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Iron-Fortified Diet of Furniture, Trim

May 10, 1997|From Associated Press

It's rules-out-the-window time in decorating. Any and all interesting pieces are fair game in the effort to create an interesting room.

So iron benches, metal porch chairs and even the galvanized metal of an old-fashioned milk pail are turning up in living room furniture these days.

"My mother would not have thought of putting metal furniture in her house," said Pattie Shaw, home furnishings style director for the JCPenney Catalog. "But customers today see metal with new eyes."

The appeal of metal started in women's apparel when silver jewelry, silver buttons and trims became popular, Shaw said. Metal is being used to similar effect as curtain rods and tiebacks, and there are even metal grommets on curtains and draperies.

But the prescription to put more iron in the decorating diet has gone far beyond mere trim. At the April furniture market in High Point, N.C., many showrooms were bursting with metal furniture and accessories.

While wrought iron--it is actually steel these days--seemed the dominant look, other metals ranged from matte and shiny chrome to copper, bronze and aluminum.

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Mixing metal with other materials such as wicker, leather, wood and glass is also a widespread trend. A typical piece is a leather tray top table ornamented with brass nailheads that rests on a metal base.

Sixty-piece furniture reproductions by the Lane Furniture Co. exemplify the opulent wrought-iron look that is being referred to in the industry as part of "the new Mediterranean."

Based on designs at the William Randolph Hearst estate in San Simeon, the Hearst Castle Collection offers 19 metal or metal-and-wood pieces, including curio cabinets, beds, tables and mirrors. A signature piece is an 85-inch curio based on a gate at Hearst Castle and executed in a muted gold and rusted metal finish.

Although the material has not displaced wood as the main furniture material, the quantity of metal furniture has recently grown astronomically, said Lee Booth, a vice president for marketing at Lane Furniture of Altavista, Va. In fact, Lane's sales of metal furniture are at least four times what they were five years ago.

In an indication of the acceptability of the same designs for both indoor and outdoor use, Brown Jordan markets its "Florentine" and "Venetian" collections in both indoor (steel) and outdoor (wrought aluminum) versions. The El Monte producer known for outdoor metal furniture also recently inaugurated a division to produce interior furniture of metal.

"We made a major thrust to catch the wave of the move of metal indoors with three new beds and four new baker's racks," said Richard Frinear, executive vice president. "We want to execute classic furniture styles in metal instead of wood."

Why has metal become so popular?

"You can achieve a great deal of opulence--a look that is highly desirable right now--in metal at popular prices because you can cast very complex shapes and then can finish them with paint and distressing," Booth said. "We could do similar looks in wood with carving and special finishing, but the wood pieces would have to cost 10 to 15 times more than metal."

The appeal of metal furniture seems to reflect current cultural values.

"Because of metal's strength-to-mass ratio, you can get the essence of, say, a heavy leg in outline rather than as a solid form," Frinear said. "The emphasis can be on line and surface texture rather than on mass. It is a little like Japanese calligraphy.

"Perhaps there is less ultimate value in an outline than in a solid mass, but we are living in such fast-moving times that we may want to be able to change our environment easily. Having less weighty items means we are not stuck with our cultural baggage," Frinear said.

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Speaking more simply, "a piece or two of metal furniture or a lamp or a decorative accessory gives the home a fresh look," Shaw said. "Mixing metal and wood or wicker pieces along with one of the newly popular sheer curtain treatments makes a room more interesting.

"And we mustn't forget that metal pieces are virtually indestructible, except for rust--and rust happens to be fashionable right now."

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