For all their variety, casegoods such as dining sets and bedroom furniture tend to end up in dedicated rooms. Not so with home entertainment furniture, which can grace living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, home offices—even the occasional unfinished basement. Buyers who know where to look can find entertainment furniture for any room and every occasion.

home entertainment furnitureE50 tall entertainment console provides numerous storage solutions with its three drawers and six compartments. Part of Eagle Industries’ Metropolitan Collection, the unit is made from poplar face frames and birch plywood with veneers, and it is available with three painted and three stained finish options (Antique Black is shown). The Metropolitan Collection offers frosted glass for a contemporary kick.
home entertainment furnitureKathy Ireland Home by Martin’s Hudson Street TV consoles offer hardwood solid construction with a black matte finish accented by satin nickel colored hardware. The 60-inch-wide stand is shown, which includes one adjustable component shelf behind each seeded glass door and a center compartment. It is also available in 40- and 50-inch-wide units.
home entertainment furnitureEzzo entertainment wall unit from CF Oakton has a number of convenient features, including heavy-duty casters for easy mobility, sliding back panels for wire access, adjustable shelves and a built-in power strip. The piece is made from kiln-dried hardwoods and quarter-sawn cherry veneers with a red walnut stain and multi-step lacquer and sealer finishing.
home entertainment furniturePart of Buhler’s International Series Collection, 486 Series Markham is perfect for the consumer who wants a lot of storage capacity in as small of a footprint as possible. The piece features solid oak construction and 10 oak and maple finishes, including the Western Oak finish shown here. The company will be showing many home entertainment consoles with electric fireplaces at fall markets, too.
home entertainment furnitureFairmont Designs’ Concorde Suites Collection bedroom home entertainment dresser is made from Asian hardwood solids and Anegre veneers with a warm cognac finish, and it has flared, brushed steel legs. The collection was inspired by furnishings found in high-end international hotels and resorts.
home entertainment furniturePart of the Carrington Hall Collection, Kincaid Furniture’s Double Vision media mirror and bureau features a very innovative mirror. The two-way mirror holds a flat screen TV, and becomes transparent when the TV is on. The bureau’s top drawer folds down to accommodate a DVD player. The piece also includes a jewelry tray.
home entertainment furnitureWhile mounted TVs have traditionally been spare in their aesthetic, Legends Furniture is experimenting with a large, wood frame that ships as a 58-inch-wide framed mirror. The mirror itself can be removed and placed elsewhere in the home, while a 37-inch to 42-inch flat-panel TV can be put in its place. The piece is constructed from ash solids and veneers, and it wears an oak finish.
home entertainment furnitureSligh's modular Smart TV console offers the ultimate in versatility for consumers. Customers can “build” a unit from nine interchangeable components: three cabinet styles, two stackable open deck units, three tops and a pair of side panels. The collection includes burnished and distressed cherry veneers, a Candlewood finish, and aged, soft brass hardware. A minimalist configuration—single unit with double open deck and drawers—is shown.

A revealing consumer panel discussion during the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market offered retailers and vendors insights to keep their businesses going in the tough economic climate.

The panel of six local consumers immediately broke into halves with vastly different outlooks. Robert Gibbs and Noel Ross, a pair of thirtysomethings living in downtown Chicago, were diligent and studious shoppers holding out for the perfect look, while Pamela Preschlack, Leigh Moss, Mary Kay Ryan and Ginny Wells, four stay-at-home mothers from the tony Lake Bluff suburb, had more bottom-line demands.

Both Ross and Gibbs expressed frustration over finding the right kind of furniture for their limited outdoor spaces.

“I'm looking for something different,” Ross said. “Comfort is my biggest priority, but I want to create an oasis by the grill. I've been searching for a long, long time.”

She added her shopping efforts were so fruitless in Chicago-area stores that she considered buying online, a prospect Gibbs said he was open to from the start. The moms, however, said they use the Internet strictly as a research tool.

“I definitely do my initial shopping online so I can narrow my choices to store A or store B,” Preschlack said. “But in the end, I definitely want to see it first hand.”

When she does visit stores, Preschlack said she looks for durability first. She said she was willing to pay more for a chair, table or chaise that will last at least five years, and she wasn't alone.

“I want my furniture to be able to handle the harsh elements we have here in Chicago,” Wells said. “I expect to have it for at least 10 years. I also want to know the cushions will still be available if I need replacements in the meantime.”

The only shift in allegiances on the panel came when the participants discussed their in-store shopping habits.

Gibbs, the lone male, said he preferred to be left alone.

“I find it irritating when people try to sell me something,” he said. “I don't want to get trapped. I'd rather just take my time browsing without having to worry about that.”

The other panelists valued the customer service experience.

