HIGH POINT — While the term may seem somewhat overused and perhaps even passé, mixed media remains as important as ever in the wood furniture segment.
In fact, while mixed-media elements have been around as long as people have been making and selling furniture, it continues to offer a wow factor for retailers and consumers alike.
What’s perhaps different today is the mix of materials used offering a variety of updated looks across the wood spectrum. Not only is it prevalent in occasional and accent furniture, but other wood categories such as bedroom, dining room and even home office and home entertainment.
For this report, Furniture Today spoke to a variety of wood furniture resources — from the upper to the middle and lower-middle segments — about how they perceive mixed media and apply it to their respective lines.
Cindy Hall vice president of case goods merchandising at Sherrill Furniture, said the palette of materials the company is using across its brands varies, with a mix of stone and wood, bone and wood, as well as plaster, acrylic, printed glass and metal to name several.
The company is also working with different fancy face veneers on wood pieces such as lacewood and block-mottled anigre and highly figured sycamore, which give consumers a different — and in some cases more dramatic — look on a cabinet or table top.
A lot of the pieces are imported, coming from Vietnam, India and Mexico, Hall noted. However, Sherrill is able to achieve some mixed media designs at its production facilities in Hickory, N.C.
“Even domestically, I am doing some mixed media with cane and wood to give it a little more of a punch when we do product in-house,” she said.
Brad Cates, CEO of Sarreid Ltd., said the company has used mixed media for much of its 54-year history.
“For us, I would say there is nothing more important than mixed media,” he said. “We started out as an accessories company, and that got woven into our DNA. … Everything is a combination of something. We don’t just do straight boxes in a single color. We live with more detail and more finery on the pieces.”
A bed the company recently introduced at market showcases some of the company’s approach to the concept of mixed media. Its wooden posts and frame was accented with woven leather for the headboard, tied together with iron couplings.
Meanwhile, a display case in the line features a metal and wood frame with glass shelves, glass doors and glass side panels, while a round accent table features a carved base in a dark finish and a contrasting white marble top.
These are just a few of the dozens of examples in the line where the company utilizes different materials to achieve sophisticated looks.
“There are more places than less within our full assortment where there are mixed materials,” Cates added. “We have gotten homogenized as an industry to an extent, but Sarreid never has. That is why we have scoured the globe for 54 years looking for artisans that can produce this for us.”
Marge Carson has recently tapped into the capabilities of its Mexico upholstery factories to add a mixed-media approach that combines fabrics, wood and mirrored glass on a single table. It showcased this look at the June High Point Market, giving dealers a glimpse into what its many decades of experience with Mexican factories can offer in form, finish and styling.
Indeed, mixed media approaches at the upper end have found their way into the upper-middle and middle-end of the case goods segment, not only in occasional and accent furniture, but also in bedroom and dining room.
Hekman Furniture for years has been mixing wood and metal, wood and fabrics into various pieces, an example of which was seen in its Scottsdale collection at June High Point Market. It also introduced woven cane accents onto the door fronts of an entertainment center, also shown at the market.
“We have been mixing metal and wood in bedroom and dining room with success; there is no question,” said Neil McKenzie, vice president, product development. “Cane also was a big addition, and we had some great success with it.”
Brass and iron accents are also common on accent table bases and tops as are iron bases on accent chests, nesting tables and on the bases of larger case pieces such as chests and dressers as well as dining and console tables.
A key for Hekman is to find the right balance of materials — such as metal and wood — that make sense from an aesthetic and cost standpoint.
“We are mixing as much of it as we can, and it is more trying to figure out where the value is, particularly in accents,” McKenzie said, adding, “You can’t do a whole room full of mixed media. It would be sensory overload.”
He also noted that certain areas of the world have different skill sets that help them effectively incorporate different materials into the mix.
“Some particular suppliers are better at it than others,” he said.
AICO has been one of the pioneers of mixed media at the upper-middle end of the spectrum, effectively adding high-grade vinyl, crystal accents, stainless steel and acrylic to create a sophisticated glam look that offers a distinguished contrast to its more opulent traditional forms.
“One of the things that for us helped define the glam category was the ability to utilize materials like luxury vinyl, stainless steel, crystals and acrylics in one collection,” said Chuck Reilly, executive vice president of the 2010 launch of AICO’s licensed Michael Amini and Jane Seymour collection. “The mix of those materials has helped us to create excitement in the glam category.”
Reilly said this has evolved into creating unique lighting in headboards, nightstands and other case pieces as well as mirrors. In particular, the approach also has added a level of innovation and functionality, particularly in modern designs whose clean-lined forms contrast with the more pronounced shaping found in traditional designs.
“Today you have people who live in larger more traditional homes wanting more modern furniture,” Reilly noted, adding, “Anything we can do to enhance a clean-lined case with lighting or a fabric or a metal treatment” is relevant to today’s consumer.
He also said that acrylics also have become more important on bed posts, the feet of case pieces and even the legs of dining tables.
“We are seeing more of that as an element,” Reilly said of the company’s use of acrylic accents.
Attractive price points
In the middle and lower middle segments, mixed media also has become more important as it offers consumers shopping those price points some of the look and feel of more expensive furniture.
Sunpan’s move into outdoor furniture renewed its emphasis on molded concrete forms made to look like marble and terrazzo stone, for cocktail and end tables. Featuring high gloss finishes, these are weather resistant yet for outdoor use, but also are designed for indoor use, allowing them to complement the many different styles of upholstery in its line.
“We can take that and incorporate it into anything from a cocktail table to a nightstand,” said Carl Lovett, vice president, sales. “It is endless, the different designs and shapes that we can do. It also can be used for any room in the home.”
The company also recently began sourcing a case goods in Mexico, which has allowed it to achieve new looks in metal and glass as seen on its new Mendoza dining set.
Other middle-priced resources — Riverside Furniture and Austin Group, for example — to lower-middle priced resources such as Steve Silver and New Classic also are expanding their footprint in mixed media, offering a different aesthetic within their assortment.
“We have always been strong in mixed media,” said Fred Henjes, CEO of Riverside Furniture, whose mix has grown to accent pieces from India featuring many new materials. “I think the consumer is at a point where their acceptance level of mixed media is pretty strong. It has always been some portion of our business and will continue to be so.”
Scott Ostrander, president and managing partner at case goods resource Austin Group, agreed that mixed media continues to be important, although he said it is more important in a category like occasional than it is in bedroom.
“There is always an opportunity for a mix of iron and wood,” he said, using wood and metal as just one example of the possibilities in mixed media. “It just depends on the design category and has become a little more prevalent with this new category of rustic contemporary. We are tying in a lot more contemporary looks with rustic finishes and metals.”
Bill Dominguez, vice president of research and development at New Classic Furniture, said that the company is using more materials such as stone and marble on the tops of cases pieces along with metal and steel bases in dining and occasional.
“I see there is a need for that,” he said, noting that this enhances the value equation for consumers. “At New Classic, we are improving and bringing better products to the market.”
At Steve Silver, mixed media elements have also been important over the years. Today, the product line, be it dining or occasional, continues to emphasize its importance, including with materials like stainless steel, wood, glass and marble.
“Steve Silver was always good at developing mixed media product before I was ever around,” said Luke Silver, president. “We realize that mixed media is working well, and like everything we do, we try to make it better with continuous improvement.”