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THE SUM OF THE PARTS : Some stores are selling everything you're trying to get for a total look. And we mean everything--from the book on the coffee table to the clothes hanging in the bedroom.


Q: When is a chair not merely a chair?

A: When it's an integral part of a a lifestyle.

The concept of selling furniture as part of a larger lifestyle is an emerging marketing trend that three Orange County entrepreneurs have put to work in new stores.

These stores are so planned and comfortable that you have the illusion of peeking into rooms in a private home.

You can buy any or all of it--right down to the clothing hanging in the bedroom, the book on the coffee table, the boards on the floor.

Tea, Tables and Frills

Linda Beale designed her At-Ease Women's and Home Store in Fashion Island Newport Beach to be more than just a place to buy women's clothing.

The idea for combining furniture, accessories and clothing in the store came about after customers at her At-Ease Men's Store kept wanting to buy the items she put there to make the store look good.

"Here, almost everything except the crystal chandelier is for sale," Beale says. Eventually, Beale says, she hopes to serve tea and other drinks, so shopping and browsing can be done leisurely.

The 7,000-square-foot store is separated into two areas by an entry room with a black marble floor, a rounded oak ceiling, a fireplace mantel holding Oriental ceramics and a glass-topped coffee table and chairs.

One side of the store is wood-paneled and looks tailored; the other is pink, romantic and frilly.

Beale was going to allow customers to purchase furniture right off the floor and take it home that day.

"I decided that I couldn't do that, because I would have to be continually shopping. Instead, before I bought a furniture line for the store, I had that resource guarantee a two-week delivery date, and that includes the painted furniture. People shouldn't have to wait months for a table."

For her Oriental accessories, she traveled to Hong Kong and handpicked the items. "I thought I'd have plenty for a backup, but my stock of them is already getting low," she says. Some accessories are one of a kind, and when they're gone, they're gone.

Beale also has gourmet food products, a line of teas, hand-painted plates and glasses and European bed and table linens.

"Cooking up these deals for all these different product lines was like working for the United Nations since I wanted my items to be exclusive in Orange County," Beale says.

She carries some reproduction furniture lines but no antiques. "I buy very fast, so I don't want to have something I sell to you as an antique turn out not to be," she says.

Beale plans to change around the "rooms" in her store monthly so there will always be something new.

"People should trust their judgment," Beale says. "If you see something and you like it, great. Live with it and enjoy it. We're here to give ideas."

The Comforts of Home

Walking into the Ann Dennis Showroom in Costa Mesa is like walking into an elegant yet comfortable home. There is a living room, dining room, den, bedroom and kitchen, as well as other small vignette rooms. Ann Dennis' love of France, art and antiques, as well as her own artist's eye for color, transforms this space.

"First and foremost, this is an extension of my lifestyle vision and design philosophy," says Dennis, who started business in 1981 as a designer and manufacturer of wallpaper, fabric and trims.

"I believe in flexibility and expressing your own individuality within a context of a coordinated, planned ambience," she says. "To do that, you must avoid stereotypes and adapt European elegance and tradition to contemporary California influences."

She created the comfortable atmosphere in the showroom the same way she would at home, she says. "The secret is putting together old things with new things, mixing antiques with flea-market pieces, painted finishes with wood finishes. If that combination is done right, people love the look but aren't quite sure how it was created.

"We have people here who will help with the scheming, although we do not have interior designers on staff. I have all price ranges here, from $6 on up," she says.

Because she has her own wallpaper and fabric lines, as well as some French ones, she's able to pull things together easily.

"In some of the vignettes, I've done the South of France with vibrant colors, but I also have some rooms that are a more muted, tone-on-tone. There's really something for everybody," she says.

Browsers can get ideas from the use of wallpaper to the way she groups paintings and plates.

"I always wanted to have a place where we could mix styles, colors and textures and do something unique that people hadn't seen before," she says.

The overall effect is one of color, cheerfulness and elegant sophistication.

Dennis shops the world for the accessories in her showroom. "I'm really lucky, because here I am on a day-to-day basis working with things I love."

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