By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Larger TV screen sizes, heavier sets and bulkier A/V components are dictating design changes at entertainment furniture makers. And they, in turn, are making dramatic moves to accommodate ballooning consumer electronics products.
How have some of the leading manufacturers reacted?
"We have to make furniture that matches 40-inch televisions, 400-disc changers," said Joe Greco director of sales at Bell'O International. "This means extra support, more room between shelves, even shelves 24 inches deep. Our TV benchmark is the 36-inch Sony Wega."
"The proliferation of economical high-definition televisions in the last year has made 16:9 TVs more of a norm, rather than an exception," said David Hartfelder, partner at Diamond Case Designs. "Our Visalia Plus system frames out the screen of any 50- to 65-inch-wide-screen HDTV."
"We are seeing a growing number of consumers looking for unique pieces to accommodate their high-end systems," said Bill Becker, president and design director of BDI. "They want a furniture look with the features of an open-rack system — units that provide a wire-management system, ample ventilation and accommodate the largest electronic components."
"With some sizes of product too big for entertainment centers, we're seeing more of a shift to TV stands," said Phil Miller, VP and general manager at Creative Interiors.
At the same time home entertainment furniture is being designed for the added size and heft of CE products, some makers note a growing "squeeze" in small office/home office furniture.
"There is a slowdown in the residential area, away from big, huge desks," said Creative Interiors' Miller. "People are looking for workstations that are easier to manage."
Also SOHO is becoming more of a fashion product, Miller said. "Where before there was more functionality — finish, design and dimension now play a stronger role."
And for a time SOHO might play second fiddle to entertainment types, said Michael Franks, director of strategic planning at O'Sullivan Industries. Franks believes home entertainment will continue to outperform SOHO through the Christmas season, mainly because there is more product innovation in television and its peripherals than personal computers.
"During an economic slowdown, people tend to concentrate spending on home entertainment, rather than other forms of entertainment. PC sales will need to become re-energized before home office furniture sales re-ignite," said Franks.
Yet, SOHO should not be down for long, continued Franks, who points to two emerging engines for driving home office furniture sales. "The first is the expansion of home broadband access. Our consumer research has shown that home Internet users who have broadband access spend significantly more time in their home office and are thus willing to invest more there.
"Second, Windows XP may create a replacement cycle for the PC," Franks said. "This would result in a scenario where some consumers will be reinvigorated to spend money to update their home office, and some will need to purchase furniture to provide new space elsewhere in their house for what is now the second home PC."
With big entertainment and SOHO furniture introductions at CEDIA Expo last month and more coming this month at the International Home Furnishings Center, manufacturers are rolling out new products. The following companies are among those highlighting merchandise for this fall.
A series of audio/video and home office furniture from Altra Furniture, called ArtWorks, is created entirely out of sculpted medium-density fiberboard and finished in textured paints. Included in the ArtWorks line is a series of Media Storage cabinets designed to hold between 400 and 600 CDs. It also can be configured to hold DVDs and VHS tapes, with sculpted drawers hiding the software and providing simple access to music and movie collections.
The ArtWorks series from the Mt. Laurel, N.J.-based company also includes Home Office taborets — mobile storage cabinets designed to hold files, papers and collections. These fit a myriad of household uses, from office work to hobbyist activities.
The ArtWorks line is slated for a wide range of colors, including terra cotta, espresso, indigo, wheat, silver, ebony and cinnamon. Some colors are designed to match kids' furniture, while others are designed for high-tech offices or family-room use. Suggested retails for the Media Storage and shelving range from $49 to $149.
The emphasis is on design at Becker Designed (BDI) — engineering systems the company said complement, protect and enhance electronic components in audio/video systems.
Such is the case with the Chantilly, Va.-based BDI's Platform A/V System, introduced at last month's CEDIA Expo. The platform features sturdy construction, ease of assembly, sensible wire management and open ventilation, said BDI. Components appear to float on sturdy platforms supported by steel poles, while cables and connections are discreetly concealed by the back panel and wire management system.
The Platform A/V Tower houses six to eight components. The Platform TV Stand comes in two models — the larger accommodating up to a 36-inch television, with a shelf below for a center channel speaker or two to four components, while the smaller model houses up to a 32-inch television, with storage below for four to six components.
The Platform Media Center houses and displays CDs, DVDs and videotapes. Whether mounted on or leaning against a wall, custom configurations can be created by adjusting Platform's shelves.
All pieces in the Platform collection feature durable casters and are available in natural cherry and espresso. Suggested retails are not yet available.
BDI's Arena collection of A/V furniture also was on stage at CEDIA, headed up by the five-shelf A/V Tower, which can accommodate five components at a suggested $699 retail. The Arena TV Stand, at a suggested $599 retail, has three shelves for up to four components.
