Home furnishings; Show features traditional styles, storage, versatility

Choosing new furniture today is serious business. And with advancing prices, it is also expensive business. Yet, as many people spend more time in their homes and less time in their cars, campers, and boats, they are obviously looking for more comfort, function, and good looks. They are insisting on better value and higher quality, on the premise that making sound, long-term investments now may eliminate the need to replace major pieces so often in the years to come.

These facts became clear at the fall Southern Furniture Market in North Carolina, where thousands of manufacturers introduced new collections that will be available in stores in late winter or spring. On the whole, the country's taste in furnishings, as in politics, is going conservative.

Among style trends, 18th-century American traditional is one of the fastest-growing categories. As Jerry Sodders of the Lane Company explained, "When the economy worsens in this country, people always return to traditional roots, to what has endured and is familiar and is both comfortable and comforting.Our new 'Cabinetmaker' group, inspired by Chippendale, is a case in point. It combines fine wood veneers with brass trim in classic pieces that are styled and scaled for today."

American Drew calls its 18th-century masterpiece reproductions its "Grand Inheritance" collection. It is evocative of a past period of gracious living and timeless design. The Baker Company introduced 14 new treasures from some of the most notable houses in Charleston, S.C. as Phase 2 of its Historic Charleston Reproduction program, including an elegant mahogany secretary with walnut burl fall-front desk.

The Hickory Chair Company added three 18th-century wing chairs to its well-established James River Collection of authentic reproductions of furniture found in great Southern homes. These include a copy of a Queen Anne wing chair of about 1760, attributed to the Townsends of Newport, R.I., and a Philadelphia wing chair with cabriole knees and ball-and-claw feet.

Numerous companies introduced traditional camelback sofas, including Kroehler , the mass-production maker, which is also striving now to include such high-fashion dressmaker touches as gathered corners, contrasting welting, and covers that feature border prints at sofa prices in the $500-to-$700 range.

Century, Drexel heritage, American of Martinsville, and Broyhill are a few of the other major companies that have come up with new 18th-century groups at various price levels, and in woods that range from mahogany to cherry, oak, an maple.

In contrast to the tried-and-true virtues of American traditional, two spectacular new modern groups show what companies can do when they pull out all the stops and decide to dazzle customers with virtuosity of means and methods. Designer Ken Volz terms his "Scene 2" for henredon a "once-in-a-decade" group that could point a new direction for the entire industry. It makes use of all the machine and craft skills that Henredon has at its disposal. Its clear blond , natural finish on white ash and olive ash burls is called "alabaster." It is accented with dark walnut and ebony lines.

"Scene 2" is late 20th century in feeling, with design emphasis on geometric forms, curves, cubes, arcs, and angles. A light and airy-looking pacesetter, it is sophisticated and citified.

Thomasville's new "Ultimate" collection shows the dark side of the modern coin. Crafted of Brazilian rosewood richly finished in deep brown and black tones, it is as high-sheen dark as Henredon's group is low-key light. This group interprets the art deco movement in art and architecture for the 1980s. Accented with black metal, black lacquer, and black glass, its soft rounded silhuettes are generous and flowing. "It is the most modern statement by Thomasville in 15 years," said vice-president David C. Ogren, who hopes his company's effort to please urbanites may also help establish a new look for modern. It is one of many collections that show a definite art deco influence.

John Mascheroni, on the other hand, plucks ideas from such earlier masters as Frank Lloyd Wright, Rennie Macintosh, and the California achitects Greene & Greene for his unusual and provocative contemporary group called "InnerSpace," for Founders.

Other mainstream style categories seen at the Southern market include California-casual and country-contemporary groups that are often in oak, and geared to informal living, multipurpose uses, and easy maintenance. Designs inspired by the Orient are numerous and exhibit a strong emphasis on chinoiserie painted decoration.

Wall systems are the fastest-growing category of furnishings, and entertainment and living centers continue to proliferate. At a time when living spaces are growing smaller, people are looking increasingly to these modular units to provide both storage and interesting interior architecture.

The movable, flexible components may be combined in numerous practical ways. They climb up walls, go around corners, and sometimes even above windows. They are equally at home in all rooms of the house. Many people start with a few units and then add to the system as budgets allow.

The four wall system "basics" offered by many companies include an open bookcase unit, a drop-lid bookcase unit, a door bookcase, and a unit with a knee-hole desk. Other companies amplify their systems to include such additions as mirrored display cabinets, benches, light bridges, secretarial fittings, hidden storage areas, and dining tables that drop down or pull out. They come in every material from chrome to rattan, wicker, and wood. Styling includes Oriental, French Provincial, American traditional italian, and modern.

On a highly practical level, many manufacturers have caught on to the fact that most families stow things under the beds. They are showing a number of good-looking platform beds with storage drawers underneath.

The mattresses that fit on top of the storage beds show innovation, too. Air , not water, is the latest suspension system. Restonic introduced its new Dial-a-Firm air bed at the market, featuring controls for adjusting the air pressure in two side-by-side chambers. Suggested retail price is $849 for the king-size set.

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