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A Smorgasbord of Styles

Mix-and-match furnishings, with an international design influence, are the trend at the upcoming High Point, N.C. show. But don't look for avant-garde.

April 12, 2001|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eclectic furnishings--elegant, relaxed and international--reflect the current rage in a mix-and-match approach to home decorating. That's the buzz as thousands of interior designers, buyers and media prepare to converge on High Point, N.C., next week to survey the newest offerings for fall 2001.

"People are looking to their furniture to make a definite statement about style, as opposed to letting it be nondescript," says Jaclyn Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn. "What's interesting about this market is that there's a lot of international inspiration. People are traveling more, and at the rate with which we can communicate and travel, the world is a much smaller place."

Australia was the inspiration for Century Furniture's Matilda Bay Collection, but think less "Survivor: The Australian Outback" and more a European antiques look, as in the mishmash of styles that families brought with them when they immigrated to Down Under. The new Laura Ashley Home collection by Kincaid features country and formal British looks, and Erin's Cottage from Pennsylvania House brings a sophisticated sensibility to this Irish- and English-inspired cottage style.

But don't look for bold, contemporary cutting-edge style. International at High Point usually means reproductions and interpretations of European antiques, vintage Mediterranean looks, classic British colonial design and Asian motifs.

"We're mixing formal with casual, and the best way to explain it," says Century Furniture's marketing director Ed Tashjian, "is to think of how someone wears a beautiful string of pearls with a T-shirt. This is the way people are living. There was a time when people had separate dens and living rooms, and then everything went casual. This is design for people who want nice things in their den but can't reconcile putting up a red velvet rope to keep people out."

Century's Matilda Bay collection is a prime example of this approach. It includes a substantial eight-drawer curved chest with ornate hardware and bun feet, a Spanish-influenced writing desk with lyre-shaped legs, a leather-upholstered bar stool and a craftsman-like sofa table. Wood finishes have been distressed and burnished to give them that lived-in look.

The AFMA reports that one out of every two Americans has plans for some home redecoration, and choices of furnishings keep multiplying. At the Fall 2001 International Home Furnishings Market, which opens for an eight-day run next Thursday, showrooms will be crammed with hundreds of new furniture lines representing a vast array of styles.

Mark Fedde of Fedde Furniture in Pasadena already senses a strong base of classicism. "Manufacturers are not trying to reach so far out there that people can't identify with it," he says. That will suit his clientele, who often buy new pieces to mix with family heirlooms. "With what's being offered now, you can mix and match better now than you could before," Fedde adds. "If there are pieces that are more on the formal, elegant side, you can soften them with an upholstered piece."

A traditional British country look can be found in the new Laura Ashley Home collection from Kincaid. The company is banking on the Laura Ashley name to lure mostly female customers who are familiar with the brand and who associate it with feminine, classic clothes and romantic floral-print textiles.

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The 200-piece line is broken up into two collections, both inspired by homes owned by the late designer Ashley and her husband in England and America. The Keswick line has a "Louis Philippe feel with some English country overtones," according to Jack DeBonis, vice president of marketing. The Camberly line has a more ornate Victorian look, with carved armoires, beds and chests. All are solid wood with various finishes, and upholstered pieces will feature adaptations of fabrics from the Laura Ashley archive.

Erin's Cottage from Pennsylvania House reflects a more sophisticated Irish and English interpretation of the popular cottage style. Done in solid cherry with warm finishes accented with scrolled ironwork, the pieces are "Classic in style, but very comfortable," says Ron Furman, director of advertising and marketing. "People are coming back to the things they know aren't faddish. Classic shapes used to be formal, but now those pieces are blending into more casual lifestyles."

Among other companies tapping into these distinctive looks are Thomasville and Broyhill, both coming out with subtly Asian-influenced designs. Designer Alexander Julian taps into regional American looks with his Sausalito and Carolina Highlands collections.

And Tommy Bahama continues to expand its line of West Indies-inspired pieces in wood, metal, wicker and rattan.

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