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Au Revoir, Armoire
BY JULIET CHUNG, November 10, 2007 - from WallStreetJournal.com
Why the furniture mainstay is being driven to extinction

America's obsession with flat-panel TVs has been a boon for sports nuts and videogame addicts. But it's sounded the death knell of the entertainment armoire, that bulky living-room fixture that has been used for decades to hide mammoth old-school sets.

The anti-armoire movement is most visible in the nation's hotel chains, which are dumping the clunky closets by the tens of thousands as they undergo renovations. Industry analysts estimate that as many as 40,000 armoires could be looking for new homes by the end of the year. Armoire from Killington Resort Hotel

The rejects are ending up in some unlikely spots. Some are retiring to the Dominican Republic, where they're being used in bed-and-breakfasts and private living rooms. Craigslist and eBay have hundreds of postings by people trying to unload the units. But most are gathering dust in warehouses from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Interior designer Ann Lantello turned to a hotel liquidator when she furnished Passages, a Malibu, Calif., rehab clinic, with armoires and other finds. But she says she's through with the cabinets: "We're putting in flat screens." Unlike the old 27-inch tube TVs in guest rooms, the new ones "look great on the wall," says Ms. Lantello.

Hotels began introducing entertainment armoires in the 1960s to conceal the ungainly TV sets they were also rolling out at the time. The cabinets became fixtures in the '70s and '80s, as sets shrank and became easier to place inside them.

Now, furniture manufacturers such as Vaughan-Bassett and Hooker Furniture are coming out with media dressers and consoles that display televisions rather than hide them. Vaughan-Bassett estimates sales of entertainment armoires have fallen by at least a third this year compared to last year.

By 2009, Hilton Hotels says it hopes to have ditched 93,000 27-inch tube TVs and replaced them with 32- and 37-inch LCD sets, displayed on dressers. Marriott International says it placed nearly 25,000 LCD TVs into its full-service hotels in the U.S. and Canada this year, phasing out the corresponding armoires. To reflect the changes, AAA is adjusting its criteria for rating hotels. Current guidelines recommend that guest rooms have TVs in closed armoires to merit a four- or five-diamond rating; its updated guidelines, scheduled for release this month, will allow sets to be displayed on walls or dressers.

Consumers are having their own problems trying to get rid of entertainment cabinets. Jamie Ross, a 36-year-old resident of Manhattan, recently tried to sell an armoire online for $2,000. He has since lowered the price several times -- it's now $750 "or best offer" -- but says his hope is flagging after more than a month of no legitimate offers. "I can't get rid of this damn thing," says Mr. Ross, who is trying to clear the way for a 40-inch LCD. He plans to put the armoire in storage rather than dramatically lower the price. "It's still a nice piece," he says. "It's solid cherry."

There is one place where armoires are getting a warmer reception: the Dominican Republic. Miami aircraft leaser Fernando Jimenez discovered AMC Liquidators several years ago when he was looking to furnish his brother's recently opened bed-and-breakfast on the island. Impressed by the relatively low prices and rising quality of the armoires, Mr. Jimenez started buying up all sorts of furniture from the liquidator and shipping it to the Dominican Republic, where his brother resells them.

In the last year, they have resold two 40-foot containers' worth of furniture, Mr. Jimenez estimates, including eight armoires from the historic Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. Some of them are headed for a new apartment development in Punta Cana, a beachside resort town. "The stuff is actually in pretty good shape," Mr. Jimenez says. "It has easily another five years of life."

Buying a flat-panel TV doesn't mean you have to junk your entertainment armoire. Here, Spencer Anderson, a design consultant for HGTV's "Design on a Dime," tells how to convert that obsolete storage unit into a wardrobe.




Originally Published by The Wall Street Journal Online