It's not often that a furniture store demonstrates both a style trend and a demographic movement, but somehow IMI Furniture manages to do just that.
First, the demographics. The store's location, the former Loudoun Furniture site in Sterling, puts IMI at the epicenter of some of the county's most aggressive growth, with America Online and the Dulles Town Center nearby and MCI coming in the future. There's construction all around, as West Church Road gets widened and new subdivisions of huge houses sprawl across what once was farmland.
Stylewise, the store, a two-year-old retail outpost of a Brazilian company, reflects the current trend toward massive, comfortable furniture, with overstuffed 109-inch-long sofas and club chairs that can hold at least two average-size adults.
Now you know what all those AOL execs are putting in those larger-than-life houses beyond the Beltway.
"Bigger furniture goes over well with what's being built now," says FernandoRodrigues, 28, who runs the Sterling store for his father-in-law's company, which has more than 20 outlets in Brazil. "New houses are much more open, and that's what people want."
Though he was born in Portugal, Rodrigues has spent enough time in Brazil to feel at home with large furniture. "Apartments in Brazil are huge, so we like the trend toward bigger things," he says.
The 30,000-square-foot store is divided into roomlike vignettes, each with a different array of decorative accessories and wall treatments. Most of the upholstered pieces and case goods are by established American manufacturers--Henredon, Bernhardt, Vanguard and Sherrill are just a few of the 200 manufacturers represented here--with prices ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent off suggested retail.
But throughout the shop are some styles that have an international flair, especially coffee tables, which anchor many of the room settings.
"We mix in a lot of things from Brazil that don't exist here, especially pieces that combine glass and marble and iron," says Rodrigues, pointing to a 6-by-6-foot marble coffee table at the front of the store.
"We're really transitional in style, with pieces that are neither too radical nor too traditional."
Although sofas are particularly plentiful, IMI carries other pieces: for the home office, bedroom, dining room, sunroom, breakfast nook and family room. The shop's best-selling sofas average from $1,200 to $1,400. With luxury fabrics, however, a customer could spend up to $25,000.
As for delivery, Rodrigues tries to keep the more popular pieces on hand in the adjoining warehouse, so customers often can have purchases delivered in two to three days. The store also sells models directly from the floor.
Another customer-friendly service is in-house design advice, including home visits and help with floor plans and fabric, all without charge.
If there's one surprise in the store's inventory, especially given IMI's Brazilian roots, it's the almost total lack of leather. "Although it's a big export, leather has never really been that popular in Brazil," says Rodrigues.
One piece that stands out is Vanguard's taupe leather sofa for $2,689, compared with a list price of $4,149.
"We made a decision to sell only the better leather pieces on the best frames."
In extra-large sizes, of course.