KD: Knock-down furniture delivers simplicity and practicality

Some call it ''carry home'' or ''take away'' furniture. Others refer to individual pieces as ''ready to assemble'' or ''kit.'' Or you can simply call it all KD, for knock-down, the type of furnishings shown at the first KDesign exposition held recently in New York.

The exhibition, which represented 153 manufacturers in Europe, Canada, and the United States, exposed several thousand store buyers from around the country , as well as the New York public, to a vast range of cash-and-carry furnishings. Some styles were fresh, innovative, and ultramodern; others were rustic, provincial, Early American, and traditional.

What all the collections had in common was a triumph of technology that ensured quality of manufacture and far less cost to the customer because of cheaper shipping, warehousing, stocking, and delivery expenses. Every piece shown - even hefty office desks, complicated wall systems, and storage beds - could be carted home in a carton and put together by a handy member of the family.

European exhibitors came looking for new markets for this ''ready-to-assemble'' category of furnishings they had been refining and improving for years. It is estimated that KD furnishings now command 30 percent of the retail market in Scandinavian countries, and from 15 to 25 percent in England, West Germany, and France.

Foreign manufacturers also came prepared to share their KD supermarket selling concepts with Americans, including the use of oversized shopping carts and giant bins from which customers may pluck out the cartoned goods they see displayed in room settings.

KD furniture has been around for several years, and some form of it is already available in most US communities. But its progress on the market has been hampered by misconceptions that the furniture is cheap and makeshift, and also by mis-merchandising of it in erstwhile ''life style'' departments and stores.

Most manufacturers say their target customer falls in the 18-to-40 age category and is educated and upwardly mobile. P. Cuchet of Paris, representing VIA, a large French exhibitor, explained, ''This new style of furniture has all the necessary virtues to attract the young. It is light in weight, simplified in conception and appearance, and is a lot less expensive than traditionally made furniture. In France, it is coming more and more.''

Several retailers at the expo noted, however, that the furniture is attractive to people of all ages, particularly those furnishing second homes or vacation houses, and those moving to smaller retirement quarters.

Many of the furniture groups shown sported descriptive titles such as ''form and function,'' ''space multipliers,'' ''combikits,'' ''add-it furniture,'' and ''affordable furniture.'' All offered a multitude of solutions to common storage problems. And most seemed scaled to today's smaller rooms and houses.

Natural pine is the wood that appears most frequently, along with teak, oak, and beech. Plastic laminates are popular, particularly in white. And black, red, and gray lacquer finishes dominated many displays. Tubular metal, painted in bright, primary colors, is a favorite of some KD manufacturers.

Most designs shown answer practical needs. These include every type of piece required for furnishing the rooms of growing children and at-home offices, and for storing hi-fi and video equipment. Component shelving and bookcases are staples of all lines. Cubes and pedestals and serving carts come in a variety of sizes and materials.

Much of the KD seating is light and airy in scale, and quilted covers slide off for easy washing. There is an obvious revival of the butterfly chairs of the 1950s, with their metal frames and canvas slings.

Some marketing experts now see KD furniture as the newest, big trend in the furniture industry. Others say simply that it is a vast potential market, waiting to be fully developed.

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