New/old themes emerge in furniture designs

THOMAS CHIPPENDALE and Queen Anne are two of the reappearing stars in new furniture collections now being debuted. They reflect a shift away from super-soft Eurostyle seating pieces with floppy arms and low, squashy silhouettes. Coming to the forefront are traditional 18th-century styles such as camelback sofas, wing chairs, highboys, tea tables, and chest-on-chests.

The new-old designs were displayed for store buyers and designers last week at the spring Southern Furniture Market, the most important wholesale furniture market in the South. The exposition comes at a good time for the $25 billion furniture industry, which is feeling the effect of a strong national economy, increasing retail sales, and a surge in home buying.

Changes in styles, finishes, accents, and colors were apparent at the furniture market. Shiny lacquer finishes are still popular, particularly shiny black, but warm wood finishes are important once again. Yellow metal such as brass has largely replaced white metal such as chrome as a basic material, trim, or accent. In colors, teal blue-greens and bottle greens join the still-fashionable mauves and pinks.

Country casual collections are now often regional in character, with the American Southwest getting increased attention. But it is the James River plantation houses of Virginia that are inspiring the new 18th-century collections.

``The trend to traditional has been growing for years,'' says Hugh Boyer, president of Hickory Chair Company. ``People love these graceful furnishings, but we have also noticed that they especially turn back to the comfortably familiar during times of uncertainty and rapid change.''

Alan Cole, vice-president at Broyhill Furniture Industries, admits the market got inundated with Eurostyle slouch couches but says that ``the dressy,formal living room look is very important right now.''

American of Martinsville's new 18th-century mahogany collection is called Savannah, after the city that inspired it, and Hickory Manufacturing Company's new Hyde Park Collection, as its name implies, consists of reproductions of comfortable, traditional English sofas, settees, and wing chairs.

The most opulent display at the market was Baker Furniture's Collector's Edition 19th-Century Style, which interprets many classical motifs from excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and from Napoleon's expeditions to Egypt.

Here are the columns, the winged sphinx, the lion's heads and paws, the carved embellishments, metal overlays, marble inlays, and glittery gold leaf finishes. Even the lavish silks, velvets, and damasks, the fringes and tassels, are in the 19th-century mode.

The term ``transitional'' is frequently being heard, referring to furniture that is basically contemporary but has overtones of other styles ranging from Victorian to Oriental to country. It can also be a sort of stylized traditional. The various elements blend into what one manufacturer calls a ``softer contemporary,'' which mixes well with both modern and traditional furnishings and leaves lots of room for personal expression in decorating.

Lighter finishes on oak, ash, and pine are reminiscent of the 1950s and are now appearing in many of the new transitional contemporary and country casual collections.

Thomasville's new contemporary Topaz Collection features double-bleached pecan wood in a clear, golden topaz color, combined with lots of brass and glass.

Drexel's new country casual collection, called Cross Country, features pecan wood with a soft, honey ``beeswax'' finish. Rubbed glazes in washed light colors show off interesting wood grains. American Drew has designed a sophisticated new blond contemporary group called Imagery.

Pennsylvania House's EverGreene collection in solid cherry was one of the market's most unusual collections. Inspired by the California architecture ofCharles and Henry Greene, the designs are reminiscent of the arts-and-crafts movement of the early 20th century.

Jay Spectre is the latest well-known New York interior designer to be tapped by the furniture industry. His modern collection for Century is distinctively ``20th-century American'' and is executed in white oak, chrome, steel, and glass. Many pieces are highly sculptural in feeling.

A new Heritage collection called South of France was inspired by antiques found throughout the French countryside and indicates the enduring appeal of country French furniture with its graceful curves and warm finishes.

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