The home is replacing the car and clothing as the status symbol of the 1980s, says a home furnishings consultant.

People are taking more interest in how they dress their beds, their windows and their rooms than how they dress their bodies, says Dave Farrar, interior designer and national home furnishings coordinator for Montgomery Ward & Co.

Farrar says Ward's sales figures show a small drop in wearing apparel and an increase in home furnishings, including do-it-yourself items such as paints. The sales increase is spurred, in part, by divorced people, second-nesters, and singles as well as by the high price of gasoline, Farrar said. He added that people are entertaining at home more and spending more money on their homes and at-home activities, such as gourmet cooking.

Home furnishings purchases should be well-planned. An individual starting out -- or starting over -- can plan for future expansion while making furniture purchases for the present. Farrar predicted there will have to be better use of space as living areas get smaller because of rising real estate prices. He recently supervised the design of an inner-city Chicago brownstone with small, interconnected rooms where space was at a premium.

Farrar talked about how to furnish a starter efficiency apartment, adding that Ward's "would like to offer customers the Gucci and Mercedes look in a price they can afford."

In such an appartment, often you need room for sleeping, entertaining, dining and storage. Start with a queen -- size rather than double bed, he said. The extra six inches are "worth it" and will provide more seating space when the bed is used as a couch.

Put the queen size bed on a base, chrome or wood finish, or on wooden bun feet and then upholster or paint the feet with lacquer. Once you've raised the bed off the floor, upholster the boxsprings with the same or contrasting sheets you'll use on the bed, he said. Buy a comforter that doubles as spread and blanket. Then splurge on decorative pillows, say a dozen, he said, to dress up the bed. The sleeping pillows could be there, too, covered in shams.

"Our homes are a stage," so go dramatic or theatrical with wall coverings, Farrar said. Paint walls, with lacquer or semi-sheen paint in primary colors or white, or line them with fabric.

Proper lighting can be functional and cast dramatic shadows, he said.

If you need floor covering, buy an area rug. "You can carry it with you." But be sure it fits the rest of the room.

For windows, try something such as the thin, architectural blinds that come in 60 colors or woven woods. Make balloon shades from sheets or apply fabric to regular window shades, he suggested.

Keep in mind, Farrar said, that you'll need storage, too. Modular pieces can provide storage and save space. "We're moving rooms up the wall," Farrar said.

A storage piece for linens, towels or clothes can be used in the efficiency apartment now and in a foyer later. A long parson's table with a shelf can be used as a table with storage underneath. Maybe it will eventually go behind a sofa. Slide a couple of stools underneath and you've expanded your seating capabilities without subtracting floor space.

Or look for multi-purpose tables, such as a three-tiered table where each tier swings out when in use and folds back in line when not used. Brass or a combination of brass and chrome are popular this year, he said. A game or other table with a flip-top is good for dining, too.

For floor seating, buy a couple of upholstered pieces that can double as dining or lounge chairs, he said. Size is important. The chairs should be comfortable for short as well as tall people, he said. Chairs can be upholstered in matching or contrasting fabrics and colors. Or quilt a matching sheet for upholstery covers.

Accessories are important, too, Farrar said. Paintings, posters, wallhangings and lamps don't have to be expensive, just reflecting the taste of the owners, he said.

In the search for furnishings, people are seeking some elements of the traditional. But "I don't think we're going to see 18th-century furniture," Farrar said. Instead there will be a mixture, including more and less formal items. Picture a room with modern architectural blinds, an antique chest, an Oriental rug and modular furniture, he suggested.