Contemporary design, demystified
March 14, 2013,
HIGH POINT - Seven out of 10 consumers incorporate contemporary styles into their décor, according to Furniture/Today and HGTV's Consumers Views Survey. In upholstered furniture, the style's market share is substantial in every category, from stationary sofas to home theater seating.
Yet despite the popularity of contemporary furniture designs, there are misconceptions about the style. Manufacturers, fabric suppliers and retailers recently weighed in on some of the myths surrounding contemporary design, which we have grouped into three categories.
Myth No. 1: Contemporary furniture is uncomfortable and not family-friendly.
"The biggest misconception from both retailers and consumers is that contemporary furniture is expensive, uncomfortable and not durable," said Vincent Scocuzza, national sales manager for NicolettiCalia, an upholstery manufacturer based in Italy.
"So far, the contemporary market has been a niche market serviced only by few very high-end Italian companies who were offering a minimalistic look, sometimes not appreciated or understood by consumers.
"What we are doing is a little different; we are adapting the look to make the furniture more accessible to more people. To make the furniture more comfortable, we have kept the backs low, thus preserving the look, but we have added the ratchet system, which allows the consumer to decide when to sit more comfortably or when to make the furniture look more minimalistic."
Eurosace introduced its contemporary sofa line in January at the Las Vegas Market. Company representatives said the made-in-Spain line struck a chord with buyers.
"We sold over $100,000 of goods," said Alan Lerner, Eurosace's CEO. "We only decided to attend the show two weeks prior and were originally shooting to debut at High Point. We decided to launch early due to interest from vendors planning to attend the show."
Lerner said that the factory in Spain allows Eurosace to achieve a level of quality usually associated with high end contemporary at a lower price point than is available from Italian manufacturers.
"It's long been viewed that Italy has the best contemporary lines in the market," he said. "The downside to this is that many of them don't offer a more ‘relaxed' version of their models.
|Natuzzi’s Bolero sofa combines
contemporary style and comfort.|
|Zicana’s new line of accent
chairs featuring precious
stones is described by
company CEO Francesco
Marasco as “New Age,
sleek and simple.”|
|Eurosace, a made-in-Spain contemporary
brand, had a strong market in Las Vegas and
featured sofas including the Napoli.|
"The innovative feature that led us to our manufacturer was the reclining mechanism you find in many of our models. This mechanism allows the seat cushion to extend out up to 18 inches to accommodate people of all sizes. This system can be motorized or manual and allows you to recline without flipping up a footrest. This not only added to the contemporary look and design of our sofas, but it is also more functional as it provides total support across the entire seat as it reclines," Lerner said.
Brad Cates, senior vice president for Natuzzi Americas, said buyers are often surprised by the comfort of contemporary.
"When I am in a store and working with consumers, they often have the impression that contemporary product is low, hard and uncomfortable," he said. "With Natuzzi, we show them that the product is very comfortable and very adaptable to their lifestyle."
Although an upscale shelter magazine furniture darling, contemporary design is also a favorite category outside of major urban markets. Popular with several consumer demographics, the category has become important to full-line manufacturers like Ashley and Craftmaster Furniture, which have expanded their collections to highlight contemporary.
"The biggest misconception is that contemporary furniture is only for metropolitan markets," said Ashley CEO Todd Wanek. "We keep a close eye on domestic and global markets and see the changes in demographics. Today, the Millennial generation makes up over 72 million young adults. These shoppers are taking a new approach to furniture shopping with the latest technology and fashion- forward styles. They need a store to shop that has the style they understand and a price point they can afford."
Wanek said Ashley has dedicated more than 50% of its product line to furniture with contemporary style, including the Bardini collection. Ashley supports the program with a merchandising strategy that streamlines the point of purchase and marketing techniques, he said.
|NicolettiCalia’s Sparta group showcases the simple lines characteristic of contemporary
|Contemporary fabrics, like the Texture line from American
Folk & Fabric, often emphasize neutral colors and layers of
|Wasser’s Furniture, a Florida retailer, revised
the store’s inventory to feature high-end
"We see this category as an untapped area of the furniture industry that is not being properly addressed by furniture stores," Wanek said. "It is important that we address the consumer segment that desires contemporary furniture. We need this consumer segment to come into furniture stores and it is important that we display furniture that they desire in an environment that is exciting to them."
Craftmaster expanded its product line to include contemporary six years ago. President and CEO Roy Calcagne said it was apparent that the shift was necessary even though Craftmaster had a much different focus at the time.
"Craftmaster was approximately 75% traditional/country in 2006," Calcagne said. "It was clear to me that contemporary was the fastest- growing style category in stationary upholstery and that we needed to be part of it. We are even more focused on it today with the introduction of Urban Elements last market.
"The Urban Elements collection has a contemporary edge, but a very livable and comfortable feel about it," said Calcagne. "The response was phenomenal at the market because it was so unexpected by our dealers."
Tricia Moe Bellocchio of Design 9 said many retailers think "there is a very limited audience (for contemporary), especially in smaller towns," but she disagrees.
"If done right, you can place it in nearly any room setting and make it feel warm and inviting," Bellocchio said. "If it is good quality, it can be extremely comfortable and timeless."
Price-sensitive fabrics are essential to affordable price points for contemporary furniture, said Laura Levinson, vice president of design at fabric source Valdese Weavers.
"Contemporary fabrics are not more expensive than traditional ones," she said. "While there is some high end contemporary product, most of it falls into more of a price-sensitive area."
Valdese Weavers defines contemporary fabrics as those that have a simple or geometric motif, Levinson added. "Color plays a large role in defining contemporary patterns. There are both soft palettes and those with high-contrast bright colors."
Myth No. 3: Contemporary is one look, one style.
Even longtime members of the furniture industry confuse contemporary and modern design, and part of the challenge is that contemporary is used to define both product and lifestyle. Interior designer Vicki Payne, host of the PBS series "For Your Home," says that understanding contemporary requires understanding the lifestyle shift that accompanied its rise in popularity.
"The way I define contemporary design today is different from how I defined it five years ago," Payne said. "People used to think it was more European or Italian design, but as our society began to embrace a ‘less is more' philosophy, we began trying to decide how to incorporate that into style. Yes, there are defining characteristics like strong lines, a sleek look and the absence of skirts and fringe for contemporary furniture, but it is also a mindset. If you have a lot of layers in a room - a lot of stuff - then contemporary becomes transitional."
Like the furniture, contemporary fabrics can be interpreted in several ways, according to Michael Durham, president and CEO of Se7en, a North Carolina fabric mill.
"They are clean, minimalistic, often more textural," he said. "In the better-end goods, both the body cloths and feature patterns will have finer constructions, and it will be a true suede and real leather instead of the laminated suede or bonded leather you find at lower price points."
"I see contemporary fabrics as ease of care as well as simplistic pattern, texture or minimal color," said J.J. Jenkins, president of American Folk & Fabric. "Time is precious; low maintenance is contemporary."
Jeff Selik, president of retailer Hillside Furniture in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said that he uses his sales floor to educate consumers.
"We have big signs hanging in the store defining what contemporary is," he said. "It might be different things to different people, but for us, it is clean lines and designs.
"People often think that contemporary is very expensive, uncomfortable and a sea of brown, black and beige," Selik said. "But we're not afraid of color and we like to dazzle people with red, citrus green and lemon yellow. Contemporary in general is a state of mind, and I tell people that a room full of contemporary furniture is like a room full of sunshine if it's done well - it's refreshing."
At Wasser's Furniture in Hallandale Beach, Fla., Jaime Wasser explains that her approach to contemporary furniture is that it merges fashion, couture design and unique materials "to create a piece of art" that is also functional. Wasser said the store's original business model was "mostly traditional" and that now contemporary has taken over a large share of the market.
"Over the past decade, we have definitely seen an increase in demand for this genre," she said. "After my brother came into the business seven years ago, he really saw the market turning and completely revamped the inventory."
Wasser said that while there are manufacturers doing a great job with contemporary furniture, there is also still opportunity within the category.
"Our contemporary customer is getting more edgy," she said. "They have style, are fashion forward and want their home to represent their personality. Manufacturers can step a bit out of their comfort zones by using more mixed media combinations and more daring designs. That would be refreshing to see in the market!"