Furniture manufacturers are betting we're so fed up with technology and mass-produced goods that we will want to put our money on the "Simple Life."
This yearning for a vanishing lifestyle has nothing to do with Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton.
It has everything to do with the Arts & Crafts Movement that made Gustav Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright and Greene & Greene household names.
The most repeated mantra at this spring's International Home Furnishings Market was the simple lines and fine craftsmanship of Arts & Crafts and Mission furniture. Nearly 25 percent of the manufacturers introduced this style at the market, according to a Furniture/Today and Home Accents Today survey. Among them are Hooker's Simply American, Magnussen Home's Oak Park, Copeland's Prairie by Frank Lloyd Wright and Stickley's additions to Pasadena Bungalow and Historic Mission.
When Arts & Crafts first came in during the late 1890s and early 20th century, it was a reaction against industrialization and the overly carved furniture of the Victorian period, says Kim Shaver, vice president of marketing and communication for Hooker. Some of the same factors are in play now.
"What was happening was the depersonalization of society," she says. "All of a sudden there was a dearth of the one-of-a-kind, handmade, handcrafted items that was the staple of life before. Arts & Crafts was more personal, down to earth with a handcrafted feel. It is practical, sturdy with very simple lines compared to the Victorian or the excessive carving we have seen out of China the past few years."
Shaver says the timing is right from both a cultural and style standpoints. We are once again hungering for simplicity in a world of high-tech gadgetry. She pointed to the success of Real Simple magazine and the upcoming fall launches of a new Organization TV network and Simplify magazine.
Hooker's Simply American Collection is betting on the hunch that Gen X and Gen Y consumers, who demand quality in everything from their cars to their cocktails, won't mind paying extra for craftsmanship such as quarter-sewn white oak, cedar-lined drawers, hand-rubbed finishes and exposed mortise and tenon pegs. In a time when more and more furniture is manufactured in Asia, the 30-piece collection is made in America. Besides oak, it is also available in solid cherry and select cherry veneers.
Although prices are 30 percent to 35 percent higher than the traditional Hooker line, Shaver says dealers' feedback has been positive because they believe consumers will pay the difference. Expect to pay $2,598 for a dresser and $798 for the accompanying mirror. A panel queen-size bed is $2,000. The collection will be in stores in September.
"Price is not a driving force," she says. "They want something special."
Magnussen Home describes its Oak Park Collection as "classic Mission styling reinvented for the 21st century." Named after a Frank Lloyd Wright neighborhood in Chicago, the collection also is designed to appeal to Gen X and Gen Y. Although the styling has been softened from the original, it also relies on historical details such as seeded glass and mortise-and-tenon details. It's crafted of quartered oak veneers with a Mission oak finish and oil-rubbed brass hardware.
One of the most interesting pieces is the 54-inch tall Oak Park Shaving Stand ($430), which has drawer and door storage and a removable tilting mirror. Another updated piece is the Oak Park China ($1,840), which features wine and stemware storage and sliding doors. The collection will be in stores in the fall.
"There is a big group of Gen X and Gen Y consumers coming into the market," says Nathan Cressman, the 32-year-old vice president of merchandising and international operations for Magnussen. "They like the traditional styles of the past for their lifestyle. Oak Park is to traditional Mission styling as an iPod is to a Sony Walkman."
Copeland, the exclusive licensee for the manufacturing and marketing of the Frank Lloyd Wright Furniture Collection, introduced designs focusing on Wright's Prairie Period (1899-1910).
The furniture, manufactured in Vermont, includes items such as the iconic Taliesin barrel chair ($999), the Dana Thomas dining (10-seat table, $5,499; side chair, $899; and armchair, $1,099), as well as upholstery, occasional tables and a bedroom group.
Woods include white oak and solid cherry
"We have access to all 1,000 drawings in the archives at Taliesin and have done on-site measurements," says Abby Copeland, who is in charge of marketing and public relations.
"We have adapted some of them to make them more salable for today's customer."
Some of the changes include a 6 1/2-degree adjustment to the slant on the dining chairs to make them more comfortable and use of microfiber upholstery on the barrel chair. The collection will be in stores by late summer.
Stickley, which is celebrating its 17th anniversary of the reissue of Mission furniture, is thought of as the prime manufacturer that Arts & Crafts advocates went to when they couldn't find the original pieces.
One of the most distinctive pieces is the Harvey Ellis Sideboard ($5,065), which features a gracefully arched front rail and doors decorated with a country road inlay motif.
The company has expanded its Pasadena Bungalow Collection with 20 new pieces that pays tribute to the California Arts & Crafts style of Greene & Greene.
All are made of sapelli wood with accents of African black wood. Highlights include the Gamble House Door Chest ($4,723), which features all edges and corners softened, 15 drawers and two doors that open to accommodate a small TV; and the Monterey bed (queen, $2,805) with smooth, rounded edges and elaborately pegged joints. No date has been announced for when the collection will be available at retail.
"Seventeen years ago no one had a clue what Arts & Crafts meant," said Michael Danial, corporate historian for Stickley.
"They thought it had something to do with candle making. Now you are going to see Arts & Crafts isn't going to go away. It is going to become a part of American style."
Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub is a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.