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Romancing the consumer.

ROMANCING THE CONSUMER

Introductions at the October furniture market in High Point, N.C., are designed to appeal to New Age consumers. Retailers will be stocking "instant lifestyles" to accommodate customers' changing priorities.

Joseph Ruggiero has a message for the furniture industry. Times are changing, manufacturers best change with them.

Speaking candidly during the International Home Furnishings Market, Ruggiero, former creative director for Ethan Allen and now an award-winning design consultant with multiple roles in radio, television and publishing, said, "The wonderful mystique of handcrafted furniture, the old gentleman hand rubbing a beautiful highboy - we can no longer live with that. If we're in a mass production business we have to take advantage of the wonderful technology out there. If we don't, the Japanese will beat us to it.

"Consumers are seeking a style or a look," Ruggiero added. "They are excited by design, scale, finishes, but I don't believe they can discern what is done by hand and what is done by machine. If it looks good, they'll be interested. We have a responsibility to the consumer to take advantage of the new technology, to make our product affordable."

What else is the consumer looking for in furniture? Ruggiero's list was topped by:

* Affordability,

* Comfort,

* Transitional designs that can mix with styles from traditional to contemporary, and

* Smart marketing.

Marketing should include design help, which consumers are desperate for, but afraid of, he added. "They are concerned that if they ask for design help, they will just be sold furniture instead of being helped."

The furniture industry is sleeping when it comes to marketing, Ruggiero added. The industry could take merchandising lessons from the casual clothing retailer, The Gap, for creating an image of value, price and style consciousness. Ruggiero and fellow panelists Robert Sonneman of Sonneman Design Group and artist Bob Timberlake, whose namesake collection is produced by Lexington Furniture, said consumers are confused when offered too many choices. "Like a good wardrobe, furnishing a home should start with basics, then mix and match - the separates concept."

An easy word for eclecticism

"Separates" is just another way of saying eclectic, which continues to be an industry directive. Lineage, a new Masco Home Furnishings company, calls its 28

separates "Signature Pieces" and has developed a story about each. The Laurel Wreathe bed, Eliza Leslie's baker's credenza, Winston Churchill's campaign chest and the Nancy French table are examples. The company has taken a cue from antiques dealers who supply documentation for valuable pieces. Each Signature Piece bears a tag with a bit of "background" designed to romance consumers and perhaps enchant them into thinking they are acquiring a piece of history, if not someone else's family heirloom. History is definitely marketable.

Changes in the wind

When the 1980s ended, seemingly so did its excesses, self-indulgence and lavish spending on luxuries. Fresh winds are blowing; new brooms are sweeping clean. The '90s are emerging as the warm-and-fuzzy decade - cozy, comfortable, caring and still cocooning.

If you believe the designers, media moguls and public relations persons who come to High Point for the twice-yearly market, the American consumer has just been waiting for life to slow down, to simplify, before buying new furniture. "It's okay now," these folks-in-the-know are saying. "It is easy to select furniture." Suddenly, home decorating is laid back. "Don't fret about which fabric goes with what or about periods, styles, finishes or wood species. Nothing is supposed to match anyway. Let your rooms reflect your personality and lifestyle."

Weekend Retreat, Lexington Furniture Industries' third major introduction in three years, is designed to "capture the spirit of today's consumer who wants to slow down, simplify and get away," according to Jeff Young, COO. Kissing cousins to the World of Bob Timberlake introduced last year, the understated, cottage-style case goods look as if they had been brought down from the attic and renewed with a coat of paint. Round wood drawer knobs used in place of decorative hardware add to the second-hand effect. Headboards seem to have started out as something else and been recycled. One has the uprights and crosspieces of a picket-fence gate. Another might have been a pair of louvered window shutters.

Aged by the artist

Lexington is only one of many manufacturers that continue to show attractive, rustic, painted case goods. The America Collection, the Lane Co.'s collaboration with the Museum of American Folk Art, is 10 years old. Lane has updated the collection with its hand-painted, limited edition Collector's Series that will add instant heritage to any home. Only 150 copies will be made of each dry sink, armoire, secretary, chest-on-chest and table desk. Milk and lime finishes and walnut dyes contribute to the aged look, explained Bonnie Peterson, spokesperson, who pointed out that even the interiors look like they were refinished.

