It’s a simple open, shut case

For decades, Americans have relied on plain metal folding chairs and tables to accommodate visiting relatives and friends. And for those same decades the furniture has been hidden away in closets and garages until it was absolutely necessary to get it out and use it.

Today’s folding furniture, however, is anything but plain. It is now beautiful enough — and sturdy enough — to be used every day and serve as a designer solution for space-challenged homes.

Meco’s Innobella brand takes pride in its beautiful and innovative solutions in wood, wicker and other materials, said Bob Hebner, director of marketing for Meco.

Its Nichola collection, for example, has eliminated the standard “Y” mechanism associated with folding furniture to make it look more like traditional, nonfolding furniture. In its place is a hidden, patent-pending mechanism that enables the legs to collapse and fold out of sight.

Made of wood and woven wicker and larger than most folding furniture, the collection won a design award for its innovative look earlier this year at the Housewares Design Awards coordinated by the International Housewares Association, Hebner said.

When it comes to folding furniture, Meco is an expert. Celebrating its golden anniversary this year, Meco has produced more than 131 million folding chairs and tables worldwide under its Samsonite, SuddenComfort, SuddenSolution and Innobella brands. Most of its products are sold at mass merchandisers.

About three years ago, Hebner said the company began taking a serious look at its business model, trying to find a way to reach additional retailers, specifically department stores, which used to carry folding furniture years ago.

Gradually the company began making improvements to its line of metal folding chairs, making the pieces more upscale and stylish. Improving upon the basic upholstery featured on the metal seats and backs, the company upgraded its fabrics and then the designs went up, literally, from there. Hebner said the chairs and tables were raised to traditional dining height, meaning those sitting on folding chairs at nonfolding tables no longer felt like they were too low.

Other small changes followed, such as creating a waterfall edge on the seats, meaning the front edge dipped down slightly making the chair more comfortable to sit on.

Then the company began modifying the backs and frames, making its tables and chairs appear more like nonfolding furniture and with designer features such as splayed legs and unround frames. They also took on a more transitional look.

“They were designed so you can’t look at them and tell they’re a folding table or chair,” Hebner said.

For example, the leg latches on the wood Montessa table are disguised as metal inserts inlaid into the tabletop in each of the corners.

In addition to the traditional square folding table, buffet tables with folding tops and permanent legs, were included in the newer collections, making them more versatile and usable.

Hebner said the newest collections can easily be used every day in small apartments, condominiums and homes.

With tops that fold over, the tables can go from seating four to eight people in a matter of seconds without having to worry about extra leaves or storage space, he said.

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