Scale offers opportunities in design
Cindy W. Hodnett -- Furniture Today, August 23, 2013
There is a notable movement underway in the upholstery world, and it could translate into a healthy revenue stream for manufacturers and retailers. And rather than simply offering the color of the moment or the pattern of the season, the growing demand for smaller-scale furniture represents a product category with staying power.
In a recent article published by the Urban Land Institute, author Trisha Riggs overviews the increasing popularity of an urban lifestyle, stating that the desire to live in a "walkable" community is strong among several age groups.
According to Riggs, a survey conducted by the Urban Land Institute shows that along with the expected popularity among Gen Y (those born between 1979 and 1995 and numbering 80 million in the U.S.), smaller residences offering a shorter commute are also increasing in appeal with Gen X (born between 1966 and 1978) and baby boomers (born between 1947 and 1965). Additionally, 59% of the Gen Y respondents to the survey said they prefer diversity in housing choices, and 62% prefer developments that offer a mix of shopping, dining and office space.
"The choices being made by these groups are upending long-held notions about what is considered traditional neighborhood development," said Urban Land Institute CEO Patrick L. Phillips in the report. "We've entered an era in land use that will be defined by development that conserves land and energy, and which offers consumers plenty of options in where they live and how they get from one place to another."
In this urban apartment stools are used as both tables and seating, complementing smallerscale sofas, chairs and sectionals.
Christopher Grubb is president of Arch-Interiors design group in Beverly Hills, Calif. He said there are several factors contributing to the increase in urban dwellings.
"Young people want the excitement of city living," Grubb said. "Individuals or young couples want to be close to work and avoid a long commute for a better quality of life. First-time buyers often can't afford larger spaces, and retirees from the baby boomer generation want to downsize and be closer to urban amenities and culture."
Furniture manufacturers are responding to the demand with a mix of product. In suburban communities and in certain geographic regions, average-size and overscale upholstery remains a strong category. In urban neighborhoods and in a high percentage of new residential construction, homes have considerably less square footage. Consequently, many collections include a range of sizes.
The Carmichael sofa by Gus Design Group delivers a bright color punch in a small-scale size.
At Klaussner Home Furnishings, every sofa-sleeper comes in at least three sizes. The company has also developed "smaller, cleaner frames" along with larger, casual frames for the transitional-style consumer.
Solid bodycloths with vibrant accents add interest without overpowering a smaller space.
Lane, known for large-scale motion furniture, offers product at both ends of the size spectrum. The company has incorporated smaller frames into the upholstery lineup and is also offering a supersized version of the company's ComfortKing line.
"Meaningful differentiation will hopefully allow retailers to better serve the needs of their shoppers," said Paul Peters, vice president of wholesale upholstery. "Comfort remains a personal choice and as the category matures over time, we believe there is a segment of the market that is interested in a little more design with a motion seating experience. Think of it as an evolution much like the SUV category has evolved over the past several years."
Lane has incorporated small frames into its upholstery line and also expanded the ComfortKing line of motion furniture, designed for “big and tall” consumers.
United Furniture Inds. is still doing a "great business" with large-scale sofas, according to Greg Morgan, director of merchandising. However, the company has also introduced several smaller frames to address the needs of urban consumers.
"Most of our stationary product ranges from 86 inches to 100 inches in length, but we do see a trend to smaller-scale frames to fit today's homes and lifestyles," Morgan said. "We see an increase in urban living, apartments and condos as well as lofts in larger cities, and we have introduced a few frames that are at 80 inches in length. Our sleeper sofas are available as a twin, full and queen size, which is typically around 63 inches for a twin, 78 inches for a full and 85 inches for a queen. Our line at United is broad in design and size to accommodate most any consumer."
The Edgewater sofa by Lexington Home Brands is one of the manufacturer’s longer sofas, a category the company says remains strong.
"All of our furniture tends to be slightly smaller scale, but within our collection, we have the Loft series, which is scaled specifically for apartments, condos and smaller-scaled homes," said Gus Design's Jon Isaak. "More first-time homeowners are choosing to live in smaller homes near urban centers rather than in larger, traditional suburban spaces. This means they're looking for furniture more suited to modest spaces - smaller scale and multifunctionality is key. The response (to the collection) has been fantastic. We'll be looking to add additional in-stock fabrics in upcoming seasons."
Arch-Interiors’ Christopher Grubb says that furniture for smaller interiors must be multifunctional.
"Small spaces offer a great and affordable opportunity to change a design look," Grubb said. "There is a post-recession consciousness of having less, combined with fiscal considerations and an environmental awareness to reduce driving, that will keep consumers looking for smaller spaces for a long time." Isaak agrees.
"The economic challenges of the past five years, coupled with a new generation of design-minded consumers, have created a long-term demand for furniture that is beautiful and highly practical," he said. "Scaling upholstery down doesn't present as much of a challenge as designing it to be multifunctional. Our bi-sectional sofas, for example, must be designed and engineered to work in a variety of different configurations. You have to allocate more time to get the designs just right."
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