• Thomas Russell

Formal dining adapts

Casual lifestyles, multi-functional spaces redefine category

DinningThe 920 dining set, from the Trisha Yearwood licensed collection by Klaussner Home Furnishings, features a doubleped, trestle-base table and a companion display china cabinet.
HIGH POINT — Well-known resources that offer formal dining as part of their collection business have had to adapt to a changing landscape that mirrors not only more casual lifestyles, but also different uses of the dedicated dining area.

Furniture Today research shows that many homes built in recent years have a formal dining room. However, some of those rooms are being used for different uses such as offices and children’s play areas.

For these resources and their customers, this raises some questions about the future for large scale dining sets that in the past have made up the bulk of the formal dining business. Some case goods resources have shied away from even using the term formal dining to describe how people live and gather today.

“People aren’t getting out the sterling silver, bone china and Irish crystal — if they have it at all — just once or twice a year,” said Neil McKenzie, director of product development at Hekman Furniture, adding that the concept of “formal dining is going by the wayside.

“But there is a family gathering table, which still requires sitting six or more people, that may be used in great room combinations or in a large kitchen dining setting.”

McKenzie noted that Hekman, which once did most of its dining business in European and American traditional styles, has approached the category of late by designing product that suits those “lived-in” areas in the home. Its more casual styling and finishes can be seen in collections such as Wellington Hall and Lincoln Park.

diningThe 920 dining set, from the Trisha Yearwood licensed collection by Klaussner Home Furnishings, features a doubleped, trestle-base table and a companion display china cabinet.
“We have brought out more casual styles and finishes that can take harder use where the family members or kids are at the table doing homework or watching TV or doing projects on it,” he said.

Despite the shift in style, McKenzie said the scale has not necessarily changed. Hekman still sells a number of 76-inch rectangular tables that extend to more than 100 inches.

“They want a table to gather the family, whether it’s immediate family or extended family,” he said of these tables that seat eight to 10 comfortably. The company also tends to offers round tables seating six or more with a leaf. Some of these footprints outsell the rectangular tables.

Books or dishes

Phil Haney, president and CEO of Lexington Home Brands, said that at its upper middle to upper end price points, its market is largely homes with a dedicated dining room.

RosedaleThe Rosedale table from A.R.T. Furniture’s Epicenters Austin collection has a wirebrushed finish and is shown with spindle side chairs. The table retails at $1,849.
As these rooms are often used for home office and homework, Haney noted, they are accommodating more bookcase display types of units, which Lexington also sells in its line.

“China cabinets are gone, but bookcases are in,” he noted, adding that these pieces offer a vertical design element to the room that gives a library type of appearance to the dining area.

He also agreed that the styles and finishes are getting more casual in nature. Examples in its line include the Oyster Bay collection in Lexington and the Cypress Point collection in its licensed Tommy Bahama line.

With its recent purchase of Artistica, the company also will soon offer large scale dining sets with more casual finishes than the Lexington line, which still develops a good number of groups in its traditional to contemporary collections with sophisticated, and in some cases, higher sheen finishes.

Casual style, finish

CypressThe Cypress Point dining set from the Tommy Bahama Home line by Lexington Home Brands offers distressed gray elm veneers in a windswept driftwood finish.
Adam Tilley, senior vice president of product and marketing at A.R.T. Furniture, said the company still does a good business in formal dining sets with a more traditional style footprint. However, he noted that the largest growth in its dining segment is in sets with more casual styles.

“We are certainly seeing an evolution from a style preference and furniture use standpoint,” he said, pointing to a mobile server in its Arch. Salvage collection that offers dining storage, bar and entertainment function in one piece.

He added that finishes, too, are more casual and durable in nature, making them suitable for everyday use, whether it’s dining or working on a school or work project.

Among its collections that address some of the new direction in both style and functionality are Arch. Salvage, Morrissey and CityScapes and Roseline to name several.

These sets too offer tables that seat both smaller groups, yet have a leaf to accommodate larger groups of eight to 10.

“We do a lot of business with open floor plan homes, and with those open floor plan homes, they need a bigger table, Tilley noted. “But if you want to go big, it is important to be able to go small.”

Stanley Furniture also is known for its collection business, which includes formal dining. But while its footprints can be considered formal due to their styling and scale, it too is offering its customers more casual looks and finishes.

“The way we approach our collections is that we know people are certainly living more casual lifestyles,” said Randy Wells, director of creative at Stanley Furniture, noting that the company designs formal dining as part of a collection that is comfortable well-designed furniture and ties in with the company’s brand aesthetic.

The key, he said, is to properly adjust its scale and offer a variety of table sizes that suit a variety of age groups living in different areas. Typically, Stanley offers three different size tables including 48-and 54-inch rounds and an 85-inch rectangular table with a 23.5 inch leaf. A similar size leaf is also typically offered with the 54-inch table.

“It is certainly a category you have to think hard about it when you are building a collection,” Wells noted of factors ranging from scale, styling and finish. “The trick is to do it in a way that reflects how people are living today, and people are living more casually.”

Reflecting lifestyles

HekmanHekman Furniture’s Wellington Hall collection, this dining set is made with acacia veneers and has a lightly distressed finish that emphasizes the casual nature of the wood grains.
Jeff Scheffer, president and CEO of Universal Furniture, agreed that the formal dining category has become more casual.

“This doesn’t just go for dining,” he said. “If you look at collections we have done over the last five years, everything we have done has become less formal and more casual or more livable. It is a reflection of how everybody lives today. … What has worked for us are things that are more livable and more casual, and dining has followed along with that.”

Among the recent collections that reflect this pattern include Elan, a more European-influenced collection in a light finish, and Synchronicity, a transitional contemporary collection in a wire-brushed, low-sheen finish.

“It is not a high maintenance look,” Scheffer noted.

Other resources that have offered more casual looks in their formal dining segments include Klaussner, Legacy Classic and Pulaski.

Don Essenberg, president of Legacy Classic, said that the company divides its dining category into both special occasion (for dedicated dining areas) and every day (primarily for kitchens).

“The styles are the same, and the scale often determines in which room in the house the set is used,” Essenberg noted. He added that Legacy still believes in the category as “many if not most homes have a dining room. Yes, that room is only used only a few times a year, but they are the most important meals in a family’s year. … It’s reserved for special occasions.”

While Pulaski has developed more casual looks in its dining segment, the company still has a strong business in the formal dining segment and develops sets along these lines with many of its collections.

“There is a perception that during the downturn formal dining was dead and it was all casual dining,” said Dallas George, vice president of sales. “Like other things, it has cycled back and has not disappeared. … Consumers still like formal dining.”

He added that Pulaski introduces more than one table with a collection, including a round and rectangular. However, it depends on the collection, whether one or more of these get cut with the rest of the collection.

Geoff Beaston, vice president of case goods at Klaussner, said that the company’s bedroom business has been stronger than its dining business.

Still, the dining category has gained some steam, particularly with its Trisha Yearwood licensed collections. This is due largely to her appeal, not just as an entertainer, but as a celebrity cook.

“For the past three years, we have seen dining increasing,” Beaston said. “Dining has been a growing category.

Thomas RussellThomas Russell | Associate Editor, Furniture Today

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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