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Furniture Makers Trying to Get Men to Feel at Home With Shopping

December 14, 1996|From Associated Press

One reason men don't like tackling domestic chores is that they haven't been trained to do them.

Shopping for furniture is no exception.

But 10% of all American households are men living alone, so one priority of the industry is to put men at ease in the showroom so comfort can be translated to the home.

Many of the pieces that are to be in stores in the spring will be big and casual. In other words, they will be beefier, with masculine details, such as leather upholstery with nailhead trim.

Women make most of the buying decisions, according to Betty Len Eller, director of advertising and consumer marketing for Drexel Heritage Furnishings Inc. of Drexel, N.C. But men are becoming increasingly more involved in every aspect of home life, including shopping.

"We are suggesting to retailers that they run newspaper advertisements specifically targeting the male market," she says.

Just don't expect ads for leathers in cordovan and black.

Textured leather finishes--the so-called bomber jacket look and faux prints in crocodile and elephant, ostrich and shagreen--made news at the manufacturers' semiannual show in High Point, N.C. Aniline dyes in bright colors also were newsworthy.

Drexel is targeting male customers with Gentlemen's Home, an upholstery collection of about 35 pieces. Some chairs and sofas feature lion's head motifs on legs. A wing chair is covered in leather embossed like crocodile skin. And an animal print fabric is used on a husky, kidney-shaped sofa.

A number of the chairs border on chair-and-a-half width and are generously stuffed, according to Eller.

Drexel romanced the designs by dividing them into three themes: City Dweller for the creative young urbanite, Voyager for the 40-something world traveler, and Shareholder for the investment-banker type.

"We spent a lot of time looking at men's apparel, which is reflected in fabrics such as stripes and plaids and lots of leather," Eller said.

Brass nailheads are the trim of choice. Drexel has eight designs, including hobnails, black and brass rosettes and one with nailheads that are three-quarters of an inch in diameter.

Hickory Chair Co., which showed more than 250 leather pieces at the market, offered more than a dozen options in nailhead trim.

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Demand is so great industry-wide that the sole American manufacturer of brass nailhead trim, Turner & Seymour of Torrington, Conn., is going full-tilt.

"They're nailing everything in sight," Frank Silano, vice president of sales, told Furniture Today, a trade publication in High Point.

The company is turning out 200,000 of the large nailheads each week, compared with 200,000 every six months before their current vogue.

Targeting men as buyers is against industry tradition. Studies show that women influence up to 90% of furniture purchases, says Jerry Epperson, a financial analyst in Richmond, Va., who specializes in the furniture industry.

So for the majority who, Epperson says, "have the advice of a wife, girlfriend, mother, sister or cousin when they buy furniture," many companies combined leather with a softer material such as chenille.

One company that embraced the look was Elite Leather Co. of City of Industry.

"The leather appeals to the man, while the fabric appeals to the woman's love of color," according to Mike Galardo, president.

For men looking for heft of a different style, John Mascheroni created a wood-framed French-style chair for Swaim of High Point, which he calls a "bergere chair on steroids."

The dimensions of some sofas raise the question of how they might fit into an apartment-building elevator or through the average front door. Mitchell Gold Co. of Taylorsville, N.C., met the problem head-on. It makes a large sofa in two sections for delivery. Once it is in the home, the two are bolted together and slipcovered as one piece.

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