Furniture caters to tight money, small space

Dwindling space in homes, inflation, and tight family budgets add up to the No. 1 influence in home furnishings, as seen here at the recent Southern Furniture Market.

Middle-and money, rising expectations, and sometimes dual incomes to spend, constitute the No. 2 influence.

Both kinds of consumer are demanding more value, higher quality, and more style at prices they can afford.

Although prices of fabrics, steel, wood, foam filling, and labor are rising rapidly, manufacturers showing in North Carolina this spring say they are aiming to keep wholesale price advances between 5 and 12 percent. Many have absorbed some advancing costs. All are refining every technology they know in an attempt to hold prices down. They admit that the $299 sofa of several years ago has become the $399 sofa today, and the $399 sofas are becoming fewer as $499 models become more plentiful.

From a style standpoint, this market underlined several continuing trends. The first is a revival on a rather grand scale of 18th-century traditional styles, many of them made in mahogany and strongly reminiscent of colonial Williamsburg. These groups are for those who want a look of substance and quiet elegance. The forms are familiar and firmly grounded in the country's past. For many they may have "roots" or nostalgia appeal, and they represent security and enduring beauty.

Three lines serve to illustrate the traditionalist trend. Hickory Chair Company's exquisite new additions to its James River Plantations collection include authentic, reproductions of antiques from Shirley, Sherwood Forest, and Tuckahoe plantations of Virginia. They are made in mahogany and are a blending of Hepplewhite, Chippendale, and Queen Anne styles.They make elements of gracious plantation living available to people everywhere.

American Drew's new collection called Venture Oak recalls the styles of furniture made in Newport, R.I., in the late 1700s, while Century's new Claridge Collection combines Queen Anne, Palladian, Chinese, and Georgian influences and would be fit furnishing for a London country home or townhouse in any city of the world.

The second trend stems from America's growing interest in China and the Orient in general. Baker Furniture Company's new East '80s group of living room , dining room, and bedroom pieces present the simple and classic Chinese furniture pieces made in the 18th and 19th centuries in the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties.This collection is a real tour de force of research, travel in China, and Baker craftsmanship. It was a highlight of the Southern market and will probably be a trendsetter for the decade of the 1980s

The third trend involves the steady growth of good contemporary styles. Many of these are simple in styling and effective in their use of richly grained woods. Many of the self-assembled life-style groups are in plain, clear pine which is refreshing at whatever cost. Butcherblock effects are apparent in many collections as part of the casual, contemporary look.

As for this year's metal look, it is brass, brass, and brass. Its shine is everywhere, in beds, trunks, and as accent and trim in numerous collections. Even James David and Chromcraft, long known for their glistening white chrome, have converted much production to sunny brass finishes.

To meet the challenge of inflation and recession worries, manufacturers are offering more multipurpose pieces. The sleep sofa is probably the No. 1 consumer buy in the country today since it offers a full bed for an extra $125 or so investment over the cost of a stationary sofa. Even some modular seating units convert to sleep use, and multifunctional items are obvious in every showroom.

Don A. Hunziker, president of Sperry & Hutchinson furniture division, says that every customer in 1980 will insist on getting his money's worth and that this produces versatility and multifunction uses for furniture. He says that the symbolic piece of furniture for the '80s could be a traditionally styled armoire that is planned inside to take care of any modern need, from housing an entertainment center to storing linens.

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