follow us

High Point – Oct. 16: The Elephant in the Room

October 19, 2009

Market getting a slow start. Day before Opening Bell. The halls are still thinly populated, but expectations run high as recent home textiles market and tabletop show recorded promising advances.

Even as attendees are trickling in, it is clear that the furniture business has dramatically changed the way it offers and distributes its products.

With a greatly diminished retailer landscape and a consumer who is turning away from the traditional furniture stores that remain, the elephant in the room is the interior designer. Perhaps the most sought after and pampered customer at this show as the conduit to an affluent consumer whose attitudes and buying habits have not changed that much - with or without the recession - suppliers are eager to accommodate these professional buyers. Yes, consumers may be choosing and buying more carefully but those who are not completely impoverished are still looking for design statements of high quality, expert workmanship, differentiating detail, and most of all, individuality.

Industry leaders at the high end learned long ago to give interior designers what they need and want to satisfy and keep their customers. Today, that means total flexibility of product through limitless customization.

There is no more shining example - although by no means the only one -  in the entire industry than the Hickory Chair Co. The firm provides the platform for not just one but four exceptionally gifted designers of products and interiors whose creations are informed by their own daily lives and direct contact with clients who are their and the industry’s ultimate consumers. And what could be more amazing than to see the blending of their work in the inspired showroom presentations orchestrated by Ron Fiori, who manages to give each designer his or her own star turn while demonstrating that the sum of their individual points of view is even greater than its parts.

Yet, each and every piece of furniture offered by Hickory Chair can be varied by size, dimension, material, finish, fabric and elements of design which may be applied in many different ways.

Given this embarrassment of riches, I can’t help but wonder if retailers understand just how great a gift is given to them when they buy into the collections of these four designers:

They are: Alexa Hampton, entering this Market with five new eclectic design suites, brought new forms into play from Swedish, Anglo Indian, English Regency and modern periods. A consummate professional with many high net worth clients and a family dominated by "3 under 3" a pair of twins and a baby daughter, she is an advocate of the life well lived - after the decorating is done. Her style is architecturally composed and mindful of tradition but she likes nothing better than to subvert classic forms so that they feel fresh and new.

Thomas O’Brien, who, hard to believe, will soon be celebrating his 10th anniversary of designing for Hickory Chair while earning design kudos for his collaboration with Target, continues to use Aero, his studio boutique in Manhattan, as his personal design laboratory and message board. The coupling of public and private design practices is central to O’ Brien’s philosophy. He borrows from the 19th century European tradition of the gallerist/old fashioned shopkeeper guided by personal tastes, funneling his many interests through a distinctive filter of modernism to create a style that is at once grounded, easy and refined. "I like practical and useful things," he says, "as well as fine and rare things." His two furniture collections for Hickory Chair, the Thomas O’Brien collection and the TOB Collection combine both and are available in stores and to the trade.

Mariette Himes Gomez’s furniture collection and interiors reflect the designer’s personality: warm, practical and resistant to easy categorizing. In all her work, whether interiors or products, she seeks balance with a focus on classic modern design with an unpretentious sense of luxury and comfort. "I modernize the classics and classicize the modern", she says. A proponent of mixing periods to achieve timelessness, Mariette, is not a champion of any particular style. Rather, her approach derives from the architectural character of a space and a sense of proportion - in shape, color, light and the enriching texture of materials. She likes to create multi-compositions within a room that flow into each other and become pleasing, comfortable and enveloping circles. Like Thomas O’Brien, she is also a retailer.

Last but not least, Suzanne Kasler, who joined the group with her first collection only in April 2008, brings her experience as an interior designer and close contact with private clients and architects to her furniture designs, incorporating a practical sensibility into spaces to create an environment that reflects the clients’ personality and lifestyle.

Watch these words repeat throughout this Market: classic and timeless.