Retailers we talked to also identified sustainable products and energy-saving appliances as some of the other most common customer requests. We took a look at products that fall into those categories and six other trends that will help you decide how to spruce up your home's interior for the holiday season.
MODERN ENTERTAINMENT CONSOLES
Just as the boxy television has evolved into a sleek flat screen, the entertainment armoire that once housed it has morphed into a long, low console perfect for cabinet-top display of a mammoth screen while also providing plenty of room to hide away DVD players and video game systems. Sedlak points out that the latest models of these pieces cleverly accommodate homeowners' desire to hide the television when it's not in use. There's what Sedlak calls a "lift unit" by Custom Shop that raises the TV from the console at the touch of a button. An even more impressive bookcase hutch spins around to reveal the TV mounted on its back. For those who still prefer to anchor their flat screen to the wall, there are still disguise options. "There's even a wall-mounted mirror that goes over the TV," Sedlak says. "When the TV is on, you see the TV. When the TV is off, all you see is the mirror."
Energy Star-rated machines, which meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, sell themselves on the promise of paying for their sticker price in reduced energy and water consumption. Sharon Bennett, marketing director for Snow Bros. Appliance in Lyndhurst, says front-loading washers generally produce the most dramatic savings. "They use about 75 percent less energy and 70 percent less water" compared to a top-loading machine made in 2004 or 2005, she says. "And they spin so incredibly fast that the clothes come out almost dry. They take a lot less time in the dryer." Next up on the cost-savings list are refrigerators and dishwashers, which are about 40 percent more energy-efficient than those manufactured in 2001.
Erin Palmer, an interior designer with Homestead Furniture in Mount Hope, Ohio, says the trend of replacing the traditional coffee table with an ottoman or two was inspired by a need for furniture that pulls double duty, particularly in a tough economy. Place a large tray on top of it, and you're ready to serve drinks and appetizers. Remove the tray, and you've got an extra seat for larger gatherings. She recommends an ottoman 18 to 21 inches high covered in durable upholstery that has been treated with a fabric protector for the switch. "Leather, of course, is super durable," Palmer says. "Typically, you can just wipe spills right off."
PUB-HEIGHT DINING SETS
Make no mistake: This isn't the tiny table you and your buddy pull stools up to at the local bar. Among the best sellers at Smithton, Pa.-based Levin Furniture, which has seven stores in Northeast Ohio, these full-sized tables can be square, rectangular or round with leaves and upholstered chairs, says Emily Androski, a case goods and apholstery buyer for Levin. "They by far outsell regular-height [dining] in the same styles," she says. The appeal of pub- or counter-height dining lies in its compatibility with the on-the-go lifestyles so many people now maintain, Androski adds. Customers ranging from young singles to empty nesters buy the sets. Although most are destined for eat-in kitchens and dining nooks, Androski knows of one person who put one in a formal dining room. "It's more of a cool, casual look," she says.
PERSONAL AUDIO SYSTEMS
Frank Marsh of Audio Craft in Cleveland says people who have become accustomed to listening to their favorite tunes on iPods are now searching for a system that reproduces the full, rich audio experience delivered at concerts and clubs without filling a room full of components and casket-sized speakers. "They're realizing that they've been missing a whole lot of sound," he says. The answer to finding it: a personal audio system such as McIntosh Laboratories' MXA60 Executive Tabletop System. It combines an AM/FM tuner, CD player and auxiliary input for accessing content on personal listening devices in the space once occupied by a standard boom box, including the speakers.
SHUFFLEBOARD AND SKEE-BALL
The former is typically associated with retirement communities, the latter with Chuck E. Cheese. But Kathy Vegh, CEO of Danny Vegh's home entertainment in Cleveland, Mayfield Heights, Westlake and Fairlawn, says both are making a comeback in the home game room. Shuffleboard has been elevated from an outdoor court to a 9- to 22-foot-long table game accessible to players of all ages, while Skee-Ball — manufactured by the Chalfont, Pa., company of the same name — is still played on the same 10- or 13-foot-long alleys as the commercial machines. "People are going back to their roots," she says. "They're looking for that nostalgia, something that everybody in the family can do."
Sedlak Interiors' Charles Sedlak says customers who never cared how their furniture was made now listen attentively to his explanations of how manufacturers use woods harvested from sustainable forests and eliminate waste by burning leftover wood chips to heat factories, shipping sawdust to local farmers to be used as livestock bedding, and donating fabric scraps to organizations whose members stitch them into quilts. "It's become very important for domestic factories to be certified by the Sustainable Furnishings Council," Sedlak says. He names Harden Furniture, based in McConnellsville, N.Y., and Gat Creek, based in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., as examples of SFC-certified manufacturers. "It's a hit-or-miss proposition among offshore vendors."
It started when furniture manufacturers began turning out reclining home-theater seating with a couple of cup holders between them. Now those features and more are being installed in sectionals. Levin Furniture's Emily Androski rattles off creature comforts such as built-in heat and massage, and cushions that pull down to reveal tables with reading lights. A best-selling sofa-wedge-loveseat combo by Franklin even comes equipped with a Frosty Fridge, an insulated pullout drawer under a seat that can hold bottles of water, cans of soft drinks or beer kept cold by freezer packs. "It's been one of the highlights in the success of this item," she says of the model. "Customers use it in the game room or the man cave."