Sleek, simple designs regain favor in the United States

AMERICANS have renewed their enthusiasm for Scandinavian modern furniture during the last half dozen years. The revival has been welcome.

By the end of the 1950s, Scandinavian design had achieved an international reputation and following. People everywhere at that time seemed to respond to its good design, directness, honesty of structure, and craft quality. It looked distinctly fresh and new, and Scandinavians basked in that period that they now refer to as a ``golden age'' in their design history.

By 1965, boredom had set in. The pieces began to look remarkably alike, and the sturdy furniture in familiar teak, rosewood, and oak began to fade in popularity. The following decade was so placidly uneventful that some manufacturers still think of it as the ``silent '70s.''

But a new era has arrived, and receiveda cordial reception in the United States. More vital and zestful design is probably responsible. And, even though methods of manufacture have become more mechanized, the pleasing visual qualities and the quality-control standards established years ago remain effectively high.

In recent years, chains such as Scandinavian Design, Scan, and the new Ikea stores, as well as department stores and small specialized ``life style'' shops across the country, have again helped to promote all the plus features of Scandinavian design. These include efficient wall and shelf systems, modular groupings that stack and bunch with flexibility, and comfortable seating that is lithe and light in scale and appearance.

This year's Scandinavian Furniture Fair also featured dozens of space-saving ``caf'e'' sets, consisting of very small round tables surrounded by two or more small chairs. The sleek, very modern chaise appeared a favorite form of relaxation seating. Plastic and metal tubing appeared frequently, in addition to the traditional woods. More apparent than ever before was the evidence that laminated bentwood, in the hands of Scandinavians, becomes a material of consummate and flowing grace.

Although the very pale, light woods were newsmakers at the fair, many of the American dealers present insisted that teak was their mainstay and would probably remain so for years to come. Teak and rosewood have been considered pass'e in Sweden and Finland since the late '50s, and manufacturers in those countries hope Americans will take a liking to the pale, blond woods that they now prefer.

Traditional Danish teak manufacturers are not eager to add blond woods to their lines, explaining that teak is what sells best in the US and England.

Although design factors are positive -- the design smorgasbord offers great variety -- and each Scandinavian country boasted steadily rising export figures for furniture over the past few years, a business cloud does exist. The US dollar has fallen more than 30 percent in the last year, which means rising prices for American consumers and a slackening of interest on the part of some dealers.

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