Manufacturers key in to furniture needs for apartment dwellers

People living in small apartments, condominiums, co-ops, town houses, and reduced-size new homes can at last find furniture to fit their space needs. It's all a matter of scale and a new thoughtfulness about the broader ways pieces can function in more cramped settings.

After years of emphasis on the hefty and overscaled, many furniture manufacturers, like Detroit automakers, have faced the fact that circumstances have changed: that less is now often best, and that small can be beautiful, too.

Many of the new groups introduced at the Southern Furniture Market in October will be in furniture and department stores by February. To find them, you can simply ask to be shown whatever "apartment size" or "junior size" pieces a store has in stock.

What defines apartment size? It applies not only to pieces built to a smaller-than-usual scale, but to pieces with new built-in features that will help them work better in tighter spaces. It may mean lower and thinner pieces, but it can also mean taller, more substantial pieces.

Stanley Furniture, for instance, has introduced a tall "butler's cabinet" to its "dinamics" group of informal dining furniture. This piece is 43 inches wide and 78 inches tall and has three drawers, a drop lid for serving or writing, and both open and closed shelves for storage. It, and other pieces like it, including high, narrow secretaries, make vertical- storage use of walls and add contrasting height to rooms of lower furnishings. A secretary made by Bernhardt Industries is a new, not-too-large piece to supply height to a dining room. It, too, offers a drop lid for work surface, drawers, and closed storage.

Don Hunziker of Lea explains: "Scale is not the overwhelming answer to apartment furniture. You can have a big piece of furniture, too, and if it fills many needs, then it works fine as an apartment piece. Look at wall systems. They can be large, but they have been very successful because they fill a need. To me, function and flexibility are the two key factors of good apartment furniture."

Pulaski has devoted its entire 1981 line to lighter-scaled, multifunctional furniture especially for people who are making the adjustment to smaller living areas. Retirees, and others giving up large living establishments for more compact ones, are eager for new concepts in furnishings, this company finds. Its 89 new apartment-scaled pieces, called "First Edition," include five distinctly different style categories, among them turn-of-the century oak and French and English traditional.

Apartment size is also a way of describing a new breed of sofas ranging from 72 to 80 inches in length. Hammary's new shorter sofas range from 72 to 74 inches in length. The new length at Selis is 78 inches, and Broyhill considers 80 inches to be the ideal apartment length. (The 84-to-90-inch sofa has been the industry standard over the last 10 years.) One designer, after looking at a lot of 1980 condominiums, commented, "The big sofas of the early 1970s just don't work anymore in these rooms."

Neither do the 80-inch-long triple dressers and the enormous china cabinets. One solution to the dilemma of outsize single pieces is the arrangement of modern modulars, which stack and bunch to suit specific storage needs. Many of these units, too, have been scaled down in size.

Many manufacturers have done market research to find out the furniture needs of people who live in small spaces. They have come up with solutions ranging from more folding screens to entertainment centers. Other functional pieces include storage servers on casters and small tub-like chairs on casters, which can fit nicely into any room of the house.

American of Martinsville helped lead the way to this new category of apartment-size furniture by first introducing its High-Rise collection of small dining tables, chairs, and buffets, then updating the basic idea from time to time. One such update is the new "Penthouse" collection, with two dining tables (one a pedestal type and the other rectangular), cane back chairs, china cabinet , and mobile server. Stanley, Lea, and Thomasville are just a few of the other companies that have introduced extensive new collections of apartment-size furniture. The group called "Progressions" by Lea is a series of modular units, all scaled to a module of 36 inches wide, 18 inches deep, and 28 inches high. These are teamed with a few drawer and shelf units just 18 inches wide, so possibilities for versatile arrangements are many.

Other good ideas for apartment living include Hickory Furniture Company's buffet table, whose five 14-inch leaves fold completely into the 72-inch-long buffet and are hidden from view when not in use, and Kroehler's square coffee table with four square stools or benches, which roll out from beneath for seating extra guests.

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