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Cinde W. Ingram

Hitting the highlights of casual premarkets

Coming off a relatively strong selling season, retailers' moods were upbeat as they shopped showrooms during the July 14-17 casual furniture premarket in Chicago.

Manufacturers were prepared to show off stepped-up styles, fabrics and finishes inside the centralized Merchandise Mart location, at other nearby Chicago spots and in venues ranging from Florida to Lake Las Vegas. Another West Coast Casual Furniture Premarket Show is planned for Aug. 10-11 in Ontario Convention Center.

Functional options, storage features and more motion were among the bells and whistles presented. One retailer said she found the premarket overwhelming while another called it fabulous. The hot pink fabrics in Summer Classics' window display caught one retailer's eye. "The fabrics tell the story," another retailer said. Others said vendors are "beating our expectations" by offering the high-end looks specialty retailers need to differentiate their stores.

Expanded showrooms allowed several manufacturers more space to display new products and lifestyle collections. Notable among those was Laneventure's approximately 14,000-sq.-ft. showroom, where dealers were made to feel At Home in Tuscany with a collection inspired by author Frances Mayes' novel Under the Tuscan Sun. Forged aluminum furniture with cast details was displayed alongside teak benches with dark finishes, pieces with zinc top panels and a fanciful deep-seated settee that captured the antique feeling. A table with hand-painted ceramic top and complementary accent pieces carried the theme through the expanded front part of the Laneventure showroom.

In another section, designer Jill Rosenwald's aqua or green glass tables and i-pad cushions presented colorful, contemporary options. Stucco was added to the WeatherMaster Outdoor Living line of modular grill islands and outdoor fireplaces. Designer Raymond Waites added to his New America Collection with pierced aluminum furniture that offers a clean, almost marbleized look.

Marble, granite, slate, faux stone, cast mosaic and various other alternative tabletops continued to vie for attention in many showrooms, including Agio, Suncoast, Tropitone, Outdoor Lifestyle and O.W. Lee. Vendors said they were responding to dealers' requests for more choices. "Stone tops are still huge," Agio President Bob Gaylord said.

The trend toward bigger table sizes continues. For example, Woodard added 60-inch round tables to each collection. The popular 42x84-inch oval size repeated on two floors at the Woodard headquarters and in other showrooms at the Merchandise Mart, though its appearance reflected quite different designs.

But anyone who thought glass tabletops had gone by the wayside should take another look. This time, glass tops reveal intricate details of bases or pedestals. A drop-in glass top with double rim design was part of Anacara's New Beginnings Collection, which drew attention to its new showroom. Other options included pierced aluminum, poly-stone or mosaic tops to accompany heavy gauge aluminum or wicker furniture. Also in the Anacara showroom were Firestone Home Products' outdoor fireplaces, grills, portable outdoor lighting and Pergola columns to pull together an outdoor room. Anacara owner Sal Carrara said he expects the 3,500-sq.-ft. permanent showroom will benefit both companies. "You never have a second chance to make a first impression," he said.

Styles and sizes of tabletops aren't the only changes going on with table sets. Seating heights range upward from dining to counter to bar. Some manufacturers offer all three options. Besides height variations, Rock Wood's Mendocino Rotating Bar Stool was worth noting because the teak stool incorporates hidden cast aluminum swivel hardware for a smooth rotation.

Shapes of tables also varied. For example, Lloyd/Flanders used a wedge table with The Shores, a full aluminum collection that features a hand-applied penshell finish. Lloyd/Flanders also renewed a 1930s design in cast and wicker for the Reminisce Collection to make it user-friendly for today's consumer. Step tables feature the retro style of a larger second shelf to allow easier access to magazines, books or other items. Another faux stone dining table's floral keyhole plug becomes part of the design, hiding the umbrella port. "There's something for everybody now," said Dale Campbell, Lloyd/Flanders vice president sales and marketing.

At Brown Jordan International's Lake Las Vegas premarket, the number of introductions was pared from more than 1,200 last year to less than 350. The number of attendees also was smaller. The overall effect was of a more focused presentation. Each new collection or extension was heralded with a tent card that said, "I'm new!" and gave shipping dates. Winston dealers were responding to expansions in the brand, both in more upscale designs and price points.

Nearly every Brown Jordan dealer in attendance stopped, selected fabric and ordered Harmony, a half-moon shaped chaise that lifts from either end and can be matched with another for a full moon outdoor bed with center umbrella that rotates 360 degrees.

Another "wow" item in the Brown Jordan line was Oasis, an outdoor wicker double chaise with nautical influence. The traditional Chatsworth Collection drew raves while the smaller, more contemporary style of Aria has a lower price point and is expected to suit the taste of urban or younger customers. Golden, lighter finishes mixed with unusual darker ones, like blue azure.

A fifth branded Tommy Bahama collection, South Seas, took the floor with a full collection including a daybed with canopy, credenza, oversize love seat and chat table. Two drawers for storage or wine rack use are under the daybed, which can be linked with another to form a full bed for use outdoors or in.

During the BJI Tommy Bahama party, Vice President Corporate Procurement Bill Kennedy presented BJI's Supplier of the Year Award to G.B. and Constance Low of PT Prima Zen, Indonesia. Paul Ting of Shen Tai was named Account Manager of the Year.

From left, Karen Galindo, Greenhouse Mall; Steve Kline, Laneventure rep; Tracy Wolfrom and Paul Galindo, both of Greenhouse Mall; and Brian McMillan, Georgia Backyard, aboard The Evening Star at Laneventure party.

Debbie and Tom Stegman, Patio & Hearth Shoppe; author Frances Mayes; Laneventure President Art Thompson; Ed Mayes and Petey Fleischut, Casual Marketplace at Laneventure party.

G.B. and Constance Low of PT Prima Zen with award presented by Bill Kennedy, BJI vice president, corporate procurement, and daughter Stephanie Low at BJI's Tommy Bahama premarket party.

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