Contemporary designs

For those who want to live with contemporary furnishings, but not with high-tech or hard-edged, straight-lined pieces, it is encouraging to note that soft, curvilinear modern is now in full flower and has penetrated every level of the market.

There is a fresh look in upholstered furniture that is termed ''romantic softness.'' Rounded silhouettes are everywhere, part of a gentle resurgence of modern, a style category now gaining in popularity not only on both coasts but in Peoria as well.

For several decades, all modern styles have been overshadowed by 18th-century , country, and Oriental styles, and these continue to lead sales. Yet soft modern is finding a niche for itself. It bears little resemblance to the Scandinavian Modern or Italian Modern of the 1960s, or to the pure Bauhaus modern of the 1950s. Instead these pieces take inspiration from the period 1910 to 1940, and they adapt some of the spirit of the art nouveau, art deco, and art moderne.

Milo Baughman, a designer for the Thayer-Coggin Company of High Point, N.C., has been in the vanguard in this reworking of earlier styles. He believes contemporary design is well into an exciting new era of expression that is increasingly free of old modernist restraints.

The soft modern or his own ''moderne'' look is growing in popularity, he says , because it ''offers a respite from too much technology and the assumption once held that modern interiors should perhaps begin to resemble spaceships. In our private lives, our personal choices are usually based on emotional and nostalgic associations and not on intellectualism, so the new, softer modern is an aesthetic revolt against the rigid formulas of Bauhaus modern,'' the designer says.

In his Normandie, Moderne, New Classicism, and Post-Modernism collections, Mr. Baughman amply demonstrates his conviction that ''the purist, rectilinear, sharp-edged look has been with us too long. The rounder, softer curvilinear forms now provide the elegant, yet human, quality that brings calm and comfort to our interiors.''

John Mascheroni, designer for the Swaim Company, agrees that the new soft modern is a reaction to the Bauhaus modern that is also happening in architecture and in clothing and other fields. ''People now see nothing wrong in embellishment, curve, and ornament. I have always loved the look of the 1930s, and now I feel free to express it. I think people feel more comfortable with these softer silhouettes and that they open a whole new market for modern furnishings.''

Alex Bernhardt, president of Bernhardt Industries, in Lenoir, N.C., says, ''Good modern is selling.'' His Flair Division upholstery is yet another expression of the soft modern look, now being made by at least a dozen leading companies. Others include the Lane Company, American of Martinsville, Alessandro's collection for Baker, Selig, and Charlton.

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