Arena products are constructed of natural, cherry-stained or black curved ply with silver or black steel and tempered glass shelves.
Also new from CEDIA in September is a line of contemporary metal and glass audio/video furniture, with the addition of wood, from Morganville, N.J.-based Bell'O International. The systems feature multiple finishes in wood and have accompanying accessories such as matching speaker stands.
Model AVSC-2051MC is contemporary in design, with cherry wood sides. This A/V system is manufactured in a new metallic silver-finish metal and glass. Two fixed tempered safety glass shelves, plus an oversized glass top, can accommodate up to a 40-inch direct-view television, a center channel speaker and at least four A/V components. Suggested retail is $700.
CinemaTech Seating introduced at CEDIA its ACT III family of home theater seating, including two models currently available.
The Paramount and Magnolia feature domestic leathers, solid wood frames, full reclining seatbacks, footrests and custom cup holders in the arms. The footrests tuck up under the seat, disappearing from view.
The Paramount comes with walnut-finish legs on the front, while options include a natural or black wood finish, as well as aluminum. The Magnolia's frame extends to the ground in both the front and back. Both models are available with a choice of five different leathers in a total of 42 colors.
Both chairs from the Addison, Texas-based company have $1,995 suggested retails and can be configured as single seats, straight rows, curved rows and love seats. Curved rows use a wedge arm between seats to define the radius of the row. The wedge arms are available in two different back widths.
"A dealer should never make the mistake of selling a low-end seat to a high-end customer," said Michael Murphy, president of CinemaTech. "While any of the theater's electronics may be upgraded over time, the theater seating should be a lifetime purchase," he said.
Creative Interiors, a division of Thomasville Furniture Industries, is offering a four-piece group comprised of a desk, hutch, mobile file and mobile workstation. Called the 498-602, the group can be arranged with the option of storing the mobile file and mobile workstation under the desk/hutch in a "nesting position." This is an advantage when space is limited or when the mobile workstation surface is only needed on occasion. Access to the drawers in the mobile file remains, even in the "nesting" position.
Other features of the Appomattox, Va.-based Creative Interiors' 498-602, include open storage areas in the hutch for books and binders and a large work surface for computer equipment and paperwork. The unit, which offers maximum design flexibility through its mobile desk and file system, includes a mobile file drawer for standard files and a small pencil drawer. The group, available in a Cherry Glenn finish, has a $159.99 suggested retail.
In addition to its ability to accommodate nearly any size television, the Visalia Plus 500-2 Home Theater Furniture System from Yorba Linda, Calif.-based Diamond Case Designs offers a pre-designed basic layout made to order to fit into a consumer's specific interior layout.
Available in birch or oak materials, in four styles and 30 wood finishes, the system consists of three or four pieces, depending on the television used. When including a direct-view TV, the system is comprised of a base that is flanked by a component tower on one side and a media tower on the other. The two towers gain a complete, integrated look when joined by a light bridge and TV shelf.
With a projection TV, the base is omitted and the set rests between the towers. The lower portion of the towers and the base feature wood framed doors with grill-cloth panels for concealing left, center, right and even subwoofer speakers.
By adhering to a common layout, the Visalia Plus system is available in any of the styles at suggested retails starting at $2,999 (without base, for PTV) to $3,499 (with base). Since the system is made to order, any number of customized options — such as interior media drawers, mirror backs, interior lights, TV or component pull-out shelves, dimensional changes and even finishes — can be added at additional cost.
An addition to the Gusdorf lineup of products — including a wide variety of home/office computer desks, entertainment centers and audio/video/DVD cabinets in a variety of designs and finishes — is the Laval, Quebec-based company's Stealth Series.
The newly developed Stealth line consists of a variety of products that can accommodate a full range of flat-screen TV — from 27-inch to 72-inch projection types. All models are designed with stylishly textured silver and black finishes and can accommodate a wide variety of audio and video components.
Gusdorf is introducing a modular entertainment center that consists of two freestanding audio towers and a flat-screen TV credenza, called models 60321 and 11921 combined. Model 11521 is a 36-inch flat-screen TV stand that also is available in 27-inch and 32-inch with curved sides.
Suggested retails for the Stealth Series range from $99 to $399.
Designed to cater to the needs of the home theater enthusiast, the Prelude, made by Laurier Furniture, is divided into sections, with each offering independent lighting. Curved glass doors from top to bottom give the Prelude its distinctive look. The piers have a ventilation outlet to protect against excessive heat. The rear panel can be removed to allow for ease of jack connections.
The furniture from Laurier-Station, Quebec-based Laurier is available in two different shades of maple wood and in a high-gloss black lacquer to match rear-projection televisions available in the same finish.
The bridge and shelving system features an adjustable width of 40 inches to 70 inches that can accommodate overhead TV screens as large as 73 inches. A 40-inch, two-door stand is available for table TV sets. Suggested retail is $2,999.
