Twice a year, in April and October, I attend the International Home Furnishings Show in High Point, North Carolina, a trade-only show encompassing 11 million square feet of showrooms. Last April, in response to a call from our editor for more articles, I put together the first part of this article from a collection of photographs I had taken at the two previous shows. Because of strong reader interest, I attended the show last October with a second agenda.
It is my firm belief that good interior design of the listening room is as important as the quality of music reproduction. If you think I’m wrong, ask your significant other. Time and again I’ve visited homes where the audio system is compromised by the decorating demands of a spouse. Perhaps if the room were more of a showplace, the doors to future upgrades and proper positioning of loudspeakers would open more widely. If you don’t have a spouse at the present time, indulge yourself and read on. Who knows where it might lead?
The Listening Chair
More and more people are opting for a comfortable stationary chair rather than a recliner these days — often with a matching ottoman. This Clayton Marcus chair is dressed with a bold pattern that requires matching the pattern so the little "CD’s" line up vertically. Quality manufacturers such as this offer hundreds of fabrics to choose from. You don’t need to settle for "boring" if you don’t want to.
Flexsteel introduced this new press-back recliner to match a sofa already in their line. Pressback recliners have no handles, which endears them to a lot of people — they don’t look like a recliner when they are in the upright position. These are great for the true listener who loves this hobby for the music. But for the tweaker and the reviewer, continually popping in and out of these guys can be tiresome. This style is available in a wide variety of both cloth and leather and fits very well into country and even western décor with the turned wood feet and nailhead trim. At 5’9", I found it to be very comfortable.
While some might feel that a glider rocker will induce a noticeable Doppler effect while listening to music, it is hard to argue with the comfort of this chair in the Avant Glide series from Dutailier. The glide is long and smooth and the fit and finish are superb. While the leathers are a bit mundane for the true leather connoisseur, the contemporary styling fits well with many of today’s components and loudspeakers. The leather and wood trim can be specified in a variety of colors and finishes. A mere twinkle of your toe on the accompanying ottoman will set your entire body in motion. For more relaxed listening, the back also reclines. An optional handle-operated lock will keep the chair from gliding for truly critical listening and stabilize it for standing up or sitting down. For those whose appetite for music is exceeded by their appetite for food, several models in this upscale series are available in wide-body versions. Expect to spend upwards of $1600 for this chair and ottoman combo.
While I did not sit in this Barcolounger, it is definitely a showstopper. It is also an excellent example of how a typical boring recliner can take on a life of it’s own with the application of a dynamic fabric. Unfortunately, such pattern matching requires laborious and expensive pattern making, so most manufacturers shy away from this kind of effort. A visually exciting non-matched pattern can be an interesting alternative, but again, few manufacturers offer that option. Notice the tuck-away heel support that folds out from beneath the footrest for long-legged listeners.
If you’re looking for something even more exclusive, how about a hand painted chair with a French Impressionist motif? This one took me back to the Matisse Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in the winter of 1993. The ottoman is a convenient place to drop the record jacket when it’s time to flip the LP. Talk with Philip Popowici, Design Director, at Westlake Furniture Company if you would like them to create a chair with your own favorite painting or favorite composer or rock star.
Palliser is a Canadian company that does a nice job with leather chairs at middle price points. The stationary Poet chair & ottoman and their Evolution glider chair & ottoman caught my eye and were both comfortable. The glider, in particular, is quite addictive. Palliser offers a wide assortment of leather types and microfibers in a wide variety of colors.
While browsing the Interhall late at night, I respected the yellow crime scene tape and didn’t try out this inviting wood and leather chair and ottoman by Julian Chichester. The architecture of these pieces was quite striking with the chair offering a high degree of seclusion. Notice the sculpted top edge of the arms and the sides of the ottoman. The size of the ottoman dictates a rather large room, but then, those who can afford the chair will have large rooms.
The BackSaver chair has been around for many years and caught my attention when it first came out. It has evolved considerably since that time and is now offered in both leather and microfiber in a variety of colors. The headrest, filled with viscoelastic memory foam, is adjustable and allows for a forward tilt of the head to improve listening while reclined back to some extent. The chair itself goes way back putting your knees up above your heart for supreme restfulness, if not keeping your ears on axis with the tweeter. It is also available in a motorized version as well for about $1700. With an overall width of 29" the thin arms of this chair permit a whole bunch of people to sit close together, yet still allow each person to adjust the chair to their own most comfortable position. To my mind this approach is more audio & videophile friendly than the big home theater chairs with spun aluminum cup holders that spread people further away from the visual and acoustical centerline.
The Perfect Chair by Interactive Health is similar to the BackSaver above, coming in both leather and microfiber in a range of colors. Its architecture is more pronounced and it offers some options like the cup-holder/table. It is a little more generous in size than the BackSaver, which can be either a plus or a minus. (If the chair fits, wear it, I say). The integration of the leather and wood structural elements is exceptionally well done and an interactive feature on their website allows you to view the various combinations of wood, leather and microfiber colors. It ranges in price from $1400 to $1800, depending on options. Fully upholstered models are also available, as is an entry-level model for about $1000. Optional tables enable the creation of more conventional home theater seating arrangements. The chair itself is also available as a home theater chair with built-in speakers, but the movie demonstration I suffered left a lot to be desired from an audio standpoint.
