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STYLE: HOME DESIGN : METAMORPHOSIS : The Arresting Development of Furniture as We Know It

October 09, 1994|Barbara Thornburg

Furnishings, like living things, take shape, evolve and sometimes wind up back where they started, albeit in striking new forms. The latest generation of furniture represents several design developments, some still in the formative stages but all certain to spawn eclectic interiors in the near future.

Perhaps the most significant trend is the rise of furnishings with multiple personalities. Instead of the often-non-functional art furniture of the extravagant '80s, practical pieces that perform more than one function characterize what French designer Philippe Starck has dubbed "the responsible time." A table that converts to seating, for example, satisfies the desire for something extra--the mantra of the mid-'90s value-conscious shopper.

Designers are also borrowing from the past again, this time reviving zoomorphism in general and period styles in particular. But unlike solemn Roman thrones with lion's-paw feet, today's animal-inspired furniture exhibits a sci-fi edge with a sense of humor. And the current return to yesteryear's classics is noteworthy for the use of modern materials: stainless steel and spandex instead of gilt bronze and rice paper.

Other designers turn previously overlooked natural resources into artful and functional objects. Such "recycling" of twigs or coconut shells takes advantage of materials that would otherwise go to waste and enables consumers to feel as though they're doing the right thing by the planet.

Upholstery options have expanded to include refreshing combinations. With mix-and-match clothing paving the way, sofas and chairs are showing up in everything from linen and pigskin to white canvas and blue velvet. In addition, the slipcover that both dresses and protects has become a smart accessory reminiscent of the Victorian antimacassar.

And finally, colors, which often define their time--remember the electric greens and acid pinks of the psychedelic '60s?--are now influenced by Mother Nature's rich palette and bear names such as "Sun," "New Meadow" and "H-Blue-O."

Furniture, of course, will continue its fascinating metamorphosis, passing from one surprising form to another, adapting to the world around it. For a piece to survive, only one thing must remain constant. As New York designer Monique Savarese put it: "People still have to fall in love with it."

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