Furniture fashions

In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the education of wealthy young men and aristocrats wasn’t considered complete until they took a “grand tour” of major European cities to immerse themselves in the culture and social atmosphere of each location.

For years, Michael Amini, founder and chief executive officer of Amini Innovation Corp., or AICO, has taken consumers on a grand tour of sorts through his furniture designs, which take their inspiration from those same cities. Though once only hinted at through his designs, Amini has literally embraced the concept in a new coffee table book, “Michael Amini, Grand Tour: A Journey in Furniture Fashions.”

The book, which shows the actual inspiration for the pieces of furniture produced by AICO, debuted at the winter home-furnishings trade show at the World Market Center. It was created and designed by the Daly Group in conjunction with industry-trade publication Furniture Today as part of the Perfect Home series.

“It pictorially transforms you into another location, moves you to another area,” said Larry Rinaldi, president of AICO.

Featured in the book are chapters and photographs devoted to England; the Mediterranean coast; Morocco, Africa; Provence, France; Spain; and Tuscany, Rome and Venice, Italy. Each chapter includes an introduction to the area; describes the sights, sounds and smells associated with the region; details the types of furnishings found within the homes; and offers tips on how to recreate that look.

“This is not a chicken or egg kind of story,” Rinaldi said referring to the age-old question of which came first. “This is an inspiration.”

The book was born out of the furnishings created by AICO and the stories Amini would tell Rinaldi about his travels throughout the world when he was a young man. When he was 16, Amini’s parents sent him to London and Paris.

“I knew then that I would always love style, good taste and the unique,” he wrote for the book’s jacket.

According to Rinaldi, Amini’s experiences and the things he saw have played a major part in the design of the company’s furniture.

“I search the world for inspiration that comes from traditional art, culture, architecture and atmosphere. This brings out my sense of color, shape, form, texture, rhythm, pattern, balance and movement, which make my designs harmonious, rare and distinctive. By combining the essence of art elements and principles, my furniture is born with its own life and personality,” Amini wrote in the foreword.

Dianne Daly Barham, president/creative director of the Daly Group and creative director of the book, said Amini picked the Los Angeles-based manufacturer’s most popular collections to showcase.

“They already had a style inspiration associated with a city, country or region. We took that inspiration and researched the influences and traditions of each area and created our story,” she said.

From there, furniture and accessories to be photographed were carefully selected, along with other images to set the scenes.

“Our biggest challenge was creating European environments here in the U.S.A.,” Barham said. “We were fortunate to have some areas such as Chinqua Penn Plantation with its abundant European architecture as a site for photography. The studios in High Point, N.C., that specialize in furniture photography were also very supportive in creating European sets that were realistic.”

Barham said working on the book was like “taking a trip to all those locations without the jet lag.”

She is especially fond of the cover shot, which was taken in the grand salon at Chinqua Penn. “The ambience is exquisite. It so says ‘grand tour.'”

Rinaldi said the book was extremely well-received at the most recent markets in Las Vegas and High Point, N.C. In fact, AICO themed its Las Vegas market showroom to complement the book, created a short film that highlighted the grand tour concept and awarded a trip for two to one of the destinations featured.

In addition to the book providing inspiration for consumers to decorate their homes, Rinaldi said it has changed the way AICO and its retailers set up their furniture sales displays.

Instead of going from vignette to vignette as displays are traditionally created, Rinaldi said the books help specify the way traffic should flow. And by focusing a display on a specific region, items such as music and pictures from the area can engage the senses and make them more meaningful to consumers.

Despite the fact that AICO’s furniture is prominently showcased in the book and provided the inspiration for its creation, Rinaldi said the idea behind “Grand Tour” is not just to sell furniture. Rather, they hoped to create a keepsake that would offer ideas about how to decorate a house to turn it into a home, as well as provide some photographs that were just lovely to look at.

“It was never intended to be a catalog. It’s not just pictures of furniture. We might show the terrain, a slice of life or something about the people of a particular region,” Rinaldi said. “We give interest to the meaning of grand tour and the lifestyle. That is the motivation.”

Still, for those who want to recreate a specific look, a pictorial index in the back lists names the collections and pieces photographed.

At the moment, the book is available through retailers who sell AICO furniture, as well as at The Furniture Library in High Point, N.C.

Rinaldi hopes that in the near future the book will be available to the general public through the company’s Web site and at bookstores.

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