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Providence Journal (RI

)
October 16, 2005

Haute and Cool - Fine
Furnishings Providence Show
Branches Out in 10th Year
Author: CHANNING GRAY; Journal Arts Writer
Edition: All
Section: Home
Page: K-01
Article Text:
* IT's got more floor space, more display booths and a ''house" filled with upscale furniture.
***
But then, this is a special year for Fine Furnishings Providence. The annual show, which
takes place next weekend at the Rhode Island Convention Center, has been around for 10
years now. So organizers are pulling out all the stops.
They've carved out 72,000 square feet of floor space, a big jump from the previous year.
That's enough room for 350 booths, or 75 more than before.
It's also enough space for an eight-room show house outfitted with furniture and
accessories made by exhibitors. The 3,000-square-foot display has no exterior walls, but
does include a kitchen, dining room, living room, den and bedrooms. Cabinets will highlight
each room.
Outside, look for a porch, a pond and a glittering new Bentley parked on a paved driveway.
Once again, the show offers a "product parade," which this year features an array of chairs
and benches.
For those who have never been to a Fine Furnishings show, expect high-end furniture and
fine art, not crafts. (Those can be had at the Providence Crafts Show, which takes place
the same weekend in a separate hall. One ticket gets you into both events.)
In most cases, entries come from small shops run by a chief designer with maybe a halfdozen helpers. But the range is wide, from people such as Thomas Moser, whose Shakerinspired chairs and tables are big business, to lone artisans such as Jeff Lind, who lives
with his wife on 100 acres in southern Maine.
"It's definitely a class act," said Lind, whose bread and butter is a $4,200 rocking chair.
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"It's not a crafts show, but a genuine trade show. There are no trinkets. No weeds, beads
or seeds."
Lind makes traditional furniture with a contemporary edge. But the show embraces a wide
range of styles that can run from faithful reproductions of 18th-century highboys to wildly
offbeat pieces that use plastic and steel.
One of the exhibitors this year, Jake Cress, goes in for meticulously crafted furniture with
zany twists, like his self-portrait chair with arms that drape inward and hold a mallet and
chisel.
He has also made a chair with traditional ball-and-claw feet. One of the claws has opened
and allowed the ball to roll across the floor. Then there is the table with a crutch for one of
its legs.
While the sparing simplicity of Shaker furniture remains popular, Arts and Crafts is big right
now, said Karla Little, the show's manager. She's also seen a fair amount of live-edge
work, pieces that use the natural, wavy edge of the board, along with pieces made from
sticks or twigs.
"It's bringing the outside in," said Little.
Middletown woodworker Peter Zuerner is one of those builders who goes in big for liveedge pieces. He has bought between 10,000 and 20,000 board feet of maple and cherry
from local tree cutters, which has given him an almost endless supply of boards.
This year, you can find Zuerner in a booth with no walls right at the front of the show. He'll
be displaying a dining table and some chairs, along with benches, a coffee table, and
smaller items, such as floating shelves and cutting boards.
This year's show takes place a couple of weeks earlier than usual so that craftsmen have
more time to finish up orders for the holidays, said Little, although buyers tend to take their
time when ordering high-priced custom furniture.
Lind said he's never sold anything off the floor in Providence. Most of the time, people
come and take a look at what he's got, then go home and think about it, take some
measurements and "decide whether they want a Mercedes or a table."
"People see what I've got," said Lind, "and ask if I can make it bigger, shorter, fatter."
Lind, 59, likened the process to a "long dance," where the gestation period for a
commission can be months, even years. He said that one year he met a man and his
pregnant wife, who "looked like she didn't want to be there."
Two years later he got a call from the couple asking for a rocker, table and some display
stands for their art. Another couple looked at a rocker, but by the time they made up their
mind, they were in the market for a bedroom set that took Lind a year to make.
"People come to this show more educated about what they want," said Lind, who's been
building furniture for 30 years or so. "They know they are going to find furniture, not a gift
for Aunt Sadie."
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Buyers are not just Rhode Islanders, said Lind. They tend to come from as far away as
New York, Connecticut and the western suburbs of Boston.
"These are not people on vacation," said Lind, referring to the crowds that often descend
on summer craft shows.
It was Little who launched Fine Furnishings 10 years ago for the Newport Exhibition
Group. She acquired the show in 2001, and is planning to produce at least a couple of
similar ones elsewhere in the country.
Fine Furnishings Milwaukee is slated to open next September. Research showed that the
city, which has an excellent museum and convention center, is ripe for such an event. She
is also looking at the West Coast and the Southeast as possible future sites.
One reason for the expansion is that there are few if any shows like it in the country. Only
the big spring furniture show in Philadelphia rivals Providence, said Little.
Here, at least 60 percent of the displays are devoted to furniture, often hand-crafted, oneof-a-kind pieces. The rest of the space is set aside for high-end accessories such as
sculpture, painting, rugs, lamps and other types of fine art. About 40 percent of the
exhibitors are new this year, said Little.
Lots of artisans hear about the show from fellow craftsmen. Fine Furnishings also has the
exclusive endorsement of the Furniture Society, a nonprofit that promotes excellence in
furniture making through a newsletter and the like.
If there has been a change in the show over the years, it is in the phasing out of small
table-top items and improved display booths.
"At first," said Lind, "there was a lot of pipe and drape," referring to the basic booths with a
curtain hanging in the back. "Now the presentation is a lot better."
Lind said that along the way he found he had to become a salesman, and not act like a
furniture maker.
"I stopped wearing a plaid shirt and put on a tie," he said. "And I don't talk shop."
It was because of Fine Furnishings that Peter Zuerner, who will have shown his work all 10
years, became a furniture maker. Zuerner, whose Zuerner Design does mostly kitchen
cabinets and built-ins, hemmed and hawed about taking part in the first show, and was
about to pass, when Karla Little came down to his showroom and "kicked my butt."
He hastily put together a booth and sold a dining set and a couple of smaller pieces, and
got the confidence to become a designer. Right now, he and four other craftsmen, one of
them a full-time furniture maker, work out of a 6,000 foot shop in Middletown. About a
quarter of what they produce is furniture, and the rest is architectural mill work.
Not all his years at Fine Furnishings have seen big sales, said Zuerner. But he feels the
show has been important in reminding people that he's "out there as a furniture maker."

