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More consumers voting for contemporary

Heath E. Combs -- Furniture Today, October 1, 2012

With its High Style collectionWith its High Style collection, Canadel reflects a chic urban look reinforced by clean lines and smooth curves.
HIGH POINT - Finally, the furniture industry seems to be getting comfortable with contemporary styling.
     What's the big reason it's finding a respectable spot in suppliers' lines?
     According to Furniture/Today's most recent case goods style survey, contemporary accounted for 32% of all unit sales last year in case goods and dining categories at all price points.
     Major suppliers have taken notice. Industry heavyweights like Ashley Furniture with its Bardini collection and Lexington Home Brands with Mirage are just two of the big names that have dedicated collections to contemporary looks in recent years.
     But what exactly is contemporary these days?
     The category combines architectural modern, urban and loft, Art Deco, Asian, industrial, mid-century modern, retro and postmodern looks, among others, as defined by Furniture/Today. But around the industry, the definition varies.
     "You can define contemporary furniture by its clean, sleek look. It should be simple and its structure evident. Often you see the terms ‘less is more' or ‘form follows function' associated with contemporary design," said Mickal Adler, owner of Platinum Décor.
     "We like to define it as current, urban and innovative. Furniture should fulfill the practical needs of modern life. Take advantage of new materials and techniques. It should express the qualities and beauties of the materials used," Adler said.
This Origins dining tableThis Origins dining table from Phillips Collection can come with solid wood legs that match the top or polished stainless steel or blackened steel legs.

     Contemporary is fresh, modern and clean, said Jason Phillips, vice president and creative director at Phillips Collection.
     "Design that doesn't try too hard or force itself to reference historical proportions is contemporary," Phillips said. "It should feel livable in modern cities around the world. The sensibility is global modern and wouldn't be exclusive to a specific demographic."
     For others, like Randy Graboski, vice president of sales and marketing at Chintaly Imports, contemporary is about clean crisp lines, with chrome, glass, and stainless steel and hints of wood accents.
     "Contemporary offers a fresh look. Our industry has been all ‘brown' for as long as everyone can remember," he said.
     Phillips said younger customers are demanding contemporary as European design becomes more accepted in American culture. Stores that have catered to the European influence attest to its popularity, he said.
     "Ikea is a word we seldom like to reference but they pretty much hammered the idea of clean and hip design into our daily lives," Phillips said.
     "The consumer hates their quality and is almost turned off by how cheap the pieces are, but are left liking the lifestyle the branding has created. They now want to find that look from higher quality manufacturers like ourselves."
     Retailers are dedicating 50% of the space in Canadel galleries to transitional and contemporary looks - compared with a very small footprint a decade ago, said Howard Cohen, director of sales.
Eurostyle’s stainlessEurostyle’s stainless steel tri-leg Fridrika table is simple yet sleek.

     "Our floors were dominated by country and ‘brown' furniture," Cohen said. "Retailers are now beefing up their contemporary departments and to our delight, adding bold and vibrant colors to their contemporary models. In a sea of brown we stand out with color and imagination."
     Many contemporary sources said that more retail players are in the category now. Planum President Werner Piel said that a decade ago, retailers were more hesitant to buy contemporary.
     "Good design in contemporary design is easier to find. Competition keeps you on your toes. I don't feel there is more competition but the competition seems better," Piel said.
     Today, he said, retailers are looking for more causal contemporary dining, and at many stores 30% to 40% of the dining assortment falls into the category. He added that Planum also has seen a steady climb in casual contemporary sales.
     "People are simplifying their home lives and casual style lends itself to this. Even in the clothing industry this is true. I watch both the fashion industry and furniture industry and one seems to follow the other," Piel said.
     Platinum Décor's Adler said there are more competitors in the category, but since the market for contemporary goods has grown larger, it isn't overcrowded yet.
     As for design, Adler said that Platinum Décor's design process starts with inspiration and is not necessarily filling out preconceived notions of value as it relates to price. The company doesn't focus on being all things to all retailers, but rather on finding customers who share its design aesthetic, he said.

A dramatic

A dramatic curve highlights Platinum Décor's Singapura table

When Universal introduced Pennsylvania House’s industrial-influenced Forecast Collection, it was seen as a major style departure for a company that once stuck with traditional cherry.
When Universal introduced
Planum’s Mijo
Planum’s Mijo dining group has sleek lacquer cases with blocks of contrasting light and dark and clean lines.
This Janet dining set from Chintaly Imports features a solid marble top with a gray lacquer finish, and a solid stainless steel base with a decorative cross hatch.
This Janet dining

     "We have a beautiful modern chair with a high gloss finish and an acrylic back, but the frame is Queen Anne. There is of course a lot of design reference to Arts and Crafts and mid-century, but the inspiration can really come from anywhere," Adler said.
     "We've had inspirations for modern furniture that came from antiques and inspiration that came from the zoo."
     Cohen said Canadel has had a major focus on contemporary and transitional for at least 12 months and has continued to add product in the category. Its recent High Style contemporary collection significantly boosted the company's business, and it has continued adding product and options to the line.
     "The contemporary trend is here and growing," Cohen said. "We are finding a significant move away from the country and traditional designs with the emphasis on turnings and heft."
     Phillips said his company is often a trailblazer with its designs, with many pieces surviving for at least five years before the company refreshes them, or spruces them up with leg and finish options.
     "Everything starts with a sketch and a targeted buyer. We think about who would be purchasing the piece and what they'd be willing to pay. We think about the materials and construction. We value engineer the piece as an exercise in where we can get the price point, if need be," he said.
     Phillips said retailers often dedicate 30% of their showroom to contemporary, 40% to transitional and 30% to traditional. A decade ago, he said, the split would likely have been 15% contemporary, 35% transitional and 50% traditional.
     Graboski said that since contemporary is new to many retailers, stores take a trial and error approach with additional inventory after the first order.
     "First you would have to define contemporary for some retailers. They may carry some ‘wood' contemporary and only do fair with the category," he said. "Once they move to a better mix of product showing more chrome (and) glass ... the category is more defined."

Casual dining styles
Retail market share based on units, for all price points
Casual Dinning
Source: Furniture/Today 2012 Case Goods Style Survey
Consumers and casual dining
% of consumers preferring each table shape









Source: Furniture/Today and HGTV’s Consumer Views Survey, 2012

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