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Swivel chairs come full circle

WASHINGTON - Hear the words "swivel chair" and the images that come to mind are often - and understandably - less than stylish. People think of clunky shapes and exposed mechanics best suited for an office; or maybe something low and tubby, swadd...

WASHINGTON - Hear the words "swivel chair" and the images that come to mind are often - and understandably - less than stylish.

People think of clunky shapes and exposed mechanics best suited for an office; or maybe something low and tubby, swaddled in a floral fabric with a flouncy skirt to disguise the works.

Hold on to your seat cushions, because the dumpy '70s staple has evolved to become vogue, and it's poised to make the rooms we live in much more adaptable.

"They are a throwback that's made a comeback," says Beth Aberg, a local furniture store owner. Aberg has carried a swivel club chair in her Random Harvest stores for a year. The response has been so great that she plans to offer additional styles in the spring.

With the growing popularity of floor plans that open the kitchen to the family room, today's houses incorporate several focal points in one space: the television, a fireplace, an eating area, a view outside, a grouping of furniture for conversation.

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A swivel chair can instantly swing from one center of interest to another. Imagine, for example, an avid football fan pivoting from the large-screen TV to the snack tray by the fireplace to the conversation of the crowd in the kitchen - without ever leaving his seat. The swivel design is equally helpful in tight spaces, such as narrow townhouses, allowing a single chair to fulfill many functions.

Furniture designers and manufacturers have recognized the eminent good sense of the swivel concept and are introducing new versions with cleaner silhouettes, more stylish fabrics and shorter skirts, an overall tailored look.

The swivel mechanism likewise has been improved, offering a steadier, smoother ride while staying largely out of sight. Some chairs even re-center themselves when the sitter gets up.

"A broader range of different styles have made (swivel chairs) more appealing to everybody," says Rob Pitt, director of upholstery at Crate and Barrel, where two swivel styles are offered. The swivel models "look like occasional chairs with added functionality, practicality and comfort."

Because new styles look and feel nothing like swivel chairs of the past, furniture shoppers often are pleasantly surprised. They spot a chair they like, sit down, realize it swivels and think it's a bonus.

"I don't think we've gotten to the point where people know that they are looking for them," Aberg says. "But once they find them, it's a big, 'Aha!'"

But swivels have not caught on across the board. According to Bob Williams, furniture designer at Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, the swivels his company has offered for 12 years have not been terribly popular.

Their newest style, the Ben, introduced last spring, is doing better than previous offerings but hasn't yet proved to be a bestseller. "For us," says Williams, "sectionals are huge."

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Connie Britell, one of three designing siblings from Sisters On Style in Bethesda, Md., remains an enthusiastic swivel supporter.

"Swivels have arrived," declares Britell, who says she uses them in many of her projects. "I think the 'V' in swivel stands for versatility. They are so versatile, so fun - they do everything without looking like they do. People who have them don't want to be without them."

Just ask her clients, Paul and Faith Denault, of Bethany Beach, Del. Originally from Montgomery County, Md., the Denaults moved to the beach full time seven years ago and now own a property management group.

When Britell suggested swivels, the Denaults didn't need to think twice; they'd had a pair in their first beach house for six years. They've now been living with their newest pair for nine months.

"We love them," Paul says. "They're very comfortable. They make the room very flexible. You look one way out the window out into the water, turn another way to look at the TV, turn another way to read the newspaper."

With the Denaults' two grown children and 11 grandchildren visiting often, the chairs get lots of use. And what do the small children think of them?

"Are you kidding me? They were the biggest toys in the other house," Paul says. "They love them. They get into the chairs and go round and round. It kept them occupied."

Yet another bonus of swivel chairs.

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