hom Men show increasing interest in home decor

By Mila Koumpilova

The Forum

FARGO, N.D. -- Matt Charpentier and his roommates want a tacky balcony. They want lawn chairs and the laid-back feel of a college hangout.

Once complete, the balcony will be an ironic statement on the rest of their downtown Fargo apartment, where -- amid compulsively matching furniture and walls painted in two tones of chic colors -- visitors in vain look for the trappings of a college hangout.

The three college students relish their guests' disbelief.


"We're trying to take a different approach than most people," Charpentier says.

Customers like Charpentier have made it onto the radar of furniture retailers, who alerted the American Furniture Manufacturers Association. The association agreed to look into the matter. In July, results came back positive: An unprecedented number of single men tackle the traditionally tedious task of home décor; with curiosity, passion and, increasingly, savvy.

That's exactly what local furniture experts and interior designers have noticed. And they wonder if the transformation of their male customers' tastes might have to do with the changing personality of the city. Anybody who's yet to be sold on the talk about how hip Fargo has become almost overnight should drop by Charpentier's apartment.

"Why can't you just put up some band posters?" asked their landlady imploringly when Charpentier and his roommates, Adam Hass and Brent Klava, shared their plans about repainting the apartment.

They didn't think so.

"When it was white, it was really cold and gross," recalls Charpentier with a shudder.

So they went ahead with their plan, even though it involved a $500 repainting deposit and the promise to paint the walls white again before moving out. They each picked a color to match the furniture in their rooms and settled on sophisticated pastel greens for the living room.

Russ Volk, a manager at Slumberland, marvels sometimes at the long way single men have strayed from conventional views of their furnishing habits. "Guys would take hand-me-downs all their lives if they could get away with it," he says as he lounges on one of his Dilworth showroom's best sellers among male clients.


It's a microfiber TV couch made up of four geometrical, trendy-looking chairs in a decidedly non-macho bright red. Volk says the metal holders built into the armrests, formerly known as beer-holders, now go by the more urbane "cup-holders."

"Guys no longer go for big, bulky, overstuffed furniture," says Volk about his male customers' transition from comfort worship to an emphasis on good looks. For them, furniture has become a source of aesthetic delight, a means of self-expression and a fashion statement.

At Slumberland, they call it "urban updates": furniture that features clean lines, modern and durable materials and, occasionally, experimental colors. The store beat all 90 Slumberland stores nationwide in sales of this category.

Across the city, at the upscale O'Neill Furniture Gallery in south Fargo, owner Tim O'Neill reports an influx of single male customers, too. "They want to get out of that college look and have their own look," he says.

Charpentier and his roommates juggle school and professional careers in town. They chose an apartment not far from downtown because they like the area's city feel. They have been known to go on furniture scouting trips to the Twin Cities -- and not come back empty-handed. They have subscriptions to glossy interior design magazines. And they are all about the clean, streamlined look.

"I really like crisp and contemporary," says Charpentier, a self-described "neat freak."

"I went with the minimalist look and clean lines," he said.

Local furniture experts describe their new breed of customers as young, single professionals, attracted by the pull of Fargo's revitalized downtown, with its fine dining and night life. They are evidence the city has long broken out of the small-town mold and cultivated a species supposedly present only in sprawling metro areas.


"We have a lot of yuppies, let's face it," says Paulette Satter, residential designer at Bluestone Interiors in Fargo. She reports getting calls from male customers, who until recently considered it less than dignified to engage in home decor. "It's not a sissy thing any more."

Jaclyn Hirschhaut of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association says the home decor craze among guys is a big-city invention that is migrating to outlying areas. The trend is picking up so much speed that at the association they now speak of "men's furnishings."

"Historically, men's furniture has meant recliners," Volk said. And historically, recliners have had a dubious reputation among furniture experts as the bulky, inelegant symbols of men's preoccupation with function.

But today, such recliners are banished to the very back of the Slumberland showroom, huddled behind a row of the new, chic, streamlined reincarnations of the recliner, complete with sleek wood armrests and fashionable rusty-red colors.

For Charpentier's roommate Hass, it all started with buying a red comforter. "It changed my life," he said. "I've bought everything red ever since."

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