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Reflections on High Point

November 1, 2010

High Point, N.C.--After every Market, a few standouts summarize what's NEW and what's likely TO COME
Here are some of those that stand out in my memory:

THE SHIFT BACK TO TRADITIONAL - was clearly evident in many of the new line introductions and confirmed a similar change of direction detected a month earlier at Maison & Objet. In other words, we really are becoming a Global Village.

Whether it's the stress of the economy or just plain time for change, the decade of contemporary is loosing its muscle. That's not to say that contemporary is disappearing - none of the style cycles ever vanish completely - merely their weighting and popularity changes.

Some elements pointing the way to more traditional furnishings within the near and likely extended future: A resurgence of traditional AMERICAN DESIGN, including but by no means limited to the popular Cottage style. Even Cottage, however, has taken on a more formal attitude over the casual and funky. This was particularly evident in Stanley's extension of its Coastal Living collection but also shapes Schnadig's Caracole group and a new Tommy Bahama entry at Lexington Home Brands, its best and most extensive to date, which tapped more heavily into the formal aspects of Island Living. Think wealthy Plantation.

Even Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, the pair that has made casual contemporary living its design signature, in a statement that reflected the duo's recognition that traditional winds were picking up made a split presentation in its bi-level building. On its first floor it re-emphasized its contemporary profile with pieces you would expect from them and textiles that were lighter and more casual. On their second floor, they changed the weighting to darker furniture finishes and richer textiles, such as velvets, suedes, leathers and soft textures in deeper colors. The result was a more traditional take on what this creative company does best.

In true traditional fashion, Bunny Williams and her new Beeline at Wesley Hall fully deserved the attention and the "Best of Show" award both received. Hickory Chair once again struck just the right balance between traditional and contemporary with an extensive new line designed by Suzanne Kassler illustrating her skill of combining classical and architectural elements with couture detailing - an aesthetic that seamlessly bridges American and European sensibilities.

Not to be outdone, Thomas O'Brien made his own instinctive gesture toward traditional with an interior presentation rich in deep browns in textiles and furniture finishes, he told me "was the darkest color scheme he had ever done" at a Market.

There was even a hint of the BAROQUE in new traditional designs with good examples at Century. Seemingly moving against the tide for lighter scale and less ornamentation, Century opted for the opulent. Eric Schenk, Century's president told me that the company must keep not just their most affluent American consumers in mind who tend to favor traditional pieces with rich details but also the newly wealthy in emerging economies such as Dubai, Russia, China and other rapidly growing Asian territories. These customers want visible evidence of their newly acquired riches and their choices are decidedly big and ornate. Some of our high end manufacturers, Century included, today ship almost 40% of what they produce into such territories to be reckoned with. This group also includes Baker, Theodore Alexander and Ferguson Copeland.

The direction toward more carvings and more elaborate traditional furnishings will inevitably bring back a re-evaluation of designs inspired by the 16th and 17th centuries. Already the Fine Arts world is highlighting these rich periods. Both the Metropolitan Museum in New York City and the Uffizzi Galleries in Florence currently highlight Renaissance master painters in blockbuster exhibitions. Such high profile exhibitions tend to have an influence on designers - whether in fashion or in home furnishings.

Early Dutch Colonial pieces were spotted both at last month's Maison & Objet in Paris as well as in High Point. Bernhardt, for instance carried over a Martha Stewart collection first introduced last April which looks back at those periods with characteristic bonnet top cabinets, bombe chests, both set on bun feet and dark finished carved stretchers seen on tables and chairs. Textiles playing into the style are ikats which have been with us for several seasons along with crewel, and flamestitch and tapestry looks on the horizon.

The sudden re-appearance of some William & Mary pieces also point toward earlier periods than we have seen in traditional entries for some time. Baker debuted a traditional collection designed by interior designer Michael Smith, he of White House fame, which included some tables and a chest of drawers of the William & Mary period. These examples may be just the canaries in the coal mine.

Overall, home textiles returned to the comforts of the full range of browns, weakening the ubiquitous grays. Browns accented with rich jewel tones, deep golds, blazing orange, intense purple, dark mossy greens and saturated indigo blues. If their interest in the 16th and 17th centuries grows as I anticipate, then textile designers should look to old master paintings, Vermeer, Van Dyke and the Flemish School for clues to a richer deeper color palette ahead.