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"I think the show has really come together since Karla took over," said Zuerner, who is
about to open a new showroom in Wickford. While he's not sure Providence is the best
market for contemporary furniture, he said if there are potential buyers out there, "Karla will
get them."
Details
Fine Furnishings Providence runs Friday through Sunday at the Rhode Island Convention
Center, Providence. Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $18 for any two days, and free for children
under age 12 when accompanied by adult. Call (401) 841-9201 or visit
www.finefurnishingsshow.com.
***
* Jeff Lind's $4,200 rocking chair is done in a traditional style with a contemporary edge.
©DAN GAIR
* Woodworker Jeff Lind, whose studio is in southern Maine, produced the live-edge
wooden tables above.
©DAN GAIR
* Nancy Benoit's side table is made from hemlock branches and native black cherry.
PHOTO
* Gregg Lipton made the grid table at left from tiger steel and reclaimed longleaf Southern
yellow pine. His Zen oval coffee table, above, is made of wenge, a tropical hardwood, and
aluminum.
PHOTO
* This whimsical hickory clock is by Jake Cress, whose specialty is meticulously crafted
furniture with a zany twist.
PHOTO
* Peter Zuerner in his Middletown workshop, where he makes live-edge pieces such as
tables, chairs and floating shelves in maple and cherry. He will exhibit his work at the Fine
Furnishings Providence show this weekend at the Rhode Island Convention Center. The
small photo below left shows a finely crafted spline joining the pieces of one of his works.
JOURNAL PHOTO / SANDOR BODO
* Isaac Arms created this side-to-side steel rocking chair, finished with powdercoat paint.
PHOTO
* This table by Yoav Bergner is made of cherry and curly maple with an oil/varnish finish.
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PHOTO
* Wood pieces by John Tuton include this rough-hewn garden chair.
PHOTO

Copyright © 2005. LMG Rhode Island Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Record Number: MERLIN_317830

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