Furniture design embraces functionality

 There’s a lot to be said for multitasking — especially when your furniture is doing it. A table that stores its own leaves, and maybe the silverware as well; a cupboard that tucks a rack for linens into a pullout panel at its side; a mirror that stashes jewelry behind it; a bench that opens to storage beneath; or an ottoman that morphs into a bed.
    It’s value added to the price tag — a two-fer or a three-fer. And it’s smart design.
    “Because of the way we live now, things have to actually function,” says Joe Boehm, senior interior designer for Better Homes and Gardens magazine. “We have more stuff now and a lot of things that need to be plugged in. Furniture has to do more than just look pretty.”
 Aspenhome is a leader in addressing task function. The company’s background in home office technology was attractive to Jena Hall, executive vice president of merchandising and design, who five years ago saw a huge growth potential.
    Hall first designed a series of multitasking furniture: cocktail tables with lift-up tops that feature shelves for laptops and a place to plug them in; side tables with charging stations for cell phones; and bed stands with hidden, touch-activated night lights with three levels of intensity, a concealed plug-in with phone outlet and a pullout beverage tray.
    “There are plug-in strips hidden on buffets,” says Hall, “so you can plug in blenders or hot plates, pullout shelves we borrowed from kitchen cabinets, slate or stone or marble tops to provide hot surfaces.” Aspenhome includes “thoughtfully designed” as part of its logo.
    Furniture manufacturers increasingly look to sources such as high-end kitchen cabinetry for inspiration for re-imagining storage elements. The now-familiar drawer inserts for stacking spices may translate to a nifty option for housing women’s cosmetics, for example. And they are thinking about how our needs continue to evolve. How do you use your family room? Kitchen? Breakfast room? Home office? Bedroom?
    The common practice of using the underside of the bed as a hideaway inspired some redesign. Broyhill Home Furnishings introduced a handsome modern bed with an optional underbed storage unit as part of the frame, which offers a pair of open cubbies and a center drawer. A bed from Riverside has two drawers at the foot.
    Instead of integrating storage into the bed’s base, West Elm recently introduced a lift-up pivot frame that actually utilizes the entire length beneath the mattress for roomy storage of extra bedding and off-season items. The pivot storage bed frame fits any of the retailer’s headboards.
    The office-in-a-box idea takes a sophisticated turn with a hobby cabinet designed by Hooker Furniture. Slightly under 8 feet tall, the cabinet is a crafter’s delight. It combines credenza with hutch, and some features include a file drawer, cubbies for storing beads or buttons, a pullout drawer for a printer, and a pair of map-size drawers for large pieces of paper. Above are eight large dowels for hanging paper or fabric and cork boards for posting photos.
        Expect beautiful finishes inside many of the storage features as well. One dresser from Universal features a lift-up mirror with storage beneath plus velvet-covered compartments for jewelry. For years, some manufacturers have lined buffet drawers with anti-tarnish cloth and partitions for flatware — again, a thoughtful touch.
The desire for double-duty furniture is viable no matter what the size of the house. In fact, a lot of smart design today is driven by having to scale back. “People are moving to smaller houses,” says Boehm. “Ostentation has sort of diminished.” Doubling up on function is especially meaningful when square footage is limited, especially in condos and apartments.