Furniture Manufacturers Smell Recovery

furnituremanuAnd even as exhibitors conceded that March had been a little slow and that the future was questionable, the fact that some of the larger furniture players had just posted better than expected sales was a high point on opening day. In fact, furniture makers such as Furniture Brands International, La-Z-Boy, Bassett, Natuzzi, Hooker and Stanley have all reported sales increases in the past few months. Retail giant Havertys reported the day before High Point opened that its March sales rose 2% compared to year-to-date figures, reaching #42m.

This is evidence that industry analysts are on track in their observations: that Americans will continue to look homeward when it comes to spending disposable income.

Michelle Lamb, founder and chairman of Marketing Directions, which publishes The Trend Curve, notes: `Consumers are decorating in droves. Some are giving a complete facelift to a dated room. Others are reaching for decorative accessories that can provide a quick, easy, relatively inexpensive fix. But in some cases, they are simply decorating as a distraction.’

High Point exhibitors indicated they were ready for retailers who were prepared to write orders, especially those who skipped last October because of travel concerns. And industry analyst Jerry Epperson of Mann, Armistead, and Epperson of Richmond, Virginia, forecast that many retailers will replenish inventories for the coming months. However, he notes that manufacturers in all categories are still conservative about the number of introductions.

Launches tended to lean from one extreme to the other – especially where upholstery was concerned. Many were either familiar Americana or English looks or, at the other end of the spectrum, contemporary and sectional designs. Although lines by American manufacturers such as Pennsylvania House’s American Traditions were nothing new, they do expect to tug at the current consciousness. Designs such as the company’s new Chippendale sofa offers nostalgic charm as well as inviting comfort.

Contemporary styles drew attention. But the emphasis was more modern with a traditional twist. Hickory Chair introduced designs by New York designer Mariette Himes Gomez. Luxury and comfort is Gomez’s signature, and celebrities such as actor Harrison Ford have sought her talents. A focal point in Hickory Chair’s new upholstery is a kidney shaped loveseat with box pleated skirts.

`Her unique vision meshes with the viewpoint we have at Hickory Chair,’ says president Jay Reardon. `We are addressing consumers who seek classic home furnishings with a modern outlook.’

Ron Fiore, director of product development, adds: `We love that juxtaposition. For instance, Gomez has a modern sofa in a formal damask, and wicker chair that’s woven and designed to be very elegant. It’s really about eclectic living… luxury but comfortable.’

Conran by Thayer Coggin is another new piece that marries the old with the new. Designed by Ransom Culler, the piece is reminiscent of a gentleman’s club chair with ottoman, but offers more contemporary lines and dramatic welting that outlines the curvatures of its back and arms.

This new trend dubbed `comfort zone’ or `the new nesting’ is responsible for the boom in sectional designs – primarily in contemporary or transitional in styling. Bassett’s Viewpoints, for instance, allows for a range of choices and configurations in ultra soft fabrics.

Lee Industries’ new leather sectional has an armless sofa, a chaise and an ottoman so that it can be arranged to fit the occasion. Stainless steel legs and biscuit-tufted leather give this modern piece its unique look.

And Carter Furniture’s Max II sectional combines American comfort with European styling in thick back cushions with exposed aluminium legs. This piece is designed so it can `float’ in a room if necessary.

Perhaps the stay at home trend is why ottomans and pouffes were also making their presence known in most spring upholstery collections. People, of course, need a comfortable spot on which to rest their feet. In Flexsteel’s line, designers created the Monaco round, large- scaled ottoman to accompany its popular Monaco sofa. Doubling as a table, the ottoman has welt details and a bullion fringe treatment.

On a more playful note, colour enthusiast Susan Sargent included an ottoman in her new furniture line for Lexington that can be covered in a choice of some 70-plus fabrics in her licensed line by Robert Allen Home.

Upholstery overall either exposed more leg or offered exaggerated pouffed skirts. Tom Staats, general manager of Highland House, indicates that there has been growth in showwood upholstery in the higher end arena for the past few years. `The trend to more and more exposed wood has turned out to be a good thing,’ he says. The pieces function `as pieces of jewellery in the home’. In fact, in the company’s Harrods collection, the number-one selling sofa continues to be a design featuring an exposed wood frame.

Upholstery manufacturers point out that, although they are offering a range of both exposed legs and skirted looks, retailers are more readily asking for the exposed leg designs to fill their showroom floors.

Without a doubt reds, plums, and blues dominated upholstery. According to Lamb, purples in pale and deep values were on hand and reds led the way in all possible variations. Cherry Whitener, vice president, fashion merchandising for Clayton Marcus says: `Red is retailing well, and people are very comfortable with it.’

Fiore adds: `Plus, we are concentrating on other calming, restful fabrics such as faded, vintage linens, upper end boucles, ottoman weaves, damasks with weave interest, and formal awning stripes. There is a lot of playing around with different constructions and textures, with subtle colour mixing such as mushroom with celadon. Our fabrics this season convey the current ready to wear trends.’ Some mills creating exclusives for Hickory Chair were Valdese, Wearbest, P Kaufmann and Sunbury.

The embroidered look that showed up at fabric exhibitions and in ready to wear a few seasons ago has finally trickled into home furnishings. Everywhere, embroidered pillows, throws, window treatments, and coverlets made statements.

Lorie Lippard, design director at William Alan, which sported many embroidered accents in its High Point showroom, says: `The masculinity of leather paired with an embroidered seat or pillows makes for a gorgeous combination.’ Lippard also chose to decorate simplistic, classic designs with piping, velvet trims, tassels, and button tufts as well as pillows accented with tiny mirrors.

`Finished silks and raw silk are good contrasts to leather as well,’ she says.

Whitener, who selects all the fabrics for Clayton Marcus, adds: `Contrasting textures is definitely the theme’. Echoes Fiore: `We showed a lot of contrast… the matte with the shiny, the faded with the crewel.’

And finally, as always, there are those motifs that define the High Point Market. This season it was tropical and wild garden looks. Tropical accents of palm fronds and pineapples dominated at least one piece or one collection in almost every upholstery showroom. And upholstery exhibitors such as Pearson added colour to its showroom with upholstery covered in large linen and cotton poppy print fabrics.

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