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Looking back at Tuesday...

October 22, 2008

High Point, N.C. - Fall 2008 International Home Furnishings Market 

O.K., I’ll let you in on my High Point secret of how I gauge market attendance via an admittedly highly unscientific analysis: If between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. cars are not backed up at the downtown exit into High Point, attendance is down. If, as happened yesterday morning at 7:30 a.m., I am the only person crossing the half empty parking lot between Showplace and IHFC, traffic is way down.

Tom Skipper, v.p. Sales at Habersham similarly judges traffic: If he doesn’t see a line of cars at his local laundry and dry cleaners, attendance is off. So, there you have it: Market Traffic as easy as 1-2-3.

Just as I was starting to feel sorry for the many exhibitors who make extraordinary efforts twice a year to attract and take care of their customers, I figured out where to look for the action.

Taking the High Road and concentrating on some of the top quality showrooms in the area, I found, there was life after all. I found strong traffic at Baker and Century, normal traffic at Safavieh and at Habersham, an appreciative crowd and buyers at Hickory White, where Lillian August has found a much expanded new home for her line of traditional furnishings, newly updated and looking very fresh in dry surface linens and herringbones, subtle color combinations of soft grays paired with buttery yellows — including a yellow patent leather lizard pattern seen on a button-tufted ottoman, black and cream, taupe velvets blended with olive greens, leather and suede in stone colors, black or deep coffee browns of faux crocodile on dining and comfortable armchairs, some decoratively trimmed in nailheads, a trend seen in many other upscale showrooms. A suite of mirrored furniture includes a mirrored four-poster bed, a vanity and several mirrored and gold accented coffee and side tables with drop leaves at either end turning a rectangle into a graceful oval shape.

Lillian August, the artist, painter, textile, furniture and interior designer has, together with her sons, Dan, Michael and John Weiss grown her business to five retail showroom locations, including a 75,000 sq. ft. flagship in Norwalk, Conn. What she brings to Market, she says, "is the result of years of observing how the consumer makes purchases, and designs they respond to".

Habersham, a company widely appreciated by its interior design clientele for the full range of its custom finishes, custom construction and handcarving of its fine traditional furniture, has, in recent years created a unique niche for itself with architectural custom cabinetry. Its curved book cabinet walls quite literally create architecture where there had been none. Custom dressing rooms, custom kitchens and bathrooms are made to order speced by the designers Habersham strives to satisfy.

Hickory Chair has been a white hot resource for several years now but never more so than at this market. The presentation of multiple designer collections and their cross referencing and integration with each other is simply a breathtaking tour de force.

The company, once known for staid and somewhat stiff reproductions of James River Plantation furniture has evolved into one of the most dynamic suppliers to the upper end of the market.

Not least because of the creative talent Jay Reardon, Hickory Chair president, has attracted and nurtured with his full support for their daring design visions. They include: Thomas O’Brien, Alexa Hampton, Mariette Himes Gomez and Suzanne Kasler, all designers with a bent for the classics but interpreted within their own modern sensibilities. All live miraculously and harmoniously under the same roof as ongoing additions to the company’s Winterthur, Albert Sack and James River Plantation Collections, based on early antiques but embraced here by their younger successors and related to each other via a virtually unlimited choice of paint finishes, wood selections and treatments as well as an overall neutral grayed color palette that ties the entire showroom together.

Furniture finishes range from polished bright white to a new "worn" white woods, if tonal range from dark and rustic achieved with close sanding and pumice rubbed into open grains for an almost "raw" look to glossy, lacquered and refined.

Textiles for the most part are heavily textured, looking hand loomed with a primitive hand and un-dyed natural grounds. They combine with graphic two-dimensional prints, fret motifs and antique looking soft colored tapestries and modern takes on ikat, bargello and Jacobean crewel.

Wool braids as well as brocade ribbons are used as accents on kickpleat sofa bases or as surface decoration running straight down the middle of chair backs and seats.

The company has made it its mission to meet and serve every need its interior design clientele may have, be it in customizing textile applications, finishes, materials used or even changing sizes and proportions. No one, but no one makes a better or more compelling case for personalization through total design flexibility.

Home Textile Today’s Carole Sloan has in several of her columns pointed out the growing influence and importance of the interior designer to the home furnishings industry, which has far too long relied too much and in many cases even entirely on the shrinking number of volume retail customers.

As this market proves beyond the shadow of a doubt: the interior designer is worth listening to as the Now and Future for the upscale home furnishings supplier. Those are the customers with access to consumers whose needs they understand and translate into product needs — clients with real money, their net worth may be down but it hasn’t vanished, nor have their demands or expectations changed. 

In looking at these businesses, I am encouraged to believe that the demise of spending power is highly exaggerated. You just need to know where to look for it.