Tables, Lamps, Stands & Racks
Beside your listening chair you will likely need a small table to hold your beverage, the jewel case, a remote control or two, and perhaps a piece of literature. If your chair is mundane, the table offers an opportunity to enliven the setting. And if your chair is awesome, you will need a spectacular table to complement it. In keeping with the music theme, I came across this interesting, yet not expensive table from Adesso ($150) that utilizes a drum stand and adds a bit of sparkle to the room. Their adjustable height and adjustable footprint make them adaptable to a variety of situations.
Adesso also sported these CD racks in both light and dark wood, as well as tall ($100) and short ($70) versions for keeping your short stack of frequently used CDs close at hand. And to keep you from listening way past your bedtime, I also loved their blue-LED "Digits" wall clock ($70) with phosphorescent strips on the hour and minute hands that keeps you informed, even in a darkened listening room.
Like many audiophiles, I suspect, I like to read while listening to music. For illuminating the page without flooding the listening room with light, Quoizel offers both floor standing ($375) and table lamp ($249) versions of this pharmacy lamp that permit a wide variety of adjustments. Vintage brass and antique black finishes are offered on each model, giving the lamps an elegant, old-world look that will fit in just as well in a modern or transitional room. In the world of lighting, Quoizel is a premium brand.
If you’re looking for something funky to create a mood with minimal ambient light, I really loved this hanging lamp from Harris Marcus Eurotech that reminds me of hot peppers. Pass the salsa, please!
Integrating electronic components into a country décor can be quite a challenge. I really like this AA Laun sofa table for modest size components. The back rail on the top is removable if necessary. The solid wood table can be ordered in a variety of stains and several different custom paint combinations. While some argue for an expensive vibration-absorbing stand, I’ve found much less expensive footers and other tweaks that work closer to the actual signal path can be highly effective, thereby allowing you to use a table more appropriate to your décor. You can score serious points with your significant other here.
While also fitting for country décor, this AA Laun sofa table uses a composite stone top, which is available in a variety of colors. It also allows for easier cabling of your rig. I’ve been known to drill out the legs of such tables for insertion of homemade spikes.
Spectra Wood in State College, PA, (Go, Nittany Lions!) makes these straight forward solid wood media pieces that offer a high degree of concealment while still allowing generous shelf space and air circulation. I can envision this in a country or transitional décor, further embellished with decorative accessories. If sleek and contemporary is your theme, and you want to warm it up with wood, they also offer these low consoles for beneath a wide screen…or even a very wide screen TV. Who says you can’t use them for audio?
BDI (Becker Design, Inc. — no relation) showed their award winning minimalist TV stand that I thought would be great for watching music videos. Just pick it up and move it out of the way when you wish to resume your ascetic listening habits. Visually, this rig is so minimalist; it could fit in almost any décor. I would opt for an LCD screen with less obtrusive speakers or none at all.
Beyond the obvious broadloom carpet lies a wealth of area rugs that can add color and design as well as absorb those first reflections off either the floor or the side walls. Many people, myself included, use area rugs on top of broadloom.
This Capel Crystalle hand knotted rug of 100 percent New Zealand wool is affectionately called the "CD" rug. It is a stylistic evolution of their hand tufted Andes rug that is even more stunning with a charcoal background. Like many area rugs, they are available in a wide variety of sizes.
These rugs are made from small pieces of leather or microfiber by Tigerrags and can be custom made to your size and design. For example, say you wanted to recreate something similar to the Rolling Stones "lips" logo, with a silver stud added to the tongue to avoid copyright infringement…. The possibilities are endless and they tell me these rugs work very effectively as acoustic treatments.
Next door, at the Dreamweavers showroom, the size of this rug was demonstrated in the photo of the rug draped over an elephant. The diagonal rays were woven with wool of different texture and color. I would expect this rug to be as acoustically functional as it is beautiful, either on the floor or on a wall. Expect to pay about $800 for a 6’x9’ size. Even more intriguing and sensuous were their clever pom-pom throws — just the thing for adding an inviting feminine touch to your listening room.
For catching those first reflections off the sidewall, I thought this nautilus-like design from Art Concept Design was exceptionally well designed and executed. I would caution against mounting it directly between the loudspeakers however as terminal artistic hypnosis could result.
This rug, from Abbyson, is a hand knotted Tibetan rug of Himalayan sheep wool and silk, colored with pure and natural vegetable dyes. It was absolutely awesome from a design and color standpoint, and you should expect to pay serious money for this level of quality — about $1000 for a 4’x6’ rug and $3000 for an 8’x10’.
While more for dispersion than absorption, this CNC machined panel of solid maple is actually a headboard for a contemporary bedroom from Copeland Furniture, one of several premium Vermont-based manufacturers. The Wave bedroom group was one of the absolute highlights of the October show for me. The workmanship of this company is outstanding. While the headboard panel is not really available as a sound diffuser on an individual basis, they suggested that if I could gather a dozen orders, they might listen.
Please forward this show report to your audio friends who might be able to use a little decorating help in order to keep peace in the family and advance their pursuit of music. When you make the listening room something your spouse would be proud to show to guests, you are halfway home to your next upgrade. And when all is said and done… you can both enjoy the music.
See Part I of this article by clicking here.