Furniture makers think small

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

A trend at this week's High Point Market is for smaller furniture that fits into smaller living spaces. The twice-a-year furniture industry trade show in High Point, 80 miles northeast of Charlotte, displays thousands of new home furnishings that consumers could 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, night stands and the like. They are compressing home offices into a single foldout cabinet. And they're cutting back the length of sofas and entertainment centers that sprawled across the length of walls in McMansions.

“It's scaled down to the kind of residences that are selling today,” Magnussen Home Furnishings chief marketing officer Don Essenberg said Monday, the trade fair's opening day.

An example is the Micro-Office by Sligh Furniture Co., of Holland, Mich., which should be in retail stores by next 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 bifold 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, based in Ontario, has reduced the scale of entire bedroom sets, Essenberg said. Its standard dresser size has been trimmed from 72 inches wide to 64 inches, but its height increased to retain storage capacity.

Magnussen started downscaling about three years ago in response to consumer studies. “Our sales have shifted from 70 percent overscaled to 70 percent the smaller scale now,” Essenberg said. “When it comes to scale, 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.”

About 20 percent of sales for Lexington Home Brands are scaled-down pieces, Chief Executive Officer Phil Haney said. Its Zacara collection of dining room and bedroom furniture, designed with contemporary styling and modest size for urban condos or apartments, is one of the Thomasville-based company's best-selling lines, he said.

Smaller furniture is part of a trend that shows consumers increasingly want to eliminate clutter and organize what's left, said Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, a marketing consulting firm that studies consumer behavior. “It's moving away from being in-your-face, conspicuous consumption to how you feel in your environment,” Danziger said. “It's a new, more European approach. It's not the size, it's what you've got in the home.”