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Baby & Kids
Furnishing For The Future
As this in-depth report shows, today's winning youth furniture and decor must offer style and durability.

Winter 2006
Versatility and multifunction have always been big in youth furniture. Lofts, under-bed drawers and trundle beds all make keeping a kid's room organized and user friendly an easier task. But the furniture in today's market goes beyond solving storage and space issues, offering a life span through college and beyond.

Youth Furniture manufacturers, keen on parent's tight purse strings, are introducing collections that easily transition through the years. Youth furnishings are built with a lot of versatility, says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishing Alliance (AHFA), High Point, N.C. I think what manufacturers are trying to do is come up with looks that are appealing to youngsters as well as teens, so that a parent can hopefully make a single investment and have it satisfy the child throughout that period.

At Broyhill Furniture Industries which recently launched a comprehensive children's line, Ready, Set, Grow designers work with trend services and focus groups and even observe new fashions to determine the styles of their kids collections. But they are careful not to let the style of the furniture be a novelty something the child could grow out of within a few years. We tend to approach it more from a home furnishings perspective. Even though it is kid-oriented and kid-related, it's still home furnishing, says Mike McCollum, senior vice president of casegoods for Broyhill.

Before the launch of Ready, Set, Grow, Broyhill created it's children's collections from adult bedroom sets. Common parts were taken directly from the master groups, making the footprint skewed and offering little consistency between the collections. Some had bunks, some didn't...there was really no methodology or thinking for the kids environment in the category, says McCollum.

Ready, Set, Grow makes Broyhill's youth collections appropriate for the kids, but with the adaptability to grow with them, too. The first three collections---American Era, Hampton and Brittany are based on master collections, but are scaled to a consistent youth footprint.

The American Era collection features cherry veneers and rich carved details with a warm cherry finish. The Hampton Youth Collection has a soft pine finish, with wainscot panels, picture frame moldings and turned bun feet. Both collections adapt to the changing preferences of kid's.

Meanwhile, the Brittany collection is the ultimate girly style, featuring a four-poster bed and elegant molding. While the collection is decidedly feminine, it, too, adapts throughout the early year's.

In October, Broyhill will launch two new collection's that are completely exclusive to kids: Baron Ridge, a boy's line featuring dark oak and masculine tones, and Isabelle, with a feminine, Northern European aesthetic.

Broyhill recently conducted research on what kid's want out of a bedroom. They want not just a place to sleep, but a place to hang out, says McCollum. Broyhill is responding to the research results by looking at what they can do to furniture to accommodate audio-visual equipment and other lounging accessories.

In another part of the market, Bratt Decor is applying a similar philosophy to a very mature, stately style. Bratt Decor began 11 years ago with rich, ornate wrought iron cradles and cribs inspired by classic African and French design. The first piece, the Casablanca crib, was created for the founder's first child.

Two years later, designer and cofounder Stephen Bauer decided to add a more relaxed, Mayberry flavor to the company, and created the Dick and Jane collections. They were supposed to be a throwback to the 1950s, more comfortable, nowhere near as elegant as what we had done before", he says. It played on the heartstrings of American's. The collections which feature solid panel head- and footboards, oversized chrome casters and a distressed finish in cherry red, white, navy and black were a huge success, and the Dick and Jane crib's are still the company's best seller's.

Since then, Bratt Decor has launched the Heritage collection, for which Bauer was inspired by old New England barns, and two collections that harken back to the rich opulence of his earlier lines: the heavy carved wood of the Chelsea collection, and the elegant cast-iron Venetian collection.

The Venetian crib is available with both canopy crossbars and four posters, that can be used alone or with a fabric canopy, for three distinct styles.

Although from two very different companies, Bauer mirrors McCollum's sentiments on style: Our company has always had a different philosophy than most, we try to stay away from cutesy and try to go toward more mature flavors. Were really appealing more to the taste of the parents than what they think the kid's taste is.

Bauer's design philosophy is to keep it calming, not such a statement that it dominates too much. It's very easy to change bedding, but it's not easy to change your furniture.

Today's youth furniture is compatible in more ways than just style. It's designed to last not only with quality construction, but through piece's that easily adapt to space constraints and ever-growing kids.

Consumer's are looking to youth furniture to furnish second homes and smaller bedrooms.and even resorts, hotels and restaurants are buying youth furniture to make up for smaller spaces. An investment in the youth category isn't going to end when a child goes to college, says Hirschhaut.

A lot of retailers and consumers are saying that furniture is scaling up too large, and we get a lot of crossover into second bedrooms and resort business, even from our kid offerings, says McCollum.

Many of Bratt Decor's pieces convert for longevity. Most of the cribs convert to daybeds, and toddler conversion kits are also available. One changing table has a built in cavity that's disguised with a lid, and others feature removable tops, so they can easily work in any other room in the house as a dresser.

For retailers who don't have a lot of floor space to dedicate to furniture, there are still effective ways to sell it.

Broyhill makes it simple for retailers with little space by streamlining all of its lines to share a consistent footprint. A retailer can feature one collection on the store floor, and then guide customers to catalogue for other collections, knowing that all the pieces have the same size configuration. Its really easy to have a small footprint of pieces and sell eight or nine collection's, he says.

Hirschhaut advises retailers to use furniture as a selling prop for other products and services: Decorate it almost to the point of over decorating it. Have lamps on the nightstand, cute decorative details, make sure the bed is dressed with a nice bedspread and decorative pillows. Ultimately, what you want to happen is for the parent to come shopping with the child and the child to say, "Mom, I want it just like this", and get them to buy the entire set.

Caption: The Chelsea collection from Bratt Decor features a sleigh crib, toddler bed and dresser with removable changing tray.

Call 888/24-BRATT or visit to see the entire line.

Written by: Abble Jarman


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