AMERICANS ARE about to be reintroduced to Early American. Only this time around if furniture manufacturers and interior designers have their way, it will be called "Country."
New furniture in the country manner, shown in the Southern Furniture Market in the fall, is now being delivered to local stores.
Windsor chairs, trestle tables, quilts and woven baskets and all the rest of country is projected by the manufacturers to be as popular as the Mediterranean look of the '50s and 18th-century look of the '70s. The furniture is a refreshing, better-scaled reinterpretation of rustic Colonial and Early American designs.
It used to be that you could put together this look by visiting secondhand shops and antique stores. Now commercially produced variations are needed because authentic pine country pieces and appropriate accessories have all but disappeared from most antique shops, and, when they can be found, are getting more and more expensive.
Reaction from area designers has been entirely positive.
"We have exhausted the formal, mahogany, 18th-century look," says Sarah Jenkins, director of interior design for W&J Sloane. "What Country does is provide a marvelous alternative that is very, very liveable. The scale is much more in proportion with today's rooms, and the light-colored finishes are energy-conserving because they require less illumination."
According to Sue Pennington, design director for the two local Bloomingdale's, this new direction has grown out of the revival of interest in rural furniture and folk art. "It is a matter of getting back to basics -- and an appreciation for simplicity," says Pennington.
It is easy to distinguish the new Country. It is set off by four dominant characteristics:
* Light-colored finishes. The predominant look is that of a pine antique which has had all of the paint or darkening varnish removed.
* Subtle accent colors. Painted finishes have been out of vogue for some time but are historically appropriate and the perfect accent. Colors include a barn red, a buttermilk blue, a yellow ocher and a smoky green.
* Coordinated pieces rather than matching pieces. In an extreme departure from the "group" mentality, all of the Country collections are indeed just that, collections of different pieces instead of matching suites.
* Addition of unusual and distinctive designs. Included among many familiar pieces are some that have never been reproduced before, such as a mule chest, and some that are simply beautiful invention.
Jack Dorner, director of home fashions for Woodward & Lothrop, summarizes the Country look as ". . . more casual. Not formal or intimidating as most 18th century. A mixture of styles, a melting pot of different influences." He also sees Country being used as either an accent in a traditional setting or to create a total environment.
New in Country
If you are interested in the Country look, here are a few of the important collections that were shown for the first time at Highpoint in the fall and now on the retail furniture floors:
* Lane's "The American Collection" is in many ways the most interesting because it is based on furniture found in the prestigious Museum of American Folk Art in New York City. It is also the most disappointing because, although it has been authenticated by the museum's director and the pieces are being touted as careful copies, they are adaptations. This can easily be seen when the original and the copy are placed side by side. For example, instead of pegs as in the antique, the copy has only embossed circles.
There are, however, several standout pieces. The first is an unusual dining chair that has a carved claw on the armrest and the second is a distinctive cedar chest.
This chest is an invented piece and the front is decorated to look like an 1870 gate that was constructed in the form of an American flag.
The pieces in the collection range in price from $120 for a candlestand to $1,800 for an armoire and the cedar chest will cost $400. All are available at Bloomingdale's.
* American of Martinsville's "Restorations" is a large collection of 64 pieces and features a refinished look rather than a stripped pine look. Most notable is the wall cabinet large enough to hold everything a regular dresser and armoire would.
Woodward & Lothrop will be carrying most of the pieces from this collection beginning in March. Prices will fall between $225 for an end table and $1,500 for the large chest.
* Pulaski's "Autumn Harvest," is the novelty group of the Country introductions. Aptly described as "kitchen furniture for the entire house," this collection is charming, although some might say too cute.
Of the divers pieces, which range from a recipe desk with slanted slate top to a chest which features bean-filled fronts on the drawers, the most useful is probably the butcher-block work station, which can be used in either the center of the room or against the wall. Cost for this work station will be about $460. Other prices will go from $160 to $700. The group will be in The Hecht Co. in March.
* National/Mt. Airy's "Hunt Country" created by Jim Peed is the least authentic but the most beautiful. Peed's imagination is so fertile that his deviations from the antique prototypes only enhance the pieces rather than detract from them.
Particularly outstanding is a canopy bed decorated with oval cut-out lattice around the top. The collection also features a combination of knotty pine and cherry. Prices will range from $280 for a night stand to $1,200 for the canopy bed.
* Thomasville's Replicas 1800 is an extremely handsome collection of somewhat-authentic American country pine pieces combined with some English and French Canadian designs.
The "mule chest" is said to have been designed to fit in the center of a Conestoga Wagon. Unusually large (70 inches long by 42 inches high), it provides a great deal of storage for only $1,100. Other pieces begin at $380 for a nightstand and go to $1,700 for an armoire. Unfortunately, neither of these last two connections have yet been placed in a local store, but two others that have been are Wellesley Guild's collection of accent pieces called "Country Fare" that even includes several fireplace mantels at W&J Sloane and the Country Craftsman collection in local Ethan Allen stores.
If you are more interested in the City rather than the Country look, the Southern Furniture market also introduced the following:
For the traditionalist, there is Baker's truly magnificent reproduction collection of 18th-century English pieces called "Furniture Treasures from the Stately Homes of England and Scotland" as selected by Sir Humphrey Wakefield, bt. This group of 30 pieces is both magnificent and expensive. Pieces range from a small Hepplewhite mahogany urn table for $900 to a giant Chippendale carved four-poster bed for $6,000. Woodward & Lothrop will carry this collection beginning in May.
Then for the modernist, Thayer Coggin, as usual, introduced a superb contemporary group that includes electronic furniture.
Described as Media Furniture for Media Rooms of the '80s, there are cabinets to hold large-sized televisions that are hidden behind mirrored fronts until they are turned on and then are seen through the mirror. Plus cabinets specially designed to house projectors and accompanying wide, wide screens. The Vanleigh Showroom will carry this furniture bginning in the spring.
Throughout the market there was also a new phenonmenon: Beds that appeared out of every possible kind of cabinet and table. Evidently, there is a need to have an extra bed in something other than a sofa or loveseat. Consequently, you can now buy a round ottoman, a square coffeetable or even a rectangular console and also be buying a spare bedroom. Prices run about $1,000.
The glitter from women's fashions sprinkled over many upholstery fabrics. The effect was not half as gaudy as it might sound. The best examples of the use of metallic fabrics was in the Swaim showroom.