FURNISHINGS : Manufacturers Take Contemporary Cues From Best of the Past


The opening-day conference at the recent spring furniture market in High Point, N.C., asked the question, “What is contemporary?”

A number of manufacturers already had working definitions, and they accounted for some of the most lively and noteworthy pieces introduced at the semiannual wholesale trade show. The furniture will be in retail stores in late summer or early fall.

Contemporary has a golden haze in the hands of Parish-Hadley Associates Inc. The New York interior-design firm created 42 new items for Baker Furniture. A number of them are adaptations of the firm’s custom designs.

Gilding is used on the frames and surfaces of several cabinets, tables and mirrors. The legs and upholstery of an armless leather side chair, for example, are touched with gold tone, and a home-entertainment cabinet of simulated goatskin has a gilded iron frame. Most of the pieces were characterized by Albert Hadley as “beige with a vengeance.”


A quiet palette also dominated Dakota Jackson’s designs for the Lane Co., his first venture into mass market for the home. Jackson, a New York designer, is known for limited-edition pieces for celebrities as diverse as Yoko Ono and Jerry Seinfeld.

Jackson’s straight-lined cabinets in blond ash wood mix with round glass tables on sinuous metal bases and chubby upholstered seating in a 60-item collection for living room, bedroom and dining room.

At Milling Road, a subsidiary of Baker, contemporary becomes a reprise of the best designs of the 20th Century. It starts with a cabinet that owes a great deal to Charles Rennie Mackintosh and works up to a 1950s-style rounded armless sofa in a boucle-like fabric, also reminiscent of the era.

Confirming a general trend away from suites, or matched sets, the furniture is in “classic forms that work with existing pieces,” according to Richard E. Vaughn, vice president and general manager. They are more adaptations than direct copies. A 1950s-style chair, for example, is upholstered in Polarfleece, a high-tech fabric used for active wear.


A year ago at the shows, the British colonial design theme was introduced and has done well since it arrived at retail in the fall. More is on the way, Drexel’s new Collector’s Mahogany group among them. A rattan and wicker chest with mirror inserts and bamboo edging looks as if an English planter ordered it from one of the colonies.

Several manufacturers are contributing to a tropical air with chairs and sofas upholstered in woven reed, including Hickory Chair Co., Lineage, Pearson, Ralph Lauren and Lane in its New Country Gear collection. Lane’s seating by Raymond Waites even has the option of reed-covered cushions.

Beds stand to be the sleeper of the new season. Almost every manufacturer has a show-stopper. A signature piece from the Dakota Jackson collection is made of “woven” bronze-colored steel strips. Parish-Hadley did a skinny four-poster in bright red lacquer with a metal finial not unlike a pineapple.

Several showrooms offer wood and metal combinations. The four-poster in Thomasville’s new Stone Terrace group, for example, has chunky oak posts, a pewter-finish metal canopy and a latticework headboard.


Many sofas and chairs have a soft, squashy 1950s feel, not only in well-known brands such as Thayer Coggin, but in numerous obscure seating lines as well.