What's hot in home? The answers to that question are being revealed this week at the High Point Market in North Carolina. "We're in the midst of a roller-coaster economy, a lot of things are uncertain and the products and colors we are seeing in High Point reflect this," says Gale Steves, chief creative officer, Open House Productions and former editor of Home Magazine. "Gone is the glitter and anything that shouts, 'Look at me!' Instead, think subtle, soothing. . .substance. We are seeing a trend toward simplicity and comfort, and in style, very simple traditional." "The biggest change we're seeing now is that everyone is really sensitive to making sure that the value is there for whatever project they are undertaking," says interior designer Suzanne Kasler, Suzanne Kasler Interiors. "They are spending more time at home, and whether they are re-doing or updating, they are taking their time and being much more deliberate in how they spend. At the same time, they still want to have the bones and the strength of a good design project. They want to be sure they are getting the spaces right, the paints and the colors." "People want comfort in times of stress," says Stephen Bernasconi, color and trend analyst. "Consumers are still focused on buying, but they have gone back to basics. When the economy is tough, people tend to long for the good old days -- the recognizable and comfortable -- and we're clearly in a period now where people want their 'comfort food.'" Says designer Barry Dixon, Barry Dixon Inc., "Neutrals -- stone, oatmeal, warm mineral colors, taupes and grays -- are going to be strong because money is a little tighter. You'll see color used judiciously for strong pop in accent pillows, welt trims and accessories so you don't have to commit to the color du jour on a big piece that requires a large investment." "People are thinking twice about how they are spending their money, and when they are spending money on big-ticket items they are more apt to be thoughtful and opt for a neutral color," says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute and head of the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training. "We're talking about carpeting, window coverings, sofas. . .anything that is a little more expensive." Other key trends include: Gray Matters: "As a country, we've entered our gray phase," relates designer Alexa Hampton, president and owner, Mark Hampton, LLC, who is introducing major additions to her furniture collection at manufacturer Hickory Chair. "Gray walls are wonderful with a lot of wood, because wood is so warm and gray is so cool. When cool and hot palettes collide it creates an interesting conflict, a tension." "Historically speaking, grays come in during times of economic slow-downs and in times of war," Bernasconi notes. "Anytime people are afraid or cautious, they become more reserved and frugal and colors reflect what is going on in society. We had a lot of gray in the palette during World War II, for example, and if you were to look at women's fashions in the '40s, particularly during the War years, they were very grayed, as were the color palettes for homes and cars. There wasn't a whole lot of flash. Quest for Green/Quality Intensifies: "The days of conspicuous consumption are over," submits Lynn Courtade, an independent home furnishings representative who has long specialized in the design trade. "Consumers don't want formal, high-maintenance furnishings that they have to take care of, but they do want quality in all aspects of their life. Interestingly, their growing demand for quality products also plays to the environmental issue. It's just not cool now to waste resources." "I'm seeing a lot of raw finishes on woods and things that come from the earth, but twist them up in unique ways," says Greg O'Neal, vice president of product development and marketing at Revco, a furniture company introducing new designs by HGTV designer Candice Olson. "When you see the grain of a solid wood piece of furniture, it reads as quality. You can see that we're not hiding anything." Two Stains Better Than One: Many new wood furniture designs in High Point feature two-stain finishes, or combinations of different woods. "We're introducing collections that mix finishes, like a dark espresso casement with a light oak top, or jet black lacquer with walnut door fronts," O'Neal says. "This gives customers a comfort level because it's not a departure that forces them to buy everything new. Instead, we're offering them something that marries with what they already have." Designer Alexander Julian, who is as well known for his apparel fashions as his home furnishings designs, and who is rolling out his latest bedroom collections at manufacturer Vaughan-Bassett, is mixing pine and cherry in his designs. "Mixed media, which I did to begin with in the fashion world, is a way of using wood species as a vocabulary to say 'dressy-casual.' There is a wide color range between the cherry and the pine and you can dress it up and dress it down. It's also an easy way for our female choice-maker to accessorize with all the things she already has." Understandable Scale & Proportion: One of the most notable trends here this week may be furnishings' diminishing size. "As an industry, we're getting more realistic about scale," Julian remarks. "It's fine to make beautiful, grandiose pieces, but it's not really most people's lifestyle. We ignore the young when we do that, and we ignore the urban. We're seeing a more realistic approach to the way that real people live." "Stylishly useful and innovative pieces that add a touch of individualism are always answers to problems of edited space and simpler lifestyles," says Carloyn Kinder, who is unveiling new designs for accessories companies Uttermost and IMAX. "Everyone values their time and wants an edited, but rich day in and day out way of life. They want the little time they have at home to really count, and a home's feel and function is really important."
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