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DECOR : Leather Furnishings Move Into the '90s

September 25, 1993|From Associated Press

Designer Sam Botero heralds leather as a "noble material" that "feels good, lasts a long time and looks better as it gets older." And he's using more leather in the rooms he decorates and the furniture he designs.

But the look Botero and his peers is striving for goes beyond the mundane.

Botero's "enviro chair," a prototype in distressed tan cowhide, for example, is multifunctional. The arms, 10 inches wide, are broad enough to use as a writing surface. And there are pockets for magazines, newspapers, pocket calculator, TV remote control, pens, an address book. A lap robe can be kept handy hanging from a bar across the chair back.

Even more outre pieces wait in the wings. Teddy & Arthur Edelman Ltd., of Hawleyville, Conn., recently commissioned a dozen New York area designers, including Botero, to design in leather.

Edelman, which sells leather to the decorating trade, will foot the bill and exhibit the pieces in the company showroom at the Decoration and Design Building in New York. Botero's chair is slated to be shown this month.

Among items already on view or on the drawing board are a nine-foot-tall leather-covered metal urn by Noel Jeffrey and a bicycle with leather patches by architect Judy Swanson.

Leather's main use remains as upholstery, Teddy Edelman says, although color, texture and pattern are greatly expanded. Edelman recently introduced leather with a metallic patina--gold, silver, pewter, copper, bronze and more--created with sprays and foils. The company also imprints patterns on leather.

Other novel approaches include contrast welting or piping such as John Mascheroni's Deco chair for Swaim and multicolor treatments on seating and leather-covered cabinetry. Emerson Leather in Hickory, N.C., recently introduced leather sectionals with the base and sides in a solid color and the cushions and back in a multicolor print. Bernhardt Furniture Co. of Lenoir, N.C., has a leather bedroom suite.

Leather is almost always at the high end of a manufacturer's fabric line. It is sold by the hide and priced by the square foot, not by the yard, with a waste factor of 10% to 15%. It would take 18 square feet of leather to get the same coverage as a yard of 54-inch fabric, according to Edelman. She says prices to manufacturers range from about $2 to $14 a square foot.

Synthetic leathers cost less. The new Ultraleather is similar to Ultrasuede and offers many of the same advantages. The 54-inch fabric is sold by the yard, so there's no waste. It drapes well, can be machine-washed and doesn't stiffen, crack or peel as leather sometimes does.

Ultraleather, made by Springs Mills, is about $60 a yard retail, according to Harry Hinson. Hinson & Co. of New York markets it to the decorating trade. It already has found life beyond upholstery.

"It's been used for slipcovers, table cloths, in curtains and to make up a Roman shade," Hinson says. "One designer ordered it in red as binding for a sisal rug."

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