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Form Takes Back Seat to Multiple Function

June 26, 1993|From Associated Press

If you could talk to your furniture, you might say: "Don't just stand there, do something!"

Well, some of it does.

There's a bed with a TV hanging from the canopy at just the right angle for reclining viewing comfort. Storage pieces have built-in electrical outlets, eliminating an unsightly tangle of wires. Sectionals have built-in recliners, an easy chair's hollow space becomes a bookshelf, tables have more drawers and ottomans can be used to stow things.

Tables change height--for cocktails or dining--or have swivel tops, and china closets and bedroom bureaus harbor secret silver and jewelry trays.

"Minivans now have beverage holders, change holders, armrests, adjustable seats, more accessible controls," said Doug Fenn, president of Tell City Chair Co. in Tell City, Ind. "So, why not drawers in cocktail tables, Lazy Susans in dining tables and storage compartments in ottomans?"

Recently, the company introduced the "Bedroom Butler." It's a cabinet built for a microwave, VCR, TV, small refrigerator and coffee-maker or small stereo. The piece also has a slide-out serving counter, electrical outlets and cable TV connector. Although it was intended for the bedroom, it could serve just as well in the family room or office.

But a modern oak bed with space for a TV in the canopy is strictly bedroom fare. Guy Walters III, vice president of Thomasville Furniture Industries in Thomasville, N.C., got the idea for the bed while watching in-flight movies.

"The viewing angle was very comfortable, and I started wondering how we could incorporate this into furniture," he said.

In addition to space for a TV, the bed has electric lights on a dimmer and a leather backrest. In queen size it will be about $3,000 when introduced in the fall. You can put the VCR in a matching bedside cabinet.

Kids' bedrooms traditionally are used for sleep, play and study. As a result, a number of children's furniture-makers produce multipurpose pieces. Child Craft of Salem, Ind., recently introduced the modular New Frontiers group. The base is a bunk bed with optional attachments such as desk, play table and bookshelves. Strictly for fun are a fence, a gate and a wooden window frame that, when opened, turn the area under the bunk into a play space.

For the home library where books are stored up high, Bryce Sanders, a New York architect, designed a desk chair that stretches into a stepladder.

"Although there is a famous 20th-Century Bauhaus design, the derivation for the chair is 19th Century," Sanders said.

Sanders made the chair as a commissioned art piece, and the $7,000 price tag reflects the time and labor-intensive process. He has also designed an extension table that can be set at cocktail or dining height and can seat up to eight guests. It sells for $2,150.

"It's a real New York table," said Sanders, referring to its versatility.

Although custom-made designer pieces such as the desk chair-library ladder and cocktail-dining table are upscale, the need for most multifunction pieces was defined by the masses.

"People buying so-called lower-end furniture seem less tradition-bound about their home," said Thomasville's Walters.

No matter who buys, today's furniture can't be just window-dressing.

"Chairs and beds look like they do because they work," Walters said. "The bottom line is if it's cute and works, people will pay for it. If it's just cute, they won't."

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