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Consoles thrive, walls survive in entertainment

Heath E. Combs -- Furniture Today, May 15, 2012

HIGH POINT - If Rip Van Winkle woke up after two decades slumber in 2012, he'd be surprised to see what the television is sitting on.
     Home entertainment furniture has evolved along with the television. Gone are the massive entertainment walls or chunky armoires that once hid boxy televisions behind closed doors. Far from hiding today's flat panel televisions, consumers of this era want to display them in homes.
     "What we have found out is that since TVs are a prestige item people do not want to hide them but show them off," said Andrew Bandremer, senior vice president at Twin-Star International.
     That has driven an evolution of the category that's continuing today with more consoles, more pier and bridge units, and thinner wall systems that make the TV a centerpiece in living rooms and bedrooms.
     Standard Furniture's Debbie Dilbeck, sales and merchandising executive assistant, said the biggest trend since the introduction of the flat panel television has been the growing popularity of consoles, especially consoles with shallower decks.
     "Of course shallower depths are needed with flat screens, plus new wider screen size configurations. The overall profile is narrower and wider than previously, with the TV being at a lower viewing height," Dilbeck said.
     And the console continues to adapt, according to David King, vice president of sales and marketing at Martin Home Furnishings.

The Laredo homeThe Laredo home entertainment wall is a best seller for Sligh. With styling that’s on the traditional side, it features intricate carving details, a rich brown finish, and a multitude of shelves and doors for storage and display space.
This 60-inch Berkshire console is one of Legends Furniture’s best sellers. It also works as part of the company’s Estate wall, which can be built around the console with supplemental pieces. The Berkshire retails between $599 and $699.
This 60-inch Berkshire
Standard’s SonomaStandard’s Sonoma bedroom TV chest is of the company’s best sellers. The group has Arts and Crafts styling with exposed tenon joinery detail, in dark oak finish and craftsman style hardware in antiqued nickel color. It has a $399 retail price. The company is including television chests in most of its adult and youth bedroom groups.
One of BDI’s best selling groups is its Avion Series II, according to Dave Adams, marketing specialist. The group’s innovations include a linear, satin stainless steel base, softclose doors, large windows in the doors to allow infrared remote control capabilities, generous cable management channels, hidden wheels, flow-through ventilation, integrated wire management and removable back panels.
One of BDI’s
Consumers like APA
Consumers like APA Marketing’s Lamar wall system because it accommodates all their electronics and also has additional display opportunities for collectibles, like lighted glass shelves on outboard pier ends. APA says its strongest retail price range for wall systems is $1,699 to $1,999.
One of Twin Star’s best selling groups is the Celena console, says Andrew Bandremer, senior vice president. Customers like the floating glass top, open center space and wide space behind glass doors and hidden side storage. For additional storage of CDs and DVDs, the Celena has hidden lateral touch latch doors with an adjustable shelf in each compartment.
One of Twin Star’s
One of Martin’s

One of Martin’s best selling entertainment groups is Crescent, with a suggested retail of $999 for two piers, a bridge and a console. It is available in white, black and a wood veneer. Its piers and bridges can accommodate up to 78-inch TVs, and corner units are available.

     "Originally everyone sold tons of 40-inch units, but as TV pricing has come down, retailers are looking for larger consoles ... anywhere between 60 and 84 inches now are very popular," Martin said.
     The recession - along with an "amazing drop in the price" of flat panel televisions - reduced the sales of more expensive wall systems and greatly increased the sales of consoles, said Rich Serlin, vice president of sales and marketing for APA Marketing, a division of Whalen Furniture.
     "Consoles for the 55-inch to 60-inch televisions - that is, 60-inch-wide consoles - have been growing tremendously. With 60-inch flat panels being retailed at $999 commonly and sometimes as low as $799, this category will continue to grow," Serlin said. "Of course, with 40-to-42-inch televisions selling as low as $299 and commonly at $399, 48-to-50-inch consoles cannot be ignored."
     Twin Star's Bandremer said that 52-inch and 60-inch consoles are the company's best sellers but there is a trend toward larger carts as televisions get bigger and more affordable in the larger sizes.
     Amazon currently sells a 60-Inch LG Plasma HDTV for $1,199, while Walmart lists a Mitsubishi 73-inch 3D DLP HDTV for $1,599.
     Standard's Dilbeck said that the company carries a few 72-inch long consoles, but its 48-inch to 52-inch models suit many living areas. She added that most of the company's adult and youth bedroom collections now include a television stand or console.
     "Most of our consoles coordinate with occasional table groups and some with casual dining groups, which works perfect for the open plan home layout. Our 31-to 48-inch units do very well for bedrooms," Dilbeck said.
     Legends Furniture sells more consoles than wall units, according to Tim Donk, director of marketing. The company does best with its 60-inch to 65-inch consoles, but is currently seeing a lot of movement in the 72-inch to 84-inch category.
     Two other trends in the category are features that accommodate gaming hardware and software and especially sound bar-ready consoles, whose sales are "exploding," said APA's Serlin.
     Entertainment furniture source BDI has noticed a trend of consumers looking to minimize the amount of clutter around televisions, said Dave Adams, marketing specialist.
     "Treating the flat panel more like a work of art, they want the focus squarely on the TV. I think that is why there are more enclosed cabinets and systems," Adams said.
     Moreover, home entertainment electronics are getting smaller and more multipurpose, he said. While some audiophiles still have a big amplifier or receiver, components are often serving double duty - such as cable boxes that stream Netflix, or Playstation units with built in Blu-ray players.
     "Meaning that many consumers find they have less components than they did before," Adams said.
     And while consoles appear to be leading the race for dominance in home entertainment at present, wall systems and pier and bridge units may eventually catch up.
     Legend's Donk said wall units took a big sales hit starting about five years ago and are just now starting to come back slowly.
     "The ratio of consoles to walls has completely changed. What was two to one, console to wall, is now closer to 12 to one. The one-piece entertainment center has all but disappeared completely," he said.
     Especially for better quality goods, walls remain important, said Rob Sligh, president of Sligh, a division of Lexington Home Brands. If suppliers are serious about recognizing that consumers have many televisions and display needs for them - and also recognize the importance of having a diverse product mix - then wall units are essential, he said.
     "The average high-end home has seven TVs in it.... Well, if you've got seven TVs, maybe one, possibly two, of the seven need to be housed in a wall or that's how you'd prefer it," Sligh said.
     The adaptation of the wall systems to the flat panel TV has helped that category rebound as the consumer accepts a higher price point to get the features they like, APA's Serlin said.
     "Our wall system sales have increased dramatically in the past 18 months," he said. "The pier/bridge/console wall system is still the top selling configuration, but more residential-looking - rather than consumer electronics oriented - walls are really gaining traction."

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