Furniture manufacturers know most consumers can’t name their brand, but they will remember to tell friends their sofa is from Ralph Lauren or Tommy Bahama.
That’s what marketers call “selling the sizzle.” The manufacturers know they can increase sales by licensing a famous name or place that evokes an image of style, glamour or recognition. Ralph Lauren, the grandfather of this trend, first created a collection for Henredon in 1983. (He is currently licensed with EJ Victor.) Past collections have been named after designers such as Mario Buatta and Alexa Hampton, dead icons such as Humphrey Bogart and Ernest Hemingway or places such as Charleston, Savannah or Newport.
The trend continued at the spring High Point Market in North Carolina, with Bea Pila and Michael Wolk of Miami, Jack Fhillips of Palm Beach and Allison Paladino of Jupiter.
All are known way beyond our state borders. Pila, whose work has taken her to South and Central America, has been on HGTV’s Design Star and as a host on DYI shows. Wolk’s award-winning work has been published in numerous regional, national and international publications. Fhillips has done work throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean; the term “Jack Fhillips designed house” has appeared in real estate ads. Paladino’s work has been featured in regional, national and international design publications.
This foursome offers furniture with a South Florida sensibility that is often missing in other collections.
Namesake design contribution can range from very little to almost total. You don’t really think that Tommy Bahama designed the furniture? He’s a fictional marketing tool. Some famous names merely give their approval for the manufacturer’s designs. Others do most of the designs themselves.
The payback is a percentage of the net price (what the furniture stores pay), which can range from 5 percent and up depending on negotiation with the manufacturer. Designers admit the revenue is unlikely to make them rich unless their name is Ralph Lauren or Martha Stewart.
“It is not an easy task and it is time consuming,” Fhillips says. “At times it can be as frustrating as all get out and is not as financially rewarding as people think. It is rewarding to one’s self. When you see it in a showroom or client’s home you get satisfaction.”
This market Bea Pila introduced Hide & Seek with her daughter Gabriela Noelle on her own. She also has designed furniture for Tomlinson, Whitecraft Rattan, Silverline and Woodard.
“My Classic Icons” is Pila’s tagline for her new collection. She describes it as character pieces that are the missing links of the design trade.
“My goal was to establish a style, bringing acrylic back to the elegance that it has lost over the years,” she says. “It is reminiscent of designs like those of Vladimir Kagan and other mid-century designers that never go out of style.”
The acrylic Player’s Chair, which resembles the iconic Barcelona chair designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1929, is her favorite. The 60-by-60-inch Levitas coffee table was a big hit because of its scale and acrylic accents.
“They are definitely jewelry for the home,” Pila says. “They can make a clean lined sofa look like a million bucks.”
One of her favorites at the fall market was the 114-inch long Ocean Drive sofa in her Miami Nice Collection for Directional. It features deep seating and streamlined arms that look very modern without being cold. Other pieces in the collection, which was expanded this market, have details such as leather strapping that Pila compares to Fendi and Louis Vuitton designer shoes and handbags.
“Tomlinson’s contemporary for Directional was beautiful and it still has a lot of validity but it was not in keeping with the Miami market, which is more advanced in contemporary design,” she says. “I was asked to review and tweak the designs, modernize them and give my own input. The designs were influenced by my own work in Miami and trends that are so popular here. I used those ideas and expanded what they were missing.”
Michael Wolk has designed for more than 50 companies and 20 are active. Among them are Carter, Directional, Wyman, Interlude Home, American Leather, DIA, Johnson Casuals and Rosenbaum Fine Art. He is also working on designing an outdoor line for Pavilion.
His motto: “OK is not OK and good enough is never good enough.”
Wolk visits the factory and makes changes to the prototype so that the piece meets his standards. His contemporary furniture not only looks good, it’s also comfortable. He sits on the furniture and may make adjustments to the foam density or the curve of the metal.
“My input is 110 percent because I am the author,” he says. “That is not variable. What is variable is some manufacturers get involved more than others. I am a proven entity and am not going to bring them designs that can’t be built or have no resonance in the marketplace.”
Highlights of this spring’s market from DIA are the Jolly barstools with a plated steel finish and elegant curves as well as Orion, a sculptural coffee table with round glass top and a base of three chrome-plated circles. His new pieces from Johnson Casual include Domino, a dinette with an attractive laser cut circular pattern on the chair backs, and Cambridge, which features a metal chair reminiscent of a classic Windsor with elegant tapered metal legs.
Wolk created prints for Rosenbaum featuring chairs, baskets and boxes. He calls his hand sketches of furniture Conversation Pieces because each piece of furniture is unique and the pieces look like they are having a conversation.
“Every time at bat you can either strike out or hit a home run,” he says explaining how he feels with his designs. “I just hope it is a home run.”
Jack Fhillips was frustrated because he was unable to find furniture he liked that fit the spaces he designed. Many pieces he found locally were outrageously expensive and had a long delivery time.
“Nobody wants to wait 16 weeks for a snack table,” he says. “They don’t want to wait 16 weeks to finish their whole house.”
It was his frustration plus a chance meeting with the folks at EJ Victor while working with a client in North Carolina that led to their collaboration. The result was clean-lined designs that are the perfect scale for today’s lifestyle.
“It is all about living for today — not living in mid-century modern, not living in an English Georgian look, and not about being so hip that the design is out of fashion in three months. My collection is meant to last.”
His furniture is available in 14 different finishes or can be custom colored. Most of his collection is neutral, but this market the EJ Victor folks convinced him to offer William, a 42-inch long coffee table, in coral. It was a huge hit.
One of his favorites is the James sofa, which features a slight rolled arm with ebonized leg and nail head trim. It goes perfectly with Jenna, an armless chair with curved back, nail head trim, and a handle on the back and front wheels so it can be moved easily.
The Devin chair, new this market, was inspired by a pair of antique French club chairs. It’s a small chair that is very comfortable whether the occupant is 6 feet 2 inches or 5 feet 2 inches, he says.
The clean-lined Jackie buffet can mix well with contemporary, traditional or transitional furnishings. This market it was shown in two new finishes — one with cocoa finish on the frame or hot chocolate on the door and drawer fronts.
Allison Paladino, best known for her twist on modern elegance, showed a furniture collection for EJ Victor and hand-tufted rugs for New River Artisans.
She credits her design savvy to the four years she worked with Thomas Pheasant, a Washington, D.C. designer who does collections for Baker and McGuire.
“One thing I learned from him was do something that is going to stand out,” she says. “Don’t just do another sofa. Push the envelope a little further.” That philosophy is represented in the collection. The Robbie sofa design reinvents the camel back with a gentle curve and back cushions that follow that curve.
Another refreshing twist is the Heidi bench, named after one of her clients. It can be used as a side table when the fabric top is replaced with stone or glass. The aluminum base is brushed in antique silver. It was introduced two markets ago as a cocktail table with limestone or glass top.
“She pushed me out of the box to get more blingy,” Paladino says. “I think my collection needed it. It is light and airy and you can appreciate the base more. At first it was blinding, but we antiqued it. What a difference it made.”
The Richie table, named after another client, is 66-inch square with an X-shaped base that was inspired by Paloma Picasso’s X-shaped jewelry.
Paladino says the influences for her collection were French Art Deco with the organic quality of George Nakashima, a woodworker, architect, and furniture maker known for his 20th century furniture design.
Post Modern is her latest hand-tufted area rugs collection for New River Artisans. The rugs are made from 100 percent colorfast New Zealand wool. Typical lead time is five to six months for rugs made overseas, but New River can deliver in four to six weeks.
Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub can be reached at email@example.com.