by Ann M. Colford

Everyone who's anyone in the home furnishings market shows up and shows off at the semi-annual International Home Furnishings Market, held in High Point, N.C., every April and October. At last month's show, manufacturers trotted out tradition and comfort, generally shying away from anything too edgy in these uncertain times. But in a nod to politics and with a careful eye to the country's most recently designated key demographic - the Nascar Dad - a young upstart firm called Racing Furniture, Inc., rolled out its newest line of sofas and chairs designed for fans of Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt et al.

Covered in "High Performance" leather, these home cockpits evoke an automobile interior while sporting black-and-white checkered flag insets or simulated (thank goodness) flames. Many items carry the team numbers of favorites like Earnhardt and Gordon, whose bright blue namesake bears his number 24 prominently on the seat back and red leather flames across what would be called the "skirt" of a less obviously macho sofa. A recliner model, the Daytona, features a chrome-plated stick shift to adjust the seat. All licensed products carry the red-white-and-blue Nascar logo.

"We're designing good-looking, high-quality furniture that reflects the look and feel of the cars that Nascar and automotive fans are passionate about," company CEO Brown Councill told Furniture World News. "We're not simply adding a logo to an existing chair; we're taking specific design elements from the cars and designing furniture that is true to the source."

From other suppliers, Nascar-themed bedding, tableware and lighting fixtures can round out the whole home racing environment. Racing Furniture also carries lines geared to Corvette aficionados and recently expanded into coordinating end tables and bar furnishings.

Given industry statistics showing that women account for 80 percent of furniture purchase decisions, why would manufacturers design specifically for such a testosterone-fueled demographic? The estimated 75 million Nascar faithful may offer a clue, especially the 40 percent of them who are female. Racing enthusiasts often share their fervor with the entire family, so even if Mom buys the chairs, she could be as much of a fan as the now-famous Nascar Dad.

In fact, the whole arena of home decor is becoming a more male-friendly domain. A scan of the TV dial reveals new shows created with the male viewer in mind. The stylings of the Fab Five on Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" reside at one end of the spectrum, as hip and urbane gay men descend upon a poor hapless straight guy and set him on the path to metrosexual coolness. There, home decor is just part of the ensemble effort, and the result is far more Metropolitan Home than Motor Trend.

Three Discovery Channel entries - Rally Round the House, Surprise by Design, and Monster House - meld reality TV with power tools to gain points on the testosterone scale. All three shows feature congenial hosts whose personalities figure as much in the plot lines as the house makeovers. All feature the element of surprise, and impossible deadlines bring an edge of excitement, which gets exaggerated with speeded-up film and quick camera cuts.

Of the three, Monster House takes the prize for extreme home decor with its tag line, "Less Makeover, More Takeover." The Monster crew seizes control and turns the house into a virtual theme park. One episode, creating a tropical-themed house, centered on the installation of an oversized tiki god in the living room. Other themes have included the Old West, the Golden Age of Hollywood and a Medieval Castle. And, yes, racing fans, the debut episode featured a Race Car house.

The process began when the crew arrived and busted down the front door with a sledgehammer. They created a dining room table from the front end of a car that's mounted to the wall; the hood raises and lowers on a winch system to form the table. The master bedroom includes a bed equipped with Air Ride pneumatic air bags - OK, I've got to admit I'm curious - and a headboard designed to look like a dash. By the bathroom, a full-size traffic light indicates whether it's safe to enter. A 42-inch plasma TV - for watching the weekend races, of course - fills one wall of the playroom, and a motorized recliner that can achieve speeds of 20 miles per hour makes it easy to zip to the fridge and back without missing a lap.

"We were excited and amazed at how much work the guys were able to do in a week and how creative they were," homeowner Kara told the Discovery Channel Online. "They did just the right amount of crazy."

Publication date: 11/06/03

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