Designer-oriented stores specializing in such items as brass beds, home entertainment centers or accent lamps are springing up across the nation--with the emphasis placed on more expensive, fashionable and longer-lasting merchandise.
In furnishings, the 1950s art deco influence is strong in colorful curved sofas, stylish brass beds and area rugs, as well as in numerous room accessories such as vases, lamps and figurines.
Also popular with the retail merchants who must sell the look to the American consumer is the Southwestern motif--big upholstered couches and chairs in pastel shades in the $1,000 range. The large look takes in the entire room, which isn't complete without a big salmon-shaded floor vase (about $400) with tall stems of dried marsh weed or flowers.
Who is buying and selling the new lines of furnishings?
Practically everybody, says Donald M. Preiser, president of the 1.3-million-square-foot Western Merchandise Mart, which recently displayed the goods from nearly every major manufacturer in the United States.
Retail sales of furnishings and room accessories, he said, are booming, with sales up 35% for the last quarter of 1984.
"There are more disposable dollars and people are spending them," said Preiser, adding that the mart had $1 billion worth of sales last year. "The furniture business is very healthy right now."
The trend, he said, is moving toward formal, well-organized rooms with quality furnishings, replacing the casual, informal, even thread-bare look popular during the 1970s.
"Today, the consumer is more educated to fashion and wants a very diversified selection of goods," said Preiser. "The United States has become formal in taste as far as furnishings go."
Specialized stores are sprouting up to take advantage of the increased spending and refined tastes of consumers in home products, said Preiser, adding there's no single look that stands out as the most popular.
"Designer-oriented stores are opening all over the country," Preiser said. "Some are carrying nothing but accessories to decorate a room. That's a new trend."
'Looking for Quality'
He said consumers are also looking for a better grade of goods than in the past.
"They're looking for quality, things that will last. The disposable days are over."
During the one-week merchandising mart, buyers representing retailers in 13 Western states converged to make decisions on what will be displayed for consumers to purchase six months from now. The four floors of sneak-preview showcase items are always closed to the public.
The attention-grabber in the Brass Bed Company of America showroom was a $1,000 brass baby crib in the doorway. Manufacturer Marvin Alperin said he'd placed several of them and they sold well.
Inside, brass beds of all shapes and sizes were displayed, including a popular art deco look of tapered, twisted brass with two brass doves on the head railing.
"Honestly, brass makes a big difference in a bedroom, giving it added warmth and excitement," said Alperin. "We're not all things to all people, but we're getting pretty close."
The beds' prices ranged from $595 to $3,500, depending on the amount of "flair" or fancy twists, bends and tapers in the tubing and whether the bed is fitted with onyx, marble or porcelain decorations.
In sofas, the "Southwestern motif" is about to hit many big stores.
"The large, overstuffed comfortable look is the hottest thing going," said salesman Guy Ray of Metro Design. "It started on the West Coast, hit New York and is now going across the nation."
He said the look is contemporary with an Italian influence, especially in the super-soft Emerson leather models selling for about $1,100.
In colors, he said, beige, salmon and soft whites were popular in fabric sofas sold in California, while in New York, the big seller was black.
"Customers want color, fashion and most of all comfort," Ray said.
In room accessories, Jaru Art Products of Culver City displayed a huge variety of decorative $15 to $80 vases with long-stemmed dried plants. But the newest offering was a stone collection--large, hollowed-out geometric forms in soft colors.
Jaru President Jules Fogel said the trend is in pastel glazes, especially shrimp-pink and European blue-green tones.
"We're specialists in design, color, texture and technique," said Fogel. "The stone figurines in soft shades are very much in vogue right now."
A nearby showroom showed accessories under an Interlude line designed by Don Freedman. Among the choices for "impulse buyers" were carved wooden fish for $55, a heron for $75 and a wood-sculpted banana tree titled "New Tree of Plenty" for $1,500.
"Accessories are an impulse item," said Fogel. "The sweep, drama and color of the arrangements can be exciting enough to create constant traffic through a store."
Preiser said the wide variety of today's tastes were all represented at the semiannual show.
"This is the birthplace of the kind of styles and products that will be going into the consumer's home," Preiser said.