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Fall high point market: new designs give romance a whirl: European romance combined with American retro to give new looks to residential furniture.

The sun was shining, fall flowers were blooming and inside the showrooms at the Oct. 20-26 International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, NC, romantic designs were making a comeback.

Italian, French and Hispanic influences--relaxed "country" as opposed to more formal designs--were all over the place, with Italian the predominating style. Among the Italian themes, tops was Tuscany, a region on Italy's west coast and the site of the 2003 movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun."

Hammary offers Tuscany-inspired Siena, a collection of 32 living, dining and bedroom pieces. Thomasville has the 36-piece Hills of Tuscany, with bedroom, dining, occasional and entertainment pieces based on Tuscan antiques. Other notables include: Hickory White's Italian Country; Pulaski's Terracina Collection, named for one of Italy's oldest cities; and Sligh's offering of a modular home office in updated 19th-century Italian style.

Century salutes Tuscany with its Caperana Collection, named for a Tuscan town on the Tyrrhenian Sea. In the Caperana Collection of bedroom, dining and occasional pieces, the flowing curves of a drawer chest are echoed by the double arch in an accompanying mirror. Stone, iron and even copper add distinctive touches to the predominantly maple collection, which is hand-distressed and available in nine different finishes.

European Influences

Italy was not responsible for all the curves, twists and intricacies of design at the market. Country French antiques inspired Stanley's Chanticleer, a moderately scaled collection of bedroom, dining, home office, entertainment and occasional pieces. Named for the proud rooster in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," Chanticleer, features ornate hardware and decorative carving, including rooster medallions, and finishes dubbed Foreign Legion Red, Bastille Black and French regimental stripes.

At Pulaski, the popular Hispanic-influenced Casa Cristina Line was extended with a new 74-piece "Urbana" Collection. The line is named for Cristina Saralegui, who hosts Univision's top-rated talk show and has been named one of the most influential Hispanics in the United States. The line is a combination of two influences: Old World European style and the 20th-century lifestyle of Saralegui.

Saralegui, feted at a reception by Pulaski, was one of two media stars to appear at the market. Bernhardt Furniture also hosted a reception and dinner for TV homemaking queen Martha Stewart, its collaborator on four collections.

Retro Returns

Stewart, released in March from an insider-trading prison sentence, seemed relaxed and upbeat as she unveiled the new Opal Point Collection from Bernhardt's line of Martha Stewart Signature Furniture. The 52-piece collection draws design features from the first half of the 20th century and reflects a West Coast influence.

It is classic in a different way from the more lush Italian and French styles. Simpler and more severe, it nevertheless has curves and unexpected touches. A softly rounded headboard and footboard, for example, are based on one of Stewart's own beds.

Opal Point was not the only collection with a retro feel. The Art Deco of the 1920s and 1930s inspired both Hammary's Deco Collection, part of its National Trust Design in America Line, and Riverside's Majorca, a showcase for wood grain patterns.

Thomasville came out with Bogart Luxe, a 50-piece collection of bedroom, dining, occasional and entertainment pieces that is a sequel to its Humphrey Bogart Collection. Rosewood veneers, silver leafing and platinum-toned metal hardware and trim recreate the luxurious look associated with 1930s and 1940s Hollywood.

Hooker Furniture took a broader look at America's past in its Modern Classics, pieces that Marketing Communications Vice President Kim Shaver said can fit with many different styles. Made of birch solids with cherry and ash burl veneers, the collection includes a pier wall bed with lighted headboard, a style popular in the 1970s and 1980s, and an etagere/room divider reminiscent of ranch-style homes of the 1950s and 1960s. With partitions removed, the etagere converts to an entertainment center for 36- and 50-inch TVs, Shaver said, and the piece's room-divider role works well in loft living.

"Many consumers are looking for furniture that has the familiar elements they grew up with, but want an updated look for their homes," said Tom Lentz, Broyhill Furniture vice president, of Broyhill's American Era. Made from cherry veneers and wormy maple solids, with a cherry finish and polished pewter hardware, the collection stresses casual comfort.

Where Did Bamboo Go?

Asian and island-themed styles, mainstays of several past markets, were largely missing. But this market marked the return of large-scale furniture designed for the wave of "McMansions" springing up around the United States. Whereas recent markets catered to young buyers and their limited living space and budgets, several companies showing this October clearly had their better-heeled elders in mind.

"We pay close attention to housing and lifestyle trends, and we feel strongly about meeting the unique needs of this niche," said Edward M. Tashjian, vice president of marketing for Century Furniture. Marisol, some 20 bedroom, dining and occasional pieces, is the result. "Scale means much more than size," said Tashjian. "Legs, mouldings, finials and hardware must be proportioned to look right in these spectacular rooms."

Hooker's heavily decorated and inlaid Chateau Marquette Collection, with Moroccan, Spanish and Southwestern U.S. influences, also has generous proportions. At Bassett, Grand Estate is the largest-scaled collection the company has introduced in its 103 years, said Jay S. Moore, director of public relations and research. Posts on one bed are more than 7 feet tall.

Even in the more moderately scaled collections, there were some unusually tall pieces. An emphasis on countertop-height pub or gathering tables at the April market led to more such tables at the October market, and even to tall desks.

Hooker, one of the manufacturers to show the tables at April's market, this time showed a 37 1/2-inch-tall, multi-purpose architect's desk. It is in three home office collections and includes a tall companion desk chair that swivels around so that its occupant can work at a correspondingly tall computer desk surface.

Shedding Some Light

Designers played with interior lighting for cases. In his latest additions to the Todd Oldham by La-Z-Boy Collection, Todd Oldham included hexagonally shaped occasional pedestals that emitted light from the bottom and through a dear top. Stanley showed Glass Menagerie, a three-tiered display cabinet in its Louis Collection, in which each tier is lit separately.

A colorful note was struck by Stanley's Bastille Black and Foreign Legion Red for Chanticleer, and by Flexsteel and Wrangler Home's Hatteras Blue. Wrangler Home uses the medium-shade, slightly distressed finish on a curio cabinet, a side table and a chair-side table. Pulaski had one of the few collections with a light wood finish. The modern-style Soleil uses a caramel finish over figured European quartered ash veneers and white ash burl veneers.

Brands and recognizable names were everywhere, whether the name belonged to a sports star, a designer, or an antiques expert. Bassett Furniture and former NFL star John Elway extended their Elway Home Collection from home entertainment to an entire New American Retreat Collection of bedroom, dining and living room pieces. With its sturdy, outdoorsy look, the collection reflects Elway's fascination with the American West, where he grew up. Saloons and old hardware stores were combed for ideas.

Designer Bob Timberlake's long-time association with Lexington Home Brands resulted in Salt Aire, a globally sourced coastal collection that sells below the usual Timberlake prices.

New Note For Bassett

Bassett stepped out of its usual role as manufacturer of traditional and transitional furniture to introduce its contemporary-styled Mallory Collection by Vladimir Kagan. The company is seeking to appeal to a broader customer base, said Moore. By market time, Bassett Furniture Direct stores numbered 129, with three more expected by the end of the year.

Kagan, whose furniture has graced the homes of luminaries ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Isaac Stern, was at the market greeting visitors, as was Albert Sack, author and authority on American antiques.

The Albert Sack Collection for Hickory Chair, based on antiques chosen by Sack, "demonstrates how timeless America's great creations are," said Sack. A Seymour dining chair design was conceived 200 years ago by Boston craftsman John Seymour, but its simple, classic lines, enhanced by Kingswood inlay, make it seem modern, added Laura Holland, Hickory Chair's director of marketing services.

Sack's father, Israel Sack, also an antiques authority, helped decorative arts collector H.F. du Pont find many of the pieces that now furnish the Winterthur Museum. At this market, Hickory Chair also brought out HF Editions, an addition to its Winterthur Country Estate Collection.

From Elway Winterthur, romantic to retro, there was a lot to choose from at the market. Many pieces were deliberately designed to move from collection to collection, to fit in with whatever pieces a home already has, and in that sense, they reflect a time-honored furniture tradition.

"We haven't made a suite of furniture in five years. There were no suites in antiques," said Holland. "People bought what they loved and mixed them."

That was the trick that had furniture retailers bustling down High Point's streets in October, figuring out what their customers will love and want to mix.

RELATED ARTICLE: Martha, Katrina and Rita leave their mark on market.

Despite a slight decrease in attendance at the October International Home Furnishings Show in High Point, NC--approximately 8 to 10 percent less than typical market attendance of 70,000 to 80,000 people--the overall feeling at the show was very positive.

"Traffic was down a little, but people were buying," said High Point Market Authority President Judy Mendenhall.

The new designs were not the only items that drew retailers' attention at the High Point Market. Three of 2005's top newsmakers--homemaking guru Martha Stewart and hurricanes Katrina and Rita--brushed the market with their considerable influence.

Stewart, fresh from an insider-trading prison sentence and the debut of her "The Apprentice" TV show, got a warm welcome from her furniture-making partner Bernhardt Furniture. At a showroom reception introducing their fourth collaboration, Bernhardt Chairman Alex Bernhardt introduced her as "a business partner but, more than that, my friend."

Bernhardt also expressed pleasure in his company's association with the media maven. 'The brand [Martha Stewart Signature Furniture with Bernhardt] is magnificent," he said. "Sales are up."

Pre-Holiday Punch

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted shipments at a time when retailers were getting their holiday goods, said market analyst W.W. (Jerry) Epperson Jr. of Mann, Armistead & Epperson, investment bankers in Richmond, VA. One company told him, "They still didn't know where two containers of samples are that were lost during the hurricanes," Epperson said.

But an increase in prices, partially due to hurricane-induced shortages, was the main issue at market. Katrina, the Category 5 hurricane that devastated New Orleans and parts of Mississippi and Alabama in August, was blamed for much of the hike in prices. The hurricane not only disrupted shipping, it helped create a scarcity of chemicals needed to make urathane, contributing to what one supplier called "staggering" price hikes for foam that have been passed along to furniture manufacturers and retailers, and ultimately to consumers.

Don Coleman, president and CEO of components supplier Hickory Springs Manufacturing Co, in Hickory, NC, told a press breakfast audience that a variety of factors, including both hurricanes, had raised prices of materials to the point that suppliers could no longer absorb them. Hickory Springs makes everything from motion mechanisms to springs and foam.

"It's both a supply problem and a logistics problem," Coleman said. An appetite for steel in the Far East more than doubled scrap steel prices over last year, and the price of wood has gone up in part because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita he added. However, Coleman said he believes the situation "will improve."

Epperson also said he expects residential furniture's fortunes to look up in 2006, considering the rebuilding following the hurricanes. "Hurricanes and tornadoes are real good for furniture," he said.--Hannah Miller
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Title Annotation:DESIGN LINES
Author:Miller, Hannah
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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