Custom milk paint finishes distinguish the hand-cut, hand-fitted and hand-finished 1770 reproductions introduced at this market by Simply Southern. The solid pine case goods are artist weathered and aged. Drawers are of 3/4-inch stock and made with lap joinery.

Hickory Chair has added several paint finishes to its American Digest collection introduced in April. Eight colors and wood/color combinations are offered. New also is a cherry-finished island/table.

Think Shaker

Over-eager companies are indiscriminately tagging everything Arts and Crafts, Mission-like and Shaker-inspired in their efforts to get on the American heritage bandwagon. Thus you may see a "Stickley" table with a soft edge or a "Shaker" bureau with ornamental details and a triple mirror. They just don't get it. Simple elements and harmonious proportions are what make Shaker and Mission furniture beautiful.

Simply Shaker in solid maple by Virginia House is one of the better collections. It is faithful to Shaker precepts of designing with care and sensitivity to line and form, fulfilling function without embellishment. Ladderback chairs have steam bendings, for which the company is well-known, rush seats and comfortable back angle.

Forging ahead, Robert Sonneman said his Urban Primitives Collection for Stanley Furniture is "rooted in the craft movement of the early 1900s, with a New Age aesthetic. It is straight forward, deriving its appeal from the execution of function, not ornamentation," he added.

Urban Primitives includes nearly 60 bedroom, dining room and occasional pieces in red oak with oak veneers, walnut inlays, bronze hardware and weathered bronze or steel used heavily for accent. Metal supports have an asymmetric grid of straight lines interrupted with a single curve or a circle. Sonneman also introduced a "sleigh" bed in disc-finished bronze. The head and footboards and side supports feature the thematic grid and circle.

Other stars

Metal was prominent at this market, either used as the only material in beds, tables and chairs, or integrated with wood. Baker Furniture's Mastercraft line includes a lacquer-finished art deco chest with drawer fronts and top insets of hand-colored and patterned brass. Hand-wrought iron forms the rococo-style base of a pine-topped table from Baker's Provence collection, which also uses steel for accent.

In its first time at the market, Long Island Woodworking received a strong reception, said Ninon Trudel. Mock fluted pilasters, raised panel inlays and pediment details speak of the company's architectural millwork background. Designer Charles Monaco Jr. offered high-end contemporary and transitional neoclassic designs in domestic and Japanese ash veneers, mica, polyester, lacquer and a sandblasted finish that shows off the wood grain. A blanket chest is lined with bird's-eye maple or cedar. Drawers are full extension, finger pull door openers are hidden behind mouldings and TV turntables are on ball bearings. A dining room table is extended by pulling out the ribbed moulding and inserting the leaves. The table itself is not cut.

Home theaters

That recurring edict "Less is more" is back in force, not as a design trend, but as a value judgment on consumerism. Lifestyle prognosticators see Americans trying to exit the fast track and enjoy the simple life. "Status symbols are out," we are told.

Manufacturers, however, are hoping consumers have second thoughts about cutting up their credit cards when they see the new home theaters. Thomasville, in partnership with Phillips Electronics, introduced a total, prewired state-of-the-art system, including installation, that will retail for about $10,000.

The system features Dolby Pro-logic "surround sound" and includes a 52-inch rear projection television that is only 22 inches deep. The components are housed in three free-standing cabinets that occupy about 8 1/2 feet of wall space. Cabinets are available in four styles, traditional Fisher Park, New American Oak, Collector's Cherry and contemporary Scenario.

Hooker Furniture, a leader in entertainment centers, is offering a new set of case goods to accommodate large screen televisions and increased storage, using consumers' components. Styling is Hooker's transitional Baystone in white oak with a clear matte finish or washed oak. Traditional cherry and oak designs are on the drawing board.

Henredon's home theater design from its American Artisan collection was 18 months in development. One version is a credenza and glass-top coffee table/campaign chest which provide front-projection TV. An 80-inch diagonal motorized screen rises from the credenza and a motorized lift in the chest accesses the LCD front video projector. Paul Rosebrock, director of design, said the system offers consumers the flexibility to assemble a piece at a time, upgrading as necessary. The furniture is freestanding and does not require extensive installation.

