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Small furniture fits the times

Manufacturers are shrinking products as consumers downsize their living quarters.

October 29, 2008|Emery P. Dalesio | Dalesio writes for the Associated Press.

Even before these days of shrinking economic expectations, furniture makers were getting the message from consumers: Small is the new black.

A trend at the recent High Point Market furniture industry trade show was toward smaller furniture that fits into smaller spaces. The twice-a-year show in High Point, N.C., displays thousands of new home furnishings that consumers may see in stores in a few months.

Furniture manufacturers are responding to downsizing baby boomers and the growing appeal of urban living by reducing the scale of dressers, coffee tables, nightstands and the like. They are compressing home offices into a single fold-out cabinet. And they're cutting back the sizes of sofas and entertainment centers that sprawled across the length of wall in McMansions.

"It's scaled down to the kind of residences that are selling today," said Don Essenberg, Magnussen Home Furnishings chief marketing officer.

An example is the Micro-Office by Sligh Furniture Co. of Holland, Mich., which should be in retail stores by spring, spokesman Bob Kreter said. The unit, with a retail price of $4,500, looks like an armoire 53 inches wide by 80 inches tall with nooks at the top for framed photos. But pull back the bi-fold doors and untuck the chair with the fold-down back and you can take a seat before a desk big enough for a laptop, printer and files.

Aspenhome, based in Phoenix, is offering a bedroom valet that looks like a TV stand with drawers underneath but hides a built-in laundry hamper and slide-out ironing board.

Magnussen started downscaling three years ago in response to its consumer studies.

"Our sales have shifted from 70% overscaled to 70% the smaller scale now," Essenberg said. "We've seen a return to what many in the industry have seen as a more appropriate and normal scale in furniture. It's less grandiose than we have seen in a decade or so."

The trend tracks the slowing residential real estate market and demographic changes.

"Increasingly, people are choosing to live by themselves, with apartments becoming a more popular choice of residence in metropolitan areas. These smaller households therefore also drive large demand for smaller furniture items," said a recent report by IBISWorld Inc., a Los Angeles industry intelligence firm.

Smaller furniture also is in line with moves by home builders to trim the scale of some new homes to meet reduced buying power. KB Home, which once offered large homes with expensive amenities, has redesigned its new home layouts from 3,400 square feet to 2,400 square feet. And it recently unveiled a 1,230-square-foot home for the foreclosure-stricken Southern California market.

Smaller furniture also is part of a trend toward consumers wanting to eliminate clutter, said Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing.

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