• Andrea Lillo
  • Thomas Russell

Case goods take soft approach to contemporary

Casana Furniture’sCasana Furniture’s Olympia bedroom is made with solid mahogany. The drawer fronts and bed panels feature rough cut planks that are sanded smooth.
HIGH POINT - When it comes to contemporary, case goods resources often find themselves in a tough spot.
     On one hand, they want to be seen as offering leading edge designs in the category. On the other, they don't want to lean too far afield with contemporary that borders on European or modern styling.
     For wood resources, that often means offering clean lined shapes and finishes in a way that complements the wood story.
     For example, contemporary beds and case pieces often showcase lower-to-medium- sheen finishes versus higher sheen or lacquer looks often found in European contemporary. The pieces also have shaping to avoid coming off merely as a rectilinear or boxy piece of furniture.
     That perhaps explains why more often than not wood resources are using the terms "soft contemporary" or "transitional" to describe their efforts in contemporary.
This 70-inch TVThis 70-inch TV media console by Furnitech is made with walnut veneers in a wood tone walnut finish. Retailing at $1,399, it also features black veneered glass.

     One reason is that it reduces the perceived risk to retailers who are still doing well with traditional on their floors. It also opens the door to a larger customer base.
     "What we hear from our customers is that they want a lot of perceived value," said Michael Lawrence, vice president of sales at case goods resource Najarian Furniture, which specializes in contemporary and transitional designs. "With modern groups, you are limited in terms of forms that are minimalist and have very straight lines. A rectangular box doesn't have as much perceived value.
     "In transitional contemporary, you can do cleaner lines, but offer more movement and materials on drawer fronts."
At Najarian, geometric shapes find their way onto the aprons of dining tables and edges of mirrors. The company is also delving into glam looks such as mirrored drawer fronts on cases and upholstered shapes on headboards as seen in its Obsessions collection at the fall High Point Market.
Stanley Furniture’sStanley Furniture’s Avalon Heights collection is made with cherry and mappa burl veneers in a finish called Chelsea. The metal table base features interlocking oval shapes.

     Roger Friesen, president and CEO of contemporary bedroom resource Casana, describes contemporary as a cleaner interpretation of transitional looks. Unlike modern, which he views as a higher-end type of product with higher sheen finishes and more elaborate, engineered veneers, he views contemporary as a product that would appeal to urban dwellers living in apartments or condos.
     "What our line is all about is cleaner interpretations of familiar elements in scale and size that are more in demand today to reflect more emphasis on apartment and condo living.... They are becoming stronger looks because they have more ... materials and styling that appeal to more customers."
     "Our focus has always been that," he added. "We have been modern with some of our product, but the core of our line is softer contemporary, which are really transitional statements."
This dining setThis dining set is part of Lexington Home Brands’ contemporary Tower Place collection. The table is made with walnut veneers in a dark wood tone finish called Arlington and features custom hardware and metal accents in a brushed rose gold finish.

     He noted that materials remain an important part of the design.
     "Whether it is cherry, oak, ash, walnut or mahogany, we want to accentuate the beauty of the wood," Friesen said. "Our finishes are medium to lower sheen finishes that have clarity.... We are not covering things up like some traditional resources do."
     Phil Haney, president and CEO of case goods and upholstery resource Lexington Home Brands, said cuttingedge contemporary isn't something Lexington can sell to a larger market or through its typical retail base. The contemporary it does offer tends to be fre
Najarian Furniture’sNajarian Furniture’s Delano bedroom features scalloped shaping on drawer fronts and on the mirror frame and side rails and headboard of this storage bed. It is made with basswood veneers and poplar solids in a chocolate finish.
sh in design, but relaxed and comfortable.
"Customers can get scared off contemporary from a look and a comfort standpoint," Haney said. "You have to design product that looks great, but sits well."
     Aviano, one of Lexington's latest Tommy Bahama outdoor lines, includes that mix of look and comfort, featuring mid-century modern designs seen in the curved shapes of cocktail and end tables along with comfortable pieces such as an open barrel-shaped chair.
     "For us, it was about trying to maintain comfort, while giving us an edgy l
This bar cabinetThis bar cabinet is part of Hekman’s Metropolis collection. It is made with ribbon striped mahogany and rosewood veneers in a merlot finish.
ook," Haney said, noting that some contemporary furniture is uncomfortable because it's so low to the ground.
     Adam Tilley, vice president of product development at Stanley Furniture, said the company has found more success in soft contemporary
This poster canopyThis poster canopy bed is part of Henredon’s Venue collection. It is made with American walnut veneers and Philippine mahogany solids and comes in a medium brown walnut finish called Luxe that has a medium to high sheen. Bronze finished steel rods connect the four posts, and solid brass accents also connect the headboard to the bed and the bronze finished metal rods to the columns. It retails at $13,485 for a king-sized version.
versus hard-edge contemporary or modern forms. Its contemporary-leaning collections tend to incorporate some traditional or familiar design elements such as bead details and cove moldings as well as bracket or saber feet.
     Pieces with traditional northern Italian designs, Tilley said, also can become more contemporary in nature by changing the finish.
     "It is repurposing design elements in a new way to create something new and unique, but also that is familiar," he said, noting that soft contemporary or transitional is a much larger style category in the U.S.
      Niche players such as Furnitech, which specializes in home entertainment, and Four Hands, which specializes in pieces made with a reclaimed story, focus on more contemporary-leaning product.
     But here too, these companies soften their looks by offering products that emphasize the wood story.
     "Hard looking chrome and glass is a very European look," said Matt Briggs, president and chief o
Four Hands BonhamFour Hands’ Bonham dining table features a Peroba wood base and a concrete top. It retails for $3,200.
perating officer of Four Hands. "I always describe it as feeling like you are living somebody else's life. Where we play in contemporary is we take some of the design aspects and attach it to a reclaimed woods and sustainable materials story. That warms it up and makes it more accessible to the average person."
     He added that a lot of the company's collections do offer more traditional shapes. But these are not meant to just match other pieces in a room. Instead, they are meant to be more standalone pieces that have the look and feel of a "found object" versus being in a collection.

Thomas RussellThomas Russell | Associate Editor, FurnitureToday

I'm Tom Russell and have worked at Furniture/Today since August 2003. Since then, I have covered the international side of the business from a logistics and sourcing standpoint. Since then, I also have visited several furniture trade shows and manufacturing plants in Asia, which has helped me gain perspective about the industry in that part of the world. As I continue covering the import side of the business, I look forward to building on that knowledge base through conversations with industry officials and future overseas plant tours. From time to time, I will file news and other industry perspectives online and, as always, welcome your response to these Web postings.

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