1. The blending of traditional and contemporary styling had accelerated. The blurring of classic and modern design meant that a Louis XIV chair could be covered in a bright silk print, or a Chippendale style sofa in a crisp linen jacquard. The inelegant contraction coined recently, "trad-mo," seemed to oddly fit this comfortable meshing of possibly contradictory trends.

At Baker Furniture, the main salon featured a sinuous Queen Anne armchair silhouette covered in a shiny, raised, embossed dot leather. The timeless seating shape from ancient Greek history, the Klismos chair, seemed to land everywhere, including Pearson, Hickory Chair, Century, Highland House, French Heritage and Henredon.

As a counterpoint, a recent survey by Pantone revealed that a new, more up-to-date permutation of country (remember Early American?) outstripped both modern and classic as a style favored by most Americans.

 

2. Tonal colorations in fabrics and flooring helped bridge whatever styling gap could happen when disparate trends and styles are merged. Large scale textiles, prints and jacquards worked well in colorways with this limited color palette. Continued use of plain fabrics dictated this simple, uncomplicated color trend. Rugs followed the fashion cue from upholstery designs, especially in well-priced, hand-tufted area rugs from India.

 

3. Texture interest increased on all sorts of surfaces. That included textiles, wood, stone and metal. Critical here were the combinations of all of those elements, typically in a room setting, occasionally in one piece. That tonal, monochromatic color tones were gaining prominence assisted this hodge-podge mixture of textures. Otherwise this fusion of different surfaces would have been visually deafening.

 

4. Sustainability went from the buzzword of last market to a commonplace catch phrase that was hopefully given more than cynical lip service. The idea of renewing resources, replacing what was used so depletion of precious supplies didn't fade away, was mentioned in most spaces there. It was a sure-fire topic to begin conversations anywhere in High Point. The first breakfast seminar, moderated by Jerry Epperson, focused on sustainability.

"How we use natural resources and how we transport them to use in our finished product has a profound impact on the environment. We need to look beyond labels; we have to look at the entire process as the bottom line," cautioned Tim Copeland, president of Copeland Furniture.

 

5. High end is hot; the rest is not. Typically, higher-end furniture companies such as Hickory Chair, E.J. Victor, Century, Baker, Henredon and Thayer Coggin enjoyed a stronger than expected market. The slow economy had little effect on the luxury market. The lower end of the market, in furniture, accessories and especially textiles was increasingly the domain of imports, Asian and particularly Chinese.

Cut and sew operations in China had cut into the already tough margins U.S. mills were coping with. And leather upholstered pieces fully produced in China were concerning Italian and South American leather producers.

The erosion of the promotional domestic market was clearly due to ever lower prices from overseas. Now the middle segment of the industry was feeling the import pinch as well. Importers seemed to realize, en masse, that the Orient, with its resources and fledgling experience, was ready to take on the more stylish mid-priced portion of the industry.

As delivery cycles from Asia become shorter, the smaller lead times that domestic producers could previously flaunt as their advantage were quickly disappearing. Strong imports were rattan seating from Indonesia; bedroom pieces, textiles and casegoods from China; and textiles and rugs from India.

 

6. Lifestyle gurus marketing the entire room concept was becoming more common. Good design sense was still required to get a second glance in this increasingly competitive market, but a little glitz never hurt. A famous presence, however, did help bring traffic into showrooms, if not boost sales.

Already launched celebrity lines included Jaclyn Smith (one of the original Charlie's Angels) with Hickory Hill, Martha Stewart at Safavieh and Bernhardt, Nicole Miller with Excelsior Designs and Candice Olsen at Norwalk Furniture. Two notable new luminaries hawking home wares were Donald Trump at Lexington Home Brands; and B. Smith, former model, successful New York restaurateur and TV host, at Clayton Marcus.

 

7. Durable and high-performance fabrics become mainstream and ever more stylish. The favored constructions of choice were polyester and acrylic, both because of their engineered soft hand, good color dye-ability, lightfastness and bulletproofness. Acrylic was originally used in outdoor fabric, after all. And polyester has successfully overcome its stigma of being used in leisure suits. In fabrics today, it can duplicate the look and feel of silk. Furniture and fabric designers Richard Frinier at Century and Joe Ruggerio at Norwalk both espouse acrylic as their fiber of choice in their respective Sunbrella lines of textiles.

"Its durability makes it perfect for outdoor fabrics, and its softness and beautiful colors make it just as perfect for home fabric. Sunbrella has taken the outdoors indoors," said Ruggerio in the Norwalk showroom.

 

8. Global sourcing and global influences are here to stay. Product comes from around the world to end up in America's homes. China, India, Bosnia, Poland, Mexico, even North Carolina serve as locations for production. With this comes the realization that style influences also come from an equally diverse background. The current list of nations and regions of style influence encompasses France, Ireland, South America, the desert Southwest, Austria, Japan and Russia.

 

9. Customization of furniture, fabrics, colors, everything was by now considered standard. To make the sale, a store-bound furniture salesman has to offer a unique item. The Internet and catalogues offer stiff competition. The consumer wants style and can easily leave the store, and with a few clicks of the mouse, find exactly what fits her home. To counter this, furniture a sofa, for example is offered in a multitude of finishes, fabrics, arms or armless, leg choices, skirt or no skirt, and on and on. Customization, like the next trend, elegance, was going ever lower on the totem pole of style to attract more customers.

 

10. Elegance became much more mainstream. No longer limited to the high end, its effect was seen at all price points. Retailers such as Target supplied the paradigm for well-priced and stylish product that appealed to the public. Cheap doesn't connote fashionlessness anymore.

Rowe Furniture, despite rough financial waters last year, continued to offer a variety of stylish product to the middle market. "Our gallery program, Studio Rowe, gives assistance to our dealers, to help them better sell our furniture. We have to make our vignette attractive, complete and sharply priced to give them the advantage they need," says Stefanie Lucas, Rowe's president and CEO.

 

Two inescapable facts of the latest High Point International Home Furnishings Market, held March 26 to April 1, were low attendance and slow business.

 

A combination of the sluggish economy and high fuel prices deterred usual market goers from traveling long distances. This twice-yearly event, coupled with pre-markets and the multitude of regional and interim markets, have made many in the industry rethink how many trips to High Point are really necessary in a year.

 

Notwithstanding the gloomy business forecasts, new styles were introduced, new companies and innovative partnerships were launched, and new paradigms of business tested.

 

Ten noteworthy trends emerged from this latest trade show. They ranged from how materials such as fabrics, finishes and surfaces were used to why and how these finished products were marketed.

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