15 Dec 2014
European Furniture and Wet Leisure Innovators Target Asian Markets
London's Grand Designs event provided a telling snapshot of the products, innovations and trends currently wowing European consumers, with manufacturers understandably only too keen to roll out their wares across Asia in 2015.
Covering everything from gardens to interior design, kitchens, bathtubs and billiards tables, London's Grand Designs event clearly set out to showcase the best on offer in contemporary home improvement. Billed as a grand-scale ideas and inspiration event for the consumer market, to what extent, though, did the show live up to that promise?
The vast show was divided into a number of sections, covering gardens, landscaping, construction, exterior and interior design, building materials, kitchens, bathrooms, and every conceivable item of furniture, gadget or gizmo found in the home – from bamboo-covered memory foam pillows to intelligent coffee makers. A packed daily programme of competitions and demonstrations proved a real crowdpleaser, servingd to highlight this show's avowed focus on the consumer. Unsurprisingly, most exhibitors reported little or no trade activity.
Much of what was on offer catered more to spacious European-style homes with outdoor spaces and gardens, rather than the compact and bijou apartments found in Asia. The trends in kitchens, bathrooms, furniture and wet leisure stood out as being the most relevant from a Hong Kong and Asia perspective.
Kitchens attracted significant interest, with German sponsor Miele holding centre stage with a showcase of its new products, and the three winning entries in its kitchen design competition. The Grand Designs Live Kitchen Competition featured 6mx5m kitchens across three categories – below £20,000, below £30,000, or below £60,000 – with all designs featuring the latest Miele Generation 6000 PureLine or ContourLine appliances.
According to Simon Grantham, Managing Director of Miele UK, Grand Designs Live was a great forum for raising the brand's profile. The kitchen competition was repeated at a Grand Designs Live 2014 show staged in Birmingham, England. He said: "We are delighted to be able to offer kitchen dealers this great prize again, which will allow them to potentially reach more than 60,000 attendees over four days, with 74% of visitors coming to these shows as couples to make key-buying decisions."
Miele, a leading manufacturer of contemporary kitchens, is an established trendsetter, and the company's UK business development manager, Mark Kelly,explained that combi-steam ovens were the name of the game this year. He said: "It's all about cooking with steam, but not under pressure. Steam is quick, nutritious,retains colour and you can layer cook. In the newest Miele ovens, desserts can be cooked at the same time as meat, with no danger of cross-contamination."
In addition to steam-only functions, warming drawers were another innovation, with applications ranging from breadmaking to slow-roasting meat. Meanwhile, new developments in surface