Combining the luxurious look and comfort of fine home furniture with the special conveniences of theater seating, Carrollton, Texas-based Leather Center introduced its Chair and a Half at CEDIA. The chair, suitable for two children, a couple, or an adult and one child, is available in three styles — Seville, Brentwood and Magellan.
The seating is modular and offers users a variety of designer styling options, along with home theater features such as reclining mechanism and built-in cup holders.
Designs range from traditional to contemporary and are available in more than 150 colors, 12 grades of leather and unlimited configurations. Suggested retail for the Chair and a Half ranges from $2,645 to $4,745, depending on the grade of leather. Delivery is three to four weeks, for the first month or so, for chairs ordered at CEDIA, then two to three weeks' delivery thereafter, the company's normal procedure.
A convenient new accessory for the chair is a Theatre Tray Table, an oval hardwood platform that fits into the cup holder in either arm. Measuring 16.5 inches x 11.25 inches x 6.5 inches, the tray is covered in a hardwood walnut veneer. The mounting cylinder in the tray's base is covered with matching leather, designed to avoid scratching when fitted into the cup holder. Suggested retail is $198.
Audio/video dealers must offer a complete theater package, including seating, said Shelly Norman, marketing manager for Leather Center's Commercial Division. "Theater seating has changed in its appearance over the last couple of years. The styling available was primarily in velour and fabric, and had the look of early movie theaters. Today, you can get a theater seat to match almost any décor, with your choice of fabric, velour or leather," Norman said.
Lovan unveiled its new Trellice audio/video support system at CEDIA. The unit, from the Placentia, Calif.-based company, can accommodate any combination of audio and video components. It offers designed 2-inch steel tubes, is scratch-resistant and finished in black epoxy powder. The stainless steel accents and curved extra-thick boards, available in black or cherry wood, add to the look of the rack.
The Trellice, at a suggested $1,165 retail, can be configured to any shape or form, and connected horizontally or vertically. The rack allows individual consumer design, so each will individually accommodate a specific system.
A smartly styled new executive chair from Ontario, Calif.-based Office Star Products, Model EL4521, is upholstered in a combination of glove-soft leather and breathable nylon mesh. The chair features sleek, contemporary lines and brushed metal accents.
The unit offers a pneumatic seat height control, plus adjustable arm rests. Suggested retail is $350.
Recognizing the importance of harmonizing entertainment furniture needs with the décor demands of every home, Lamar, Mo.-based O'Sullivan Industries is offering a solution to this co-mingling with its Manor Hill Collection Home Theater Center.
The ready-to-assemble entertainment center houses televisions with screen sizes as large as 36 inches, along with shelving for VCRs, DVD players and cable boxes. Concealed storage is available for CDs, VHS tapes and DVDs. All of the storage is wrapped in a warm Brianna Oak finish. Suggested retail for the Home Theater center is $299.
Salamander Designs has unveiled a Media Cabinet for its Synergy System furniture series designed to house audio/video entertainment components. The 12-inch-deep by 42-inch-tall Media Cabinet is designed to complement Synergy System's related modular elements and is ideal for DVDs, CDs and Zip discs, as well as video and audio cassettes.
The unit, from the Hartford, Conn.-based company, includes five aluminum shelves, each with an integral backstop, made for a 250-CD capacity. The Media Cabinet is available in maple, cherry and walnut finishes. It also comes in satin black, with a choice of two pillar finishes — matte black and satin aluminum.
The cabinet with side panels and five shelves is designed to retail at a suggested $599 in any of its three veneered hardwood finishes, and $499 in black. A door costs $119 suggested retail.
A newly redesigned line of audio/video furniture is available from St. Paul, Minn.-based Sanus Systems. Called the Accurate Audio/Video Furniture line, the new designs feature smooth chrome tubular pillars and luxurious black or maple finishes on large and durable shelves. The line, which ranges from $129 to $179 suggested retail, includes a four-shelf audio stand that accommodates the addition of up to four add-on shelves and an extended-top-shelf video model that lets the user tuck a 36-inch TV and other components neatly into any corner. The company's AFDV model offers three shelves in a black or maple finish for a suggested $179.99 retail.
Contemporary design and a patented cabling system, in which cables are hidden from view without having to cut off the plugs, are distinctive features of the Evolution line from Eindhoven, The Netherlands-based Vogel's Products B.V. The line consists of five TV supports, which can be endlessly combined with four accessories that include an AudioVideo multi-support, coupling element, video recorder holder and center speaker holder. Speaker mounts include loudspeaker wall mount and CD storage system.
Suggested retails for TV mounts range from $79.95 to $229.95; speaker mounts range from $29.95 to $54.95, floor stands from $99.50 to $109.50; and accessories, such as coupling elements, from $12.95 to $69.95.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.