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Waites looks back on 30 years in design

The world of home furnishings design has changed dramatically in the past three decades.

The major differences, said designer Raymond Waites, who is celebrating his 30th anniversary as a home furnishings designer this year, are "how much more professional design has become and the global impact on design."

Waites, who is the designer and ceo of Raymond Waites Designs, began his company in 1994 after a diverse career beginning with Boston-based contemporary retailer Design Research in 1973.

Design Research, now out of business, but with 10 stores at its peak, along with Crate & Barrel and Storehouse dominated the contemporary design scene of the era. Waites, the creative vp for Design Research, was one of the pioneers of contemporary design and the move to putting contemporary home furnishings into historic buildings — a practice that continues today at Crate & Barrel.

From contemporary design in the '70s, Waites has morphed in his design thinking to country, vintage, then vintage fusion.

Today, Waites explained, "I've become more and more globally influenced. I try to bring an exotic mood to the market, but my niche is historically oriented." He added that "the more decorative that I've made my things in recent seasons, the better they sell."

His new direction will be launched first in a major way at the International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, NC, next month with his furniture collection of Laneventure. "I've taken classic American shapes and forms and tinkered and toyed with them in my style, including a lot of exotic materials." Accessories at licensee Toyo will follow this look.

Next Creations, Waites' bedding licensee, this week launches a bed in ivory silk in the same mood — "a wedding look embellished with delicate embroidery with gold and ruby jewels — but very minimalist in its total look," Waites said.

Additional home furnishings in the New American mood that represents the influences of the great homes of the the United States "will be a surprise to everyone. I feel we want to look inward again, but not with a country feeling." The new theme is influenced by his travels to India, China and Africa as well as the great homes of the U.S. including Mount Vernon, Monticello, Williamsburg and Savannah.

Along with the The New American collection design direction, Waites sees two color palettes emerging across the home furnishings landscape. "I firmly believe in rich reds, but today they're going to the yellow side, tomato to paprika, the Chinese red from the vintage period now moving to an orange cast." Greens, the second major color family for the future "also are going yellower."

Looking at the design trends that he was instrumental in developing and promoting, Waites sees "vintage as alive and well. It's not going away, but its future will be how we orchestrate it." Country, he believes, will continue, "but in a smaller way."

As for contemporary which was his forte in the '70s, "it will be more streamlined; it's very strong, and it represents one side of the polarization of the design world." Waites moved from Design Research to become a design consultant for Marimekko of Finland, a pioneer in the world of contemporary design.

In 1978 he teamed up with Bettye Martin Musham to form Gear Holdings, a design company that was among the pioneers that coordinated color and design collection, "but not cookie cutters across all categories. I did thematic, color-related collections, and in 1981 we launched New Country Gear at Macy's New York, which revolutionized the home furnishings design business."

His approach continues to be "thematic, color related but not the same pattern across all products. But they all have synergy."

When he launched his own firm in 1994, he saw the '90s "as looking to things that represent the security of the past — familiar but not old — and created in a new way, more with a contemporary, casual but updated flavor." At the time, he said, "it is something that happens throughout design history as you turn a millenium."

In home textiles, Waites licensees are Mohawk Home for rugs, Swavelle/Mill Creek for decorative fabrics, V.S.I. for decorative trimmings, Kirsch for drapery hardware, American Down for decorative pillows and Avon Home Products for table linens and chair pads.

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