As the volume of Asian upholstery imports increases, the results are having a far ranging impact on the market. It's not just the low end of the market that has been redefined. Mid-priced and higher-priced manufacturers are trying to sort out exactly how and where they fit into this new hierarchy.


Competition from China and other overseas sources has changed the landscape quite a bit, notes Jack Lewis of Jack Lewis Design LLC. "There is almost no bottom to the prices for upholstered goods," he says, "so it is hopeless to try and compete on price alone." In response, almost every major manufacturer is looking for exclusive designs, he adds.


The growing importance of Las Vegas places additional burdens on manufacturers. "Companies that are passing on the Las Vegas market for now may be doing so at some risk, since many of their competitors are writing new business there," says Lewis. Companies that do show in more than one market face growing costs and are pressed for more new introductions, which puts additional pressure on product development and purchasing departments.


Playing it safe

Century Furniture introduced New Traditional, which offered new takes on classic styles. The approach assumed that traditional is more than it once was, and that today's savvy furniture buyers want traditional furniture to have an extra zing.


"Think of New Traditional as traditional with a twist," says Edward M. Tashjian, vice president/marketing. "We started with designs that might have appeared in 18th century homes and pared them down, took away the over-the-top carvings and introduced modern materials. There are hints of familiar elements from the past, but they're executed in a clean and relevant way." Century's Crescent sofa followed that same classic-meets-contemporary theme. While its form and opulent bullion fringe said "traditional," its over-scaled proportions and pale pewter velvet cover brought it into the present.


Have it your way

Designer, author and TV host Joe Ruggiero provided new design choices in his latest introductions for Norwalk Furniture. Ruggiero offered his top-selling Tribeca seating group for the first time in leather. The group allows customers to design their own sofa and sectional with the personal selection of an arm or back style, as well as the shape or number of seat cushions.


Pass the popcorn

Academy configurations include single left- and right-arm recliners, two-arm recliners, armless seats, consoles, reclining sofa, wedge, left and right facing chaises and two sectionals. The left and right arm units add flexibility.


Academy comes equipped with either manual or power incline mechanisms. The seats allow buyers to stretch out and relax; maximum incline can be achieved with just three inches of wall clearance. Additional options include a console with drawer storage, cup holders and trays.


"We also wanted to offer a grouping that could be customized," says Sausman. Customers can pick from two back, arm and seat cushion styles and from any of 1,000 leathers and fabrics. "It's completely special order," says Sausman. "It's about mass customization and being able to build a system that really meets your needs and your space."


Make it more personal

In the Hickory Chair collection by interior designer Mariette Himes Gomez, choice has achieved a new dimension. Not only were many of the items in her new chair group inspired by Gomez's personal collection, they were also developed in response to the more personalized tastes of modern consumers. "It seems more and more people want to do that these days," says Gomez. "They want to discover those special pieces, those beautiful forms and then make them their own."


The traditional shapes were less formal and showcased fresher, brighter upholstery fabrics. The crescent-shaped Dee sofa by Gomez was characterized by traditional tufting that seemed anything but conventional. Her Ashley chair, with its button-tufted back, was offered in swivel, swivel glider and exposed leg. "Mariette's new designs . . . are distinct, personal and versatile," says Reardon. "All of which became even more apparent once the pieces arrived in the showroom and mixed so seamlessly with our other products."


Cox Mfg. Co.'s new corner chair was driven by the desire to add versatility. "Consumers today move and change; furniture has to be adaptable," says Scott Keller, national sales manager. The 280 corner chair with matching 28 ottoman capitalized on the company's strengths.


The slick transitional design fills the bill for function and flexibility; pieces can be arranged as a chaise lounge, love seat, tête-à-tête or used alone for a peaceful, relaxing corner to oneself. The corner chair and ottoman are available in any of 13 wood finishes and 550 fabric choices.


From Dick Idol and Bob Timberlake to Ernest Hemingway and Liz Claiborne, licensed furniture groups remain as successful as ever.


Capitalizing on the popularity of PBS' Antiques Road Show program, Flexsteel introduced a group of traditional and transitional sofas available in fabrics based on authentic patterns shown on the popular TV show. The fabrics include patterns based on antique Persian rugs, American quilts, Navajo blankets, Art Nouveau ceiling tiles and other choices.


La-Z-Boy introduced the Octavia recliner collection, which allows buyers to customize both style and comfort. "Today's abundance of do-it-yourself decorating shows has everyone wanting to be a designer, and Octavia is perfect for the consumer looking to bring a touch of customized style to their home," says Jennifer Sievertsen, vice president of brand marketing.


With La-Z-Boy's Octavia program, consumers can design their own distinct chair. They start by simply selecting either contoured or channeled backs; then they choose round or tapered arms. For the recliner seat, selections include a chaise or pillow-top style. A choice of eight recliner designers and more than 500 fabrics and leathers almost guarantees that every chair will be unique.


"Octavia allows consumers to mix and match arm, back and seat pieces to create the perfect recliner for their personal living space," says Paula Hoyas, vice president of upholstery merchandising.


Consumers can customize their comfort further with three different recline options: rockers with full reclining comfort, wall recliners that achieve full recline while only inches from the wall or as full recline swivel gliders.


Contemporary grows

Four new seating groups were introduced that convey modern sophistication and sensual simplicity. One group, the Byrd by Blake Tovin, merges nostalgic lines, refined proportions and tailored details that recall a classic mid-century poise and ease. Another, Lola, includes a new sectional frame. "Lola isn't scary. It's very modern, but easy on the eyes," adds Barkman.

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