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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

From germs to java, new ideas abound

Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Every year around this time, newspapers make a big deal out of what to expect for the coming year. We talk to experts, mine our regular sources and downright pontificate.

Today, I prefer to pontificate. I have no products to sell, no industry to pump up. Just my gut. With apologies to Bill O’Reilly, this is the real “No-spin Zone.”

After studying the more than 20 consumer magazines and eight trades that I read each month, here is my take on six things that I think will influence the home furnishings marketplace in 2005.

1. Hello Vietnam

The next time you fall in love with a painted chest or bed, it may have been made in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh city, the former Saigon, is the center of the country’s furniture manufacturing that targets the U.S. market. Vietnam sent about $167 million worth of wood furniture to the United States in 2003, according to the latest figures available.

Vietnam still has a long way to go before it passes China, producers of inexpensive wood bedroom furniture that had U.S. manufacturers crying foul and demanding duties to level the playing field. But production is growing every year. The trade newspaper Furniture Today reports that Vietnam’s “wave of new plants, factory expansions and new finish lines is creating a boom in case goods capacity.”

Some companies are shifting to Vietnam to avoid the duties that were imposed last year. Others see the advantages of manufacturing in Vietnam because their quick-learning labor force works for low wages. Despite the low labor costs, don’t expect all prices to be as low as the Chinese goods. High-end manufacturers also are using Vietnamese labor because of their skilled craftsmanship and they’ll still charge high-end prices.

2. Bye, Bye Bacteria

We just can’t get enough of products that promise to snuff out germs and bacteria. Anti-bacterial soap, anti-bacterial fabrics, even anti-bacterial keyboards, mice and mouse pads. Now meet the anti-bacterial fridge.

Samsung, the innovative Korean electronics and appliance manufacturer, has introduced a refrigerator treated with a technology that suppresses germs on the surfaces and in the air. The key ingredient is Nano-SilverSeal, which lines the refrigerator and kills bacteria, such as Staphylococci and E. coli, before they get to the dinner table. The suggested retail price range $800 to $1,500. Expect this technology to spread even more.

3. Tut, Tut, Tut

Creative designers of home furnishings are sure to get inspiration from “Tutankhamum and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” a two-year tour of the exhibit of the artifacts that were buried with the boy king.

Think of the possibilities. Egyptian handmade carpets. Tapestries. A King and Queen Sarcophagi. A cast-stone pharaoh’s head. The exhibit comes to the United States in June and to the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art in December.

Please, gods of design, please make this a fling rather than a trend.

4. Jolt of Joe

Coffee makers have morphed into coffee centers. Blame all those trips to Starbucks that have dented the budget. Some folks figure they might as well have their own professional-tasting espresso or cappuccino at home, even if it is pricey. You could open up your own coffeehouse with some of these machines.

The Miele Coffee System remains the choice of many high-end kitchens — just under $2,000 for a large built-in appliance that is often installed above the wall oven.

Other companies are also making models that can make a coffee drinker tremble. Two of my fave countertop models are the DeLonghi Magnifica Automatic Espresso Machine ($899.99) and the Impressa S9 Super Automatic Coffee Center ($2,199), which grinds, tamps, brews and cleans in 50 seconds with the push of a button. Let’s hope we can see some with more down-to-earth prices. It takes a lot of lattes to equal two grand.

5. Seeing the Light

When I was living in Baltimore, I was diagnosed with Seasonal Effective Disorder. It meant when the sun didn’t shine in the fall and winter, I got depressed. And if you know Balto, you know that was a good segment of the year.

The cure was light therapy. My doctor prescribed sitting in front of a light box, which held a bank of white fluorescent lights that were mounted on a metal refractor and shielded with a plastic screen. You could either rent the box from a doctor or pay $450 to buy one.

Now, a variety of styles of this “full-spectrum” lighting has hit the mass market, ranging in price from $29.99 for a basic task light to $259 for a floor lamp. Even if you don’t have a problem on cloudy days, promoters claim they make you see better and improve your mental awareness, productivity and dental health. But some scientists doubt their claims.

Suppliers estimate the full-spectrum lighting business at from $60 million to $100 million a year and say it has growth potential, according to the trade newspaper HFN.

6. Slashing Furniture Prices

Look for Costco to become a major threat to furniture retailers. While South Florida Costco stores currently carry a few home furnishings, the chain now has two Costco Home stores — in Kirkland, Wash., and Tempe, Ariz. And more are on the drawing boards.

At first, manufacturers resisted selling to Costco because they were afraid of ticking off their existing retailers. But some manufacturers are softening, including Berkline/Benchcraft, Lane, DeCoro, Riverside and Powell Kids.

How much can you save? My husband, Carter, and I saw just how powerful their low pricing can be last Labor Day. We bought a Sligh grandfather’s clock for $1,800, a price a friend in the furniture biz says was close to cost. We saw comparable clocks in retail stores for $3,000 and up. The clock was delivered and installed for free the same day. It’s no wonder the company is now one of the nation’s 10 largest furniture retailers.

Stay tuned.