“When I'm at a specialty store, I'm willing to spend more because the people there are knowledgeable and are willing to deliver the furniture,” Wells said. “They're also local, so I know they'll be there for me if I have any issues.”

“I like talking with someone back and forth,” Ross said. “It's like having my own interior designer to help me make decisions. They have to understand me more than sell me, though. If they make that effort, I can talk to them forever.”

All six panelists said they enjoy planning their outdoor spaces on their own.

“It starts with me looking through interior design magazines, although now more and more I get inspiration from the design shows on television,” said Preschlack. “But I still like print. I tear out photos of what I like.”

When retailers offer interior design services, the panelists balk. Gibbs said he is wary of the cost. Even if such services are free, he said, charges will probably be incorporated into the price of the furniture. Other panelists said they simply don't need interior design help.

“With the amount of space I have and the amount of time I use my casual furniture, it's probably not worth me using a designer,” Ryan said.

The most valuable insight may have come from something the panel couldn't discuss — flow-through cushions. When moderator Cinde W. Ingram, Casual Living editor-in-chief, asked the consumers if they value such new technologies, they were baffled — and thrilled.

“I've never heard of flow-through cushions,” Preschlack said. “In fact, I never put my cushions out this year because I kept having to put them up and take them back out again every day.”

Although aware of performance fabrics, panelists agreed there are plenty of new features and technologies in outdoor furniture they were unaware of. And that extra bit of knowledge would probably go a long way toward selling them.

“Flow-through cushions sound great,” Wells said. “I definitely want that for next year.”

What furniture consumers are looking for in a recession?

Economists may debate whether we’re in recession, but consumers have already decided that we are—and have changed their purchasing behavior accordingly. Two trend analysts—Faith Popcorn and Britt Beamer—have answer to peer into the crystal ball and weigh in on the opportunities during these tough times.

Faith Popcorn
furniture consumers
“Out on the street, no one is asking if we are in a recession,” said trend analyst Faith Popcorn. “They're asking when it will end and where our economy will be by then.”

According to Popcorn, whose BrainReserve consultancy tracks 17 megatrends for major corporations, consumers are changing their shopping behaviors and rethinking their priorities in ways that have special relevance for home furnishings retailers.

A BrainReserve survey fielded in June revealed that consumers are reducing consumption and putting a greater emphasis on their homes. “A full 90 percent of the sample is considering opting out for a simpler life,” Popcorn said. “Four out of five are inclined to buy less. Seventy-two percent want to remove the clutter from their lives.”

The data also shows that there are many pro-home trends that furniture retailers may be able to capitalize upon. Respondents said that they are spending more time at home due to budget constraints, reprioritizing their spending to feather their nest, and investing in home entertainment to save money on going out.

“It’s called the entertainment center for a reason,” Popcorn said. “Retailers should concentrate on how to accessorize and amplify that experience. Think oversize chairs and sofas, modular sofas that are re-configurable, tables that keep food hot (or cold), and entertainment centers that provide storage.”

Of course, when budgets are tight, low prices are always good, but Popcorn said that people are willing to weigh long-term costs against short-term savings. “Appeals that account for the total cost of ownership make sense. I’ll buy a new heating system, because it is energy efficient and makes sense in the long term. ‘Built to last’ is a message that’s likely to resonate today.”

Britt Beamer
furniture consumers
Britt Beamer, founder of America’s Research Group, has been studying how the Recession Consumer differs from the consumer of five or 10 years ago. He’s suspicious of claims that less spending outside of the home will translate into more “feathering of the nest.”

“The problem is, if I’m part of a typical two-income family, increases for gas and groceries have taken $500 per month out of my disposable income,” Beamer explained. “Gas prices have ripped out the heart of the furniture industry. The consumer is so focused on getting their basic bills paid that new furniture gets postponed for a long time.”

Beamer said retailers need to reconsider their message during the recession. “Screaming ‘Four years no interest’ isn’t going to do it anymore. Recession Consumers want the discount, not the financing. When you’re struggling, and don’t know if you’ll have a job in 18 months, you don’t want a bunch of bills hanging around your neck.”

Instead, Beamer challenges retailers to create a master narrative for promotions.

“It creates legitimacy,” he continued. “First, you have an inventory clearance sale, which you can use to set up for the next event, which in turn becomes: ‘Hey, now that we are rid of excess merchandise, we can offer great deals on new products’.“

Following this message sequence keeps the consumer alert to future sales. “Too many retailers just jump from one promotion to another and never explain to the consumer what to expect,” he concluded.

Which media is the right conduit in these times? Beemer recommends television commercials (creates immediacy), direct mail (able to target to existing customers) and print (use fewer images, but make them incredible deals), in that order.

