Finally, a piece of furniture that reflects how we really live. Imagine a cabinet/desk/console that recharges multiple cellphones, docks...
HIGH POINT, N.C. — Finally, a piece of furniture that reflects how we really live. Imagine a cabinet/desk/console that recharges multiple cellphones, docks iPods and provides Internet access and data ports for laptops.
This multitasking design is so new, it doesn’t even have a name. But it’s being touted as a command center for families and households because it organizes the overload of high-tech domestic gadgets and entertainment components piling up in America’s kitchens and front hallways.
In a period of weak sales for most home furnishings, manufacturers introducing lifestyle solutions for 21st-century living were the ones that drew attention at last month’s High Point Market, the twice-yearly design event that attracts industry executives, retailers and journalists from around the world. Store buyers crowded around the new designs as though they were concept cars at an auto show for one reason: They’re useful.
“TVs are getting bigger, and computers are getting smaller,” says Alex Bernhardt, chairman and chief executive of Bernhardt Furniture. Accommodating the changes in personal electronics is a constant challenge for furniture makers, he says: “It’s a moving target.”
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More things to hide
A decade ago, the personal computer and big-screen TV created a huge market for home-office desks and media storage cabinets. Remember all those whitewashed-pine armoires with holes drilled in the back? Today, another revolution has filled homes with multiple cellphone chargers, video-game terminals and BlackBerry power stations. Laptops outsell chunky PCs. Slender plasma TVs don’t need to hide behind massive cabinets.
Some furniture companies are taking their cue from decorators who have been customizing built-ins for clients.
“I install so many docking stations, I feel like I’m on ‘Star Trek,’ ” says designer Candice Olson of the HGTV cable channel, who was showing her furniture collection at High Point. “People keep talking about the wireless aspect of all of this. But you need so many wires to keep it wireless, it creates a real challenge as to how to conceal them.”
Ask and you shall receive
The Family Communication Center by Sligh Furniture, a Michigan maker of midprice to high-end furniture, is a fully loaded multitasker. Sligh first learned of the need for such a piece from decorators, says Bob Kreter, a company spokesman. “They heard their clients saying: ‘I walk in from a busy day, and I don’t know where to put all my stuff. It used to be keys and mail. But now it’s also laptops, phones and iPods. They all need to be plugged in and charged. Help.’ “
Designers create pricey custom kitchen built-ins to solve the dilemma, but Sligh figured one piece of furniture could include these functions and also be used in the front hall, mudroom, bedroom or den. The company added bulletin board space, storage shelves and task lighting.
Two versions — which are part desk, storage and computer station, to help organize homework, recipes, MP3 players and printers — will hit stores in the spring: a neoclassic mahogany cabinet ($2,945) and a cottage-style hutch in a weathered black paint finish ($3,395). Seven other styles, including a more contemporary version in bamboo, are under consideration.
At Hooker Furniture, a new European country-style secretary ($2,399) looks elegant on the outside. The doors swing open to reveal space to hang or place a flat-screen TV. It also has a drop-lid writing surface to balance a laptop, and shelves and drawers below for other components. “This piece has both home-office and home-entertainment functions. But instead of a big wall unit like we needed in the 1990s, this is a small, pretty design,” says Kim Shaver, a spokeswoman for Hooker, a mid-price company based in Martinsville, Va.