Brass bed business booms

Brass beds are back big, very big. This year they are being made by the thousands to enhance "country" interiors, Victorian settings, and restored houses of every vintage. And despite their nostalgic yesteryear type of charm, they are placed, as well, in ultramodern rooms to serve as bold contrast to sleekness.

The brass bed industry is expecting to do a $60 million business in 1980, and according to John and Bella Ross, a husband and wife team who are president and vice-president of J. B. Ross Brass Classics of New Brunswick, N.J., no end to the current popularity wave is in sight. Which is just as well since they have geared up to manufacture genuine brass desks and tables as well as an array of brass beds.

These range from plain to fancy and are sold across the US as well as in England and Europe. That is, they agree, rather like taking coals to Newcastle, since it was two 19th- century brass beds from England that launched them in business.

He had been a lawyer in London, and she was a visiting American teacher when they met and married. They shared a love for antiques and fine craftsmanship, and she, particularly, began to spend her free time in England researching and shopping for antiques.

They came to the US to establish a small antiques shop in one of her father's unused chicken coops in South Brunswick, N.J., and to import fine English antiques. When their first shipment arrived, it included, by fluke, the two antique brass beds, which sold immediately and created a clamor for more.

The couple brought in all they could find, and then one of their dealers inquired if they couldn't manufacture brass beds in the Us that would match the quality of their imports. John Ross, who had long done metal work as a hobby, decided to try, and by assembling a few other craftsmen, was soon able to begin a small scale production in the opposite end of the chicken coop from his wife's antique shop.

In 1975 they moved into their present factory, which now covers 44,500 square feet, and began to make the authentic reproductions of period brass beds and the adaptations and contemporary designs which Bella Ross has added each year. These include brass beds with both painted porcelain and enamel decoration or finials. He overseas production and business management; she handles design and promotion.

Their beds retail from $399 to $2,500, although the most popular model sells for $1,266. Regional style preferences vary considerably with the more robust and ornate versions most in demand on the West Coast and the simpler and somewhat more delicate models in vogue on the East Coast.

The couple's other joint project right now is the renovation and decoration of a big Regency-style brick house which they purchased nine months ago in Princeton, N.J. They are now selecting brass bed models for almost every room in the house, including the bedrooms of their two sons, ages two and seven. The plan an electric mixture of furnishings that will include at least four or five of their brass beds, and a blend of antiques and modern seating pieces as well. Brass, they say, harmonizes with all furniture styles.

Brass, whether yellow and mellow or bright and shiny, is by far the single most popular metal used in furniture today. It is considered far warmer and less stark than either chrome or steel. Brass beds, Bella Ross point out, were first introduced in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London, and they reached their zenith in Europe in the late 1870s. As they were losing strength on the Continent around 1895, they were introduced in the United States and remained in fashion until about 1919, or just after World War I.

Antique brass beds are today fetching phenomenal prices since their rarity and their value have now been recognized.

Today's new brass beds have one important difference. Most, like those made by the Rosses, have a baked epoxy finish, which can last a lifetime without repolishing, providing no harsh chemical cleansers are used, and they are simply dusted with a dry soft cloth.

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