The American Furniture Manufacturers Assn., which usually focuses on grown-up needs, is turning its attention to children.
From its High Point, N.C., headquarters, the association has just released a survey indicating that 80% of parents in America plan to buy one or more pieces of children's furniture in the next year.
"The category has really mushroomed," said Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the association, whose 350 furniture manufacturer members increasingly are branching out into trendy name-brand lines for kids.
"The economy is good and there are lots of older parents with more money to spend as well as affluent grandparents," she said.
To help along the shopping process, the association has launched a "Room to Grow" program with tips on tailoring a room to meet a child's specific needs. The furnishings of children's rooms should fit not only their physical needs, but also their dreams, said Hirschhaut, the mother of a 3-year-old.
"Furniture isn't just about a place to sleep or store your belongings. It's about personal style, which is just as important for children as it is for adults," she said.
A bed, dresser and desk are fundamental items. Then the child's interests and hobbies come in for consideration, such as a table for art or science projects, or a rocking chair and lamp just for reading. Since kids today use computers to do their homework, there are lots of creative entertainment armoires with computer keyboard trays, built-in storage areas and filing cabinets to organize projects. "What's impressive is the incredible variety available," Hirschhaut said.
For instance, Lexington has introduced "Lauren Olivia," a 20-piece bedroom group for girls, with floral, lace and string-of-pearl accents in a lightly distressed white finish. And Vaughan Furniture tops that with a 42-piece "Farmhouse Collection," with floral artwork.
This doesn't suggest that any bedroom can hold 42 pieces of furniture. "Parents typically have some space challenges in designing a child's room so these lines have many variations on styling," said Hirschhaut.
How to sort through the choices? Take the child shopping with you, she suggests. "First look through decorating and parenting magazines for ideas."
Parents may be comforted to know that many furniture lines are designed to grow. For instance, the Millennium Bed from Child Craft starts out as a crib, converts to a toddler daybed and eventually stretches out to a full-size bed. Lots of bunk beds combine an upper bunk with a full-size lower bed and trundle.
Hirschhaut also passes along these safety tips:
Look for automatic drawer stops that keep drawers from falling out of the desk, steel bolts that provide extra support for joints, smooth surfaces that won't splinter, and use of nontoxic stains and lacquers.
None of that comes cheap. Prices for this kind of furniture can range from several hundred to more than a thousand dollars for each piece.
"This is as serious as anything you put in your home," she said.