The effect is arresting, like one of Giacometti’s frozen nudes.

At the very high end, the London interior designer Nina Campbell, who released her first line of upholstered furniture in 2003 (, brought over three versatile new wood tables. One is a coffee table with two nesting tables, $5,005 for the set. She also brought one new upholstered chair, the Cornelius, a Napoleon III-era adaptation with a high, rolled back and rolled arms that stand detached from the back ($2,615 plus fabric). Campbell envisions the chair at home in “a sort of low, squashy, comfortable area.”

She showed the chair, also available as a bench ($3,420), in an asymmetric-striped fabric of butterscotch and cream with beaded trim along the bottom. “Obviously you don’t have to do that,” she said. “You could have something more formal or less formal.”

Oscar de la Renta seemed no less timid copying favorite artifacts, especially those of Asian origin, for the 23 new pieces he introduced with Century Furniture (

The Asian influence “was something used a lot in English furniture in the 18th century, like Chippendale, not that I compare myself to Mr. Chippendale,” de la Renta said. Subtlety and craftsmanship carried the collection’s new items, but among his most eye-catching pieces was a chinoiserie bedside chest ($1,800), based on a tray he loves, painted green and then hand-painted exuberantly with magnolia branches, vines, birds and at least one butterfly.

De la Renta admitted, “I am a control freak.” In nearly every detail his controlling hand was evident. More money does not always produce better design, and even when it does, better design takes more than money.

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