- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The entertainment center designed to house a square, clunky television set is one of several decorating dinosaurs Robyn Lake sees in her Rockville furniture consignment store.

“If someone is getting rid of a television armoire or an entertainment center, I tell them we need to price it to move,” says Ms. Lake, co-owner of Kaboodle Home Gallery. “They are just not in demand.”

Flat-screen TVs have grown in popularity and dropped in price, making them a must-have electronic for many homes. Because flat screens are built in a different dimension — most of them running from 37 to 52 inches wide — the unit that housed the old TV may be as obsolete as a rabbit-ear antenna.

That means many TV fans are in the market for another item on which to display their new purchase. They also are looking for a use for their old entertainment center.

Those who deal with large stocks of furniture have seen the tide turn as well. Don Fenning, owner of Hotel Surplus Outlet in Van Nuys, Calif., typically gets warehouses full of furniture as hotels go through their redecorating cycle every six years or so. Many high-end hotels are not even waiting until it’s time to redecorate to ditch armoires in favor of low-rise consoles that display, rather than hide, the flat-panel TV.

Mr. Fenning says he has 600 armoires in his warehouse and another 800 on the way.

“We’ve sold hundreds,” Mr. Fenning says, adding that budget hotels sometimes will buy the entertainment armoires. “But I am being very careful what I will take in. If it is a decorative and lovely piece, like a hand-painted item, there is a pretty good chance it will sell. If it is just a plain, old TV armoire, that is a little difficult.”

Annette Bobby discovered the abundance of armoires for sale when she listed her TV armoire on CraigsList.org in November, when she and her husband purchased a 52-inch flat-screen. Mrs. Bobby says she paid more than $1,200 for the armoire, manufactured by Hooker Furniture, a few years ago.

“There were tons of armoires listed on CraigsList,” says Mrs. Bobby, of Reston. “I did end up getting about $350 for it. It was better than giving it away. There was the exact same one as mine listed for $30, but the person who bought mine had not seen that.”

Mrs. Bobby then went back to Belfort Furniture in Sterling to purchase a console-type table on which to place her flat-screen and house extras such as a DVD player and cable box. She looked at a wide selection of choices that have come to the market to house the new TVs.

Indeed, furniture manufacturers have had to expand and rework their offerings in the past few years to keep up with the changing styles.

For example, the majority of Ethan Allen furniture’s new home entertainment offerings are pieces that can be assembled around a flat-screen. Pottery Barn’s new Dawes flat-panel armoire is built to hold up to a 50-inch TV and features folding panel doors so there will be no unobstructed view. Crate & Barrel’s Loop Media Center includes a low base with a matching back panel, so people can have the look of a wall-mounted TV without drilling holes in the wall.

Ms. Lake, the resale furniture shop owner, says she encourages some callers to her store to find a new use for their old television armoire. If a consignment store has all that it can possibly sell and there are hundreds for sale by owner, sometimes there is no choice.

“I laugh when we get the calls about armoires, ” she says, “but people are understanding when you explain it to them.”

Ms. Lake’s advice: Think about upstairs or downstairs as a new spot for the old armoire. It could house a smaller TV in the bedroom. Or it could hold linens or out-of-season clothes (either hanging on a rod or folded on shelves) in a spare room. In the basement, it can be a cabinet for games.

Lauri Ward, president and founder of Use What You Have Interiors and author of several books on quick redecorating, says the original purpose of the armoire was to house clothing.

“More recently, people started to overuse armoires for TVs,” she says. “It really wasn’t a great option, though. It was very restricting.”

Ms. Ward says she has never been a fan of armoires because they take up so much space and render the space on either side of it unusable.

“Flat panels really are a better use of space,” she says. “They offer a lot more flexibility, whether you want to display it on a pedestal or mount it on the wall.”

Armoires still can be used for a flat panel, she adds. Many standard cabinets can hold a flat screen up to 32 inches. A shelf can be added in the dead space above the screen to hold a cable box or DVD player.

An armoire also could be used in a home office, Ms. Ward adds.

“You can put the computer in there,” she says. “You can remove the legs from the cabinet to make it lower. If there are drawers, the keyboard can go in one of them. It looks very clean. You could put it in the dining room and use it for silver and crystal.”

No matter where the armoire winds up, the furniture should fit the space, Ms. Ward says.

“That armoire can go in the dining room, the kitchen or the foyer,” she says. “Just use it on a smaller wall so you are not wasting space.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Lake says she is finding that many shoppers in her store are looking at sideboards and small dressers as homes for their new flat-screen TV.

“People are now looking at buffet servers as a place to put the television,” she says. “They can use the silverware drawers for cords. It is very interesting. But that is the nature of furniture. It is sort of like fashion.”

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