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April 21, 2005

High Point in a Nutshell

The International Home Furnishings Market just finished its Spring showing, and the news for contemporary lovers was largely ugh. With the exception of a handful of exhibitors (which we will address in subsequent postings), the offerings were a cliche. There was so much "wenge" it looked like entire showrooms had been dipped in chocolate. Fabric hues were slightly more imaginative warping from white chocolate to orange chocolate to milk chocolate and dark chocolate.

While the fall was awash with colors -- hot pinks, polka dots and a smattering of oranges -- this spring was dreary and muddy. If color is a signal of economic prosperity the industry is in a freefall. What is more likely is that the showroom barons are concerned and confused about the quickly shifting manufacturing landscape and are responding in predictable fashion: retreat and play it safe.

Modern lines were softened to contemporary ones, and contemporary ones were distilled to transitional. There was nothing too forward nor intrepid happening throughout many of the hundreds of thousands of square feet that we schlepped. However, set against this Willy Wonka backdrop there were a few notable exceptions, Hjellegjerde introduced a new line of sofas and chairs that were colorful, comfortable and contemporary. Poltromec srl had many its assortment of fun shapes introduced last fall and wrapped them in bright colors. Sofas International, which never disappoints with its flexible modules for urban living, was vibrant in turquoises and reds.

Steve Bailey at W. Schillig admitted that a Filmore Harty sectional in the front of his showroom that had been done up in beige -- was a "huge mistake" and should have been in red or orange (like the clever curved sectional with half-moon ottomans). "People might ultimately buy these pieces in brown, but they are attracted to the bright colors," he said. Another downside was the location of the sectional -- because it was up against the wall it was hard to see the innovative roll that was attached along the back.

On the lower end of the upholstery scale, Blu Dot had fun fabrics (courtesy of Angela Adams) and Innovation Living boasted great-shaped futons in geometric prints. Stone International continued with its painted "faux pony" upholstery to provide a visually stimulating and tactile experience -- without the pins and needle effect.

In case goods, the new material is infrared. Display cases transform to entertainment systems with the touch of a button -- which means you need to add another remote to your collection. But the star of the casegoods was Visu -- with its bentwood features, canny storage and artful pulls that are the trademark of founder Francine Couture. Another Canadian company, Ticana, known for its rich Scandinavian designs, was one of the few to curtail the wenge and head back toward blonde. The effect was striking.

There were other bright spots too. Haziza had glorious acrylic sculptures in an assortment of rich jewel tones while Marquis Collection offered quieter yet substantial sculptures in marble, granites and organic materials topped with resin. And Elite Manufacturing, which looks like it is changing its name to Elite Modern, moved to market with new metal finishes, including a very fresh bronze.

It remains to be seen whether or not this High Point will be a pivotal one -- but our prediction: at 17, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York (in May) has come of age and is going to be playing a bigger role on the buying stage. Don't be surprised if it takes top honors from High Point.

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