Furniture at show reflects trend of smaller houses

HIGH POINT, N.C. — Even before these days of shrinking economic expectations, furniture makers were getting the message from consumers: Small is the new black.

A trend at this week's High Point Market is for smaller furniture that fits into smaller living spaces. The twice-a-year furniture industry trade show in High Point, N.C., displays thousands of new home furnishings that consumers could see in stores in a few months.

Furniture manufacturers are responding to downsizing baby boomers and the growing appeal of urban living by reducing the scale of dressers, coffee tables, night stands and the like.

"It's scaled down to the kind of residences that are selling today," Magnussen Home Furnishings chief marketing officer Don Essenberg said Monday, the trade fair's opening day.

An example is the Micro-Office by Sligh Furniture Co., of Holland, Mich., which should be in retail stores by next spring, spokesman Bob Kreter said. The unit, with a retail price of $4,500, looks like an armoire 53 inches wide by 80 inches tall with nooks at the top for framed photos. But pull back the bi-fold doors and untuck the chair with the fold-down back and you can take a seat before a desk big enough for a laptop, printer and files.

Aspenhome, based in Phoenix, Ariz., is offering a bedroom valet that looks like a TV stand with drawers underneath, but hides a built-in laundry hamper and slide-out ironing board.

Magnussen, based in New Hamburg, Ontario, has reduced the scale of its bedroom sets, Essenberg said. Its standard dresser size has been trimmed from 72 inches wide to 64 inches to fit into smaller rooms, but its height increased to match higher ceilings and retain storage capacity.

The trend tracks the slowing residential real estate market and demographic changes.

"Increasingly, people are choosing to live by themselves, with apartments and flats becoming a more popular choice of residence in metropolitan areas. These smaller households therefore also drive large demand for smaller furniture items," according to a recent report by IBISWorld Inc., an industry intelligence firm based in Los Angeles.