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Convertible furniture serves kids as they grow

| Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Convertibles aren't just cars and cribs anymore.

Thanks to innovative design, some children's furniture manufacturers are producing lines that grow and change with your babies, whether they're 8 days, months or years old.

Sam Henteloff says he and wife Jennifer, of Squirrel Hill, decided on Combi's Travel Solutions Play Yard for its two-in-one aspect.

"It's a pack and play and a bassinet, and that's its major selling point," Henteloff says.

Although Grant, Henteloff's son, is too young to use the pack and play alone, Henteloff is a fan of the bassinet.

"It's lightweight, and I can drag it around the house," he says.

When Grant graduates from the bassinet, he can play with the play yard's lights and music, or be soothed by its vibrating mechanism.

Hillary Carrozza, owner of East Liberty's Babyland, says the Combi the Henteloffs purchased is a great idea and a good seller at about $160.

Another adaptable product that has won over Carrozza, a mother of three, is the Stokke KinderZeat, a chair for anyone who has outgrown a highchair.

Carrozza says she was so sick of toting her family's KinderZeat around that she had to buy a spare -- one so her 6-year-old daughter, Maura, could sit at the dinner table and one to keep the family, including 15-year-old son Lee, comfortable at the computer.

The beechwood KinderZeat costs $199 at Babyland and comes in six finishes.

Carrozza also stocks Stokke's oval-shaped Sleepi crib, which can, with additional pieces, change to a toddler bed or two chairs.

She says for most customers who prefer Stokke pieces, the design, not the adaptability, is the main selling point.

The furniture's look is important to kids as well as parents, according to Mary Frye, president of the Dallas-based Home Furnishings International Association.

Frye says when she was a kid, she didn't have a vote when it came to her furniture. But times have changed.

"Kids are more savvy consumers," she says.

Youth furniture's popularity has increased in the past five years, says Frye, because consumers requested more choices. Also, baby boomers are becoming grandparents and can afford to splurge on outfitting grandkids' rooms.

Frye says multifunctioning kids' furniture is on the higher end of the price spectrum, but will probably come down in price as more players get into the game.

But prices may not drop significantly, according to Tanya Merritte, managing editor of Kids Today, a magazine for the children's furniture industry.

"It costs more to produce furniture that will last longer, so I don't know if it will filter down more," Merritte says.

High prices may stop some from buying convertible furniture, but not furniture as a whole.

Baby boomers' earning power and buying habits are part of the reason statisticians project a 23 percent hike in furniture spending between 2005 and 2010, according to Furniture Today, a magazine for the furniture industry.

Furniture retailers opening up their cyber-doors to Internet shoppers also may help furniture sales thrive.

Looking for an adaptable, high-fashion highchair• Look no further than sparkability.com or modertots.com. In the market for a dining-room table that can go from holiday formal to dry-erase board in the flip of a panel• Head over to ducducnyc.com, and check out their aptly named, the table.

For beds, or bed systems, locals can visit USA Baby and Child Space in Ross Township, Allegheny County.

Manager Stuart Lebovitz says response to the shop's Flexa line, which they started carrying in January 2005, has been great.

Lebovitz explains that the "bed system" is built around a twin bed, which costs about $400 for the frame, a mattress and a mattress cover. But those three pieces are just the chassis for the batmobile of beds.

Low stilts, a pink-and-violet castle canopy, a ladder and a slide turn the bed into a fort fit for a princess. The system also is available without the castle in primary colors. Or, if she wants to leave the bed low to the ground, she can add rails to the sides and snap on a desk for take-home assignments. When she crosses over to her teens, she can raise the bed on higher stilts and fit an entertainment center underneath.

According to Lebovitz, function and the furniture's simple form are essential to the line's success.

"This is very plain and simple," he says. "That's what makes it work."

Lori Brasiola, manager of Arnold Furniture in Arnold, Westmoreland County, says their clients prefer more traditional styles, many of which still can change as kids grow. Bunk beds that can later be separated and loft beds with desks underneath are popular, Brasiola says.

Greg Rodgers, owner of Monroeville's Cribs to Teens, also sells plenty of bunk and lofted beds. He says some of the "gimmick beds," such as bunks with slides and play areas underneath, are more appealing to kids than parents.

"Mom wants to go this way," he says pointing to a traditional twin bed. "And kids want to go this way," he says, nodding toward a lofted bed that looks more like a playground. "Mom wins most of the time."

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