Upholstery makers hope economy is 'transitional'

Stationary upholstery makers will bring plenty of transitional looks to the market this week, but what they'd really like to do is transition right out of this economy.

Business has slowed to a trickle, so manufacturers interviewed last week seem to think that this market's activity will be reflective of the market slide and other dismal events that have occurred over the past several weeks.

They think dealers will be shopping for values, and will be unwilling to go out on a limb for anything risky.

“I think business is going to be — and I hate to say this — average,” said Ken Church of upholstery maker and importer Westgate, which opened six months ago and is now shipping product.

“It isn't going to be an optimistically good market,” he added, “because there is just too much crowding everybody's anxieties. I don't think you'll see a lot of emotional buying. I think it will be for things that are necessary and compelling.”

He added, “What I'm afraid of is that a lot of people are going to put forth a lot of effort this market and are going to sell some floor samples. But unless retail picks up and we get some turns on retail floors, it's going to be a tenuous time for furniture.”

Others agree but nonetheless are rolling out ambitious assortments. Bernhardt, for example, is offering its nine-group Interiors collection backed by three-week delivery and a lengthy merchandise program; Highland House is launching a major collection of upholstery, case goods and occasional with Pierre Deux; Marge Carson will introduce 28 upholstery pieces with an array of couture fabrics; Lazar will premiere a collection with design guru Michael Payne; Miles Talbott will show Joe Ruggiero, and so on.

“I think the jury's out as what attendance will be,” said Del Starnes, president of upper-end producer Taylor King. “But I'll tell you this — those who come to the Taylor King showroom will find a lot of new product introductions and a lot of great new fabrics. We've gone at this market just as aggressively as any other market.

“We feel like with times as tough as they are, we need to try to put our best foot forward to give our retail partners the best product we can to freshen their floors,” Starnes added. “If we don't do that, we're taking a step backwards. If we ever get to the point where we think that way, we'll see attendance dropping more.”

Taylor King will be true to its word this market, offering a revamped product line for its entry-level Kings Road collection, now with a transitional feel. “And we're going to have programs that hopefully will make it attractive to retailers.”

Likewise, Norman Coley, president of Lee Inds., said he expects that dealers will be asking about marketing programs, additional dating, discounts and other programs to get them over the bumps.

“I think we'll have a lot of conversations about that,” he said. “I don't know how we're going to handle it because we're in the same boat as they are.”

Coley thinks the market “is going to be very somber. I can't imagine otherwise. I do know from the people I've called that they're still coming. I think attendance is going to be OK, at least for our customer base, but we're not going to break any records as far as order-writing. We'll capture what we're due but I think it's going to be a tough market.”

Traveling through Georgia when interviewed, Coley said that despite flat sales, merchants appeared optimistic anyway. “They're all coming to market and they're looking for some excitement (in product) that's going to separate them from the rest of the pack,” he added.

Coley said Lee will provide that through a new generation of slipcover upholstery, relaxed looks using linen, and a new pillow program. In addition, the company will offer a custom-by-the-inch program for every piece in its line.

“The accounts that I've talked to say, well, if you can do that, we won't have to carry anyone else,” Coley said. “That's my intent — to give them something they can't get anywhere else. And this is the way to do it.”

He said the company also has worked on putting detail into products, which doesn't cost much but adds a lot of value.

“If they show up,” he said, “we'll have something for them.”

This fall's color trends for top-of-bed introductions includes a multifaceted neutral: a golden tone that evokes the soft coat of a newborn fawn. Paired with white and bearing faint accents, such as metallic yarn, fringe and embroidery, fawn-colored ensembles suggest peace, relaxation and livable luxury.

home furnishingsWheat sheaves luxuriously graze the Egyptian cotton sheets in this set by Malaika, which is distributed by Luxe Brands Intl. Accented with rich ecru and natural linen, this golden grouping named Wheat is available in all standard bedding sizes and comes with an array of pillow options.
home furnishingsIsabella duvet set and pillow combination by BlissLiving Home is cream-colored and made of 100 percent organic cotton. Delicate embroidered patterns of flowers and vines adorn the set, which is available in standard sizes.
home furnishingsDesigned by Eastern Accents, Aileen’s paisley pattern brings a neutral palette to life atop a flax-colored linen blend fabric. Decorative pillows enhanced with flange, ruching, ribbons and embroidery add distinction. The duvet cover, bed skirt and bed pillows are hem-stitched.
home furnishingsMost of the pieces in the eco-friendly Organic Bed Collection by Peacock Alley are woven from 100 percent certified organic cotton. Shown: Adriana matelassé, which bears a geometric pattern and wears a tailored trim; Allegro sheets; Nantucket, a blanket that is yarn-dyed and features a bias stripe; and a decorative pillow named Fantasia.

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