LINEAGE MISSION IS MARKETING LIFESTYLES

Masco Home Furnishings Div. is betting millions that consumers are more interested in "lifestyles" than furniture styles. Before launching its newest division, Lineage Home Furnishings, extensive research was done to see if a lifestyle marketing concept would fly. Lineage president Tom Tilley says it will.

The company is already looking at a global market. By Dec. 31, 24 pavilions will be installed across the United States, in Ottawa, Canada, and in Japan. Another will be in Saudi Arabia. The goal is to locate with the leading retailer in each of 212 ADIs (areas of dominant influence), Tilley said.

"Dealers will have exclusive distributorships, affording them the opportunity to make a profit and survive. It is a totally thought-out company for the '90s," he added.

Some 500 pieces are available to be used eclectically throughout pavilions, which are Lineage's response to gallery-style merchandising. Consumers find galleries confusing, Tilley said. "The Lineage marketing approach is fresh and addresses the consumer in a fashion-forward kind of way."

Playing to a lifestyle

The difference between galleries and pavilions lies in a philosophical approach, Tilley said. Where a gallery is designed to showcase collections with a series of vignettes emphasizing suites, the pavilion creates an environment that plays to the (real or aspired-to) lifestyle of the consumer. Gracious Living (formal, stately), Casual Living (relaxed) and Special Places (design-oriented, adventuresome) are categories representing the way people live, or would like to.

A retailer pavilion is set up in a carefully prescribed manner that includes wall color, accessories, background music and even scent. Lineage representatives educate sales staff on the merchandising philosophy as well as on construction, veneer, hardware and upholstery.

Critics have said there is nothing innovative about the furniture. But the company believes the diversity of its nine collections and 28 Signature Pieces is timely and well-suited to its marketing objectives.

JIT and CNC

Some of the Lineage collections are produced in a JIT computerized plant in Spruce Pine, N.C., which Tilley calls the first world class manufacturing facility for medium to upper-end furniture. Equipment was installed a year ago, and products started coming off the line in February.

The plant has linked-process manufacturing and a state-of-the-art finishing system that can handle four colors at a time. As few as 25 pieces can be produced efficiently, and the system is said to be particularly effective in running Lineage's eclectic mix.

"We maintain a minimum inventory with maximum ability to respond to consumer demand," Tilley aid. Upholstered goods can be delivered in 10 working days, wood case goods in 30 days and remaining pieces in 45 days.

Other pieces are sourced from Maitland-Smith in the Philippines; from the Drexel, N.C., plant; and from Lexington's facility in Mocksville, N.C. In addition, the company has a deluxe, 30,000-square-foot showroom in High Point, with 20,000 square feet of office space above and a 220,000-square-foot distribution center.

ETHAN ALLEN

CHANGES IMAGE

Ethan Allen was back at the market after an absence of eight years, in a low-key presentation at a High Point hotel planned more to recruit new dealers than to sell products. The company displayed a few pieces from its solid cherry American Impressions line "for the consumer with a contemporary attitude," said Catherine Wilkinson, public relations manager. "Ethan Allen is changing its image from Early American/Traditional," she said. Thirty pieces are available in the updated Mission/Shaker look. Finishes are cherry, satin black and linen white.

PHOTO : Can self-denial and self-indulgence go hand-in-hand into the New Age? They can if you sell your car to raise the cash for a new home theater. Thomasville offers a total, pre-wired, state-of-the-art system that will retail for about $10,000.

PHOTO : Hickory Chair's cherry-finished island/table is offered with a butcher-block or Corian top, pull-out cutting board, cutlery drawers and book shelves on the opposite side.

PHOTO : Lane's Western New York state secretary reflects the Swiss/German design heritage of the region during the early 1800s.

PHOTO : The concave sides are lacquer finished and the drawer fronts are hand-colored and patterned brass in an art deco graduated drawer chest from Baker Furniture's Mastercraft series.

PHOTO : Bold lines and mixed materials were used by Robert Sonneman in this three-legged console table and mirror, part of his Urban Primitives collection for Stanley. The collection integrates Prairie and Mission idioms.

PHOTO : Lexington's Weekend Retreat is designed to "capture the spirit of today's consumer who wants to slow down." Painted finishes are a hallmark of the bedroom collection.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article; new furniture designs for consumers
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Words:2306
Previous Article:Points of Light shine brightly at White House.
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