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Bookcases' versatility goes way beyond books

Janice Chamberlain, Thomas Russell -- Furniture Today, December 14, 2012

HIGH POINT - E-readers may be the in thing, but they aren't necessarily displacing physical books. Visit any bookstore and you'll see consumers seeking out new and older titles alike, in paperback and hardcover.
     Retail sales of recreational books have been up over the past few years, according to figures for the U.S. Department of Commerce. While those figures include the sale of some e-books, this is good news for the suppliers of bookcases, whose latest product offerings include a variety of stylish looks and finishes.
     Hooker, Aspenhome, Bassett, Martin and Thomasville are among the middle- to upper- middle-priced resources in the category. Other lower priced resources such as Legends, Kurio King and Sunny Designs also do a respectable bookcase business.
     Yet bookcases aren't just for books, and this may be one of the reasons they continue to do well in the marketplace. They also display family photos, figurines and other collectibles once shown mostly in curio cabinets. Some households still have those glass encased pieces, but it's becoming more and more common to see a decorative bookcase in a den or family room.
     "Sometimes a bookcase is about who you are," said Hank Long, senior vice president of marketing at Hooker Furniture. "It's about displaying accessories and trophies, and you also may have some books in there. It's not just about books - it's about who you are and how you decorate your home."
     Long estimated that bookcases represent about 25% of Hooker's home office sales. Units range from freestanding models to bunching and stacking units with sliding doors.
     "The more options you can give, the better," he said. "There are just so many different needs in bookcases, and what we try to do is be a one stop source for them.... They all sell and when you add up the volume, they are all important."
     Long and others also said that bookcases are just as common in living rooms as they are in home offices. In living rooms, they can stand alone, bunch together or serve as pier units for a TV console. They also can come in the form of a library wall unit, as seen at producers such as Aspenhome, Hooker, Sunny Designs and Parker House.
     The modular nature of some bookcases is a particularly strong selling point for consumers looking for creative ways to decorate.
     In April, Bassett Furniture launched its EOS (Entertainment, Office, Storage) program, which has 20 SKUs of modular home office pieces, some of which are bookcase display units that can double as home entertainment. The concept takes its modular sensibilities from the former Guilford collection, which offered bookcase units that could be purchased individually or bunched together with various crowns and bases. The concept was carried over to EOS from Guilford, which has been phased out after about a 10 year-run.
     "At the end of the day, it was a second generation of Guilford," said Bassett's vice president of product development and design, Matt Johnson, who said EOS offers about eight additional crown and base SKUs. "It works on the same principle with the bases and crowns. We have single, double, triple and quad(ruple), so it looks like a custom book case."
     Johnson added that popular collections such as Highlands and the Mission-inspired Grove Park also offer bookcase display units.
     "That was one of the requests from the sales team and from some of the retailers shopping us - bring us a nice leaded-glass bookcase. It is a nice decorative piece and we will definitely sell it."
     Gil Martin, president of Martin Furniture, said bookcase units are still a strong category, offered in every home office collection.
     "If we made an office collection and didn't include a bookcase, it would be like saying, why didn't you make a file cabinet?" he said.
     Martin said the units also are dividing into two camps. One is a 30- to 36-inch-wide by 60- to 84-inch-tall standalone unit that has shelves for books, but can also hold photos, trophies and other decorative items. The other is a more decorative piece of furniture that is a cross between a bookcase and a room divider.
     He said the latter "incorporates the features of a bookcase, but also a room divider where it is open and finished on both sides. There are clever designs coming out. There are just a huge variety of shapes, configurations and finishes. It is pretty creative."
     Ryan Tessau, product manager for case goods at Thomasville Furniture, said the company typically offers decorative bookcase units in its home office collections. But he said these pieces can fit into many room settings, including dining areas.
     "Bookcases are great for storage, and the vertical nature of them helps to make a statement in a lot of rooms," he said. "I think that certainly, they are an important element to carry through the theme of a room. They are architectural in nature and I think that people still have many things they want to display on them other than a library of books.... They are a good statement piece for a room."
     Others said the display of books will remain a key element of these units - as long as books keep getting printed.
"People are still buying books," said John Labarowski, president and CEO of accent and occasional furniture specialist Laurel House Designs, which has decorative bookcase units in its line.
     "From a display or decorative standpoint, (the bookcase category) makes sense for a lot of people. It may not be for everybody, but there is still a need for it."

Laurel House
Laurel House Designs’ Denver curio bookcase unit is made with oak veneers in a Vintage Oak finish and features patinated black metal painted doors, seeded glass and four adjustable wood-framed glass shelves. It retails at $1,899.
Brownstone Furniture showed the Chelsea bookcase at the October High Point Market. It is made with solid teak and comes in a cerused teak finish.
Brownstone Furniture
The Maitland-Smith
The Maitland-Smith Island Kelobra finished secretary bookcase unit shown behind this desk is made with a Central American wood called kelobra and features brass hardware and accents. It has a suggested retail of $9,900.

Hooker Furniture’s Ludlow bookcase units are 66 inches high and 48 inches wide and have a fretwork design on the sliding glass doors. Retailing at $999, each unit is made with walnut veneers in a dark walnut finish.
Hooker Furniture’s
This bookcase display
This bookcase display unit is from Thomasville’s Spellbound collection. It has a contrasting black exterior and white interior and drawer units that double as shelves. It has a suggested retail of $1,999.
This bookcase display unit is part of Bassett Furniture’s modular EOS program. It is made with cherry veneers and comes in a dark rum finish.
This bookcase
Martin Furniture’s
Martin Furniture’s Crossroads room divider is made with birch veneers and comes in a 12-step cherry finish. It retails from $199 to $299.

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