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High Point in Perspective

October 28, 2008

High Point, N.C. - To date, I tried to divine the temperature of last week’s High Point Market itself and to relay, as quickly as possible, specifics of some of the new introductions.

Looking back, it is clear that several directions have begun to take shape for future markets to come. (Click here to see my photos from High Point.)

With all the talk about the pre-eminence of contemporary, what was shown made clear that traditional style is on the rebound. Not that we would ever lose it - 60% of Americans have consistently chosen traditional over contemporary, and most likely will continue to do so.

What has changed for both styles is this: traditional - through finishes, unusual application of shapes and materials, and, most of all, with the help of unexpected textiles and color in general - has in fact become modern.

If that sounds like an oxymoron, consider what I mean by that. The typical stiffness and extreme formality, once associated with traditional style have been completely relaxed - in fact, banned altogether. There are fewer tried and true settings in showrooms , allowing individual furniture pieces to stand out or combine with others in eclectic fashion reflecting actual use by consumers without the dictate of defined spaces, such as a dining room or living room. With houses and lofts more apt to have open spaces, living in them has all but eliminated such restrictions.

No one company has mastered the way we now want to live more compellingly than Hickory Chair. "Natural Elegance" was the term used by Lillian August for her collection at Hickory White but more or less accurately describes this new market attitude toward traditional.

A certain irreverance in terms of the look of tradition has also set in and comes as a relief. There no longer is any hesitation to lacquer traditional frames in color or apply finishes, hardware or textiles more in tune with market trends than with history. Examples: "Raw" looking finishes on refined pieces, wood grains exagerated to achieve contrast and texture with wire brush distressing, or pumice dust rubbed into open grain veneers, such as ash.

Instead of formal fabrics, traditional sofas and chairs are more likely to be upholstered in iridescent leather, ultrasuede, lots of linen, menswear patterns, even wool and Madagascar cloth (a form of strawcloth) and heavy textures, such as a fuzzy boucle, one even offered for outdoors by Sumbrella.

As far as style specifics are concerned: there were an abundance of new French collections, notably at Hyland House , which revived "Pierre Deux , " Henredon with "Marseilles" and a "Couture Collection" that included French frames. They had lots of company.

One trend worth watching: A return to American design. Its pulse still faint - and neither of the clunky Early variety or even reminiscent of Country as we experienced it ; those revivals draw on the later more dignified styles better suited for urban home environments or for an upscale mountain lodge or chalet.

Blue and white color schemes added freshness, old-fashioned ticking, leathers or roughly woven homespuns in primitive weaves or simple stripes even conveyed a slight ethnic edge and a more global perspective. Examples at Century and, again, at Hickory Chair.

Color choices for traditional were noticeably brighter and livelier , including a bright lapis blue which also re-appeared in the contemporary category. Prints included ikats, and updated bargello and flamestitch.

Contemporary on the other hand revealed - hold your breath - a hint of tradition. Velvet was used in abundance on contemporary upholstery , which has changed scale from overly large and sagging to smaller scaled , tightly tailored pieces, such as modified traditional tuxedo styles or rolled arm sofas and chairs. Even traditional wing chairs have appeared in contemporary lines, such as Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams. In addition, raw silks, glazed linen and anilyn died leathers were cover choices.

Wood pieces on the other hand were looking more refined in this category with much more attention paid to interplays of wood characteristics, sometimes several species present on one and the same piece , which is what Bernhardt did in combining walnut, Mozambique satin wood, and lace wood in its "Palamour" Collection.

Color choices for contemporary were all about the neutrals: grays, browns, to olive and greenish grays, maximizing the contemporary "cool" and chameleon qualities of these off-shades. Graphic prints, also in neutrals, drew on Middle Eastern and Moorish fretwork and filigree. Matelasse woven in geometric patterns completed the mix.

Overall, "glitz" was more subdued than in previous seasons , with matte surfaces moving into the opposite direction.

There you have it - High Point in a nutshell - or within a mini-universe. Mark your own spot for where you think you need to be for your customers.