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"Aged' furniture flaunts its charms

(ran HP HN editions)

The newest trend in home furnishings is old _ or at least furniture made to look old.

Imagine paying big bucks for painted furniture with nicks, worn edges and rubbed, paint-free seats. We're not talking antiques here. This is new stuff _ and it's not bargain-basement material.

"What you spank your kids for doing to your new furniture, we do to ours to make it look old," said Jean Woodson of Thomasville Furniture Industries.

Woodson was referring to Thomasville's Country Cottage portion of its 70-piece Country Inns and Back Roads collection.

The furniture was inspired by pieces in some of America's favorite country inns listed in Norman T. Simpson's Country Inns and Back Roads travel guide.

The collection came about after the company did a six-month marketing study that revealed today's buyers want furniture with emotional appeal and a personalized style, reminiscent of something crafted by hand.

There are two categories of the collection. One, the American Parlor line, consists of formal, country Lexington Furniture Industries captures the same, instant heritage feeling in its Weekend Retreat line, recently shipped to area retailers.

The oak furniture is "hand-antiqued and distressed for a textured, time-worn effect," the manufacturer says.

Designed to evoke childhood memories of family vacation cottages, country inns and special getaways, the softly weathered furniture appeals to those who have relaxed lifestyles but also want an air of elegance in their homes.

"The whole idea is not living up to your furniture," said JoAnn Barwick, who designed the Weekend Retreat line.

After she left her position as editor in chief of House Beautiful, Barwick was asked by Lexington Furniture Industries to work with their designers on a collection of furniture.

"Immediately these images of these summer places I had been to came to mind _ old getaway places," she said.

People don't want stiff, formal houses anymore, she said.

Gone are the days of constantly being told, "Don't put your feet up." Or "Act like a lady."

And today's home buyers don't have the need _ or money _ for little-used formal living rooms.

Instead, houses are getting more expensive and buyers are making the most of their space _ rooms are used for real living.

"We don't want to put on the dog anymore," Barwick said. "When women didn't really have a lot of other choices in life, they thought their houses should be perfect." That is no longer the case.

The Weekend Retreat collection is designed so pieces blend without matching exactly _ and it lends itself to mixing with pieces gleaned at flea markets.

"I tried to make individual pieces have enough character so they can fit in with whatever you have," she said.

The furniture comes in seaside colors: beach white, light cottage green, misty blue and dark shutter green. There's even plain, "humble pine."

But no red. In fact, the company's catalog notes that a red chair in one of the photographs is not part of the collection.

"These are colors of the water and nature, and red is not part of that," Barwick explained.

The pieces also have names: the Mackinac Island headboard, the Golden Pond chest, Camp Hickory bedside table and Kennebunkport chest.

"I named them for all my favorite places," she said. "Living in New York, we are all trying to get away for the weekend."

Weekend Retreat is in the medium price range, from about $390 for an occasional table to $1,950 for the Deer Isle wardrobe. The furniture is available at Burdines and Worrells.

Thomasville's Country Inns and Back Roads also is in the medium price range, with suggested retail prices ranging from about $375 for a mirror to $2,100 for the queen-size Crescent Cove Bed in antique lace paint finish.

That line is not sold in Florida, but readers can call Thomasville's toll-free number (800) 225-0265 for the closest retailer.

It also is available through the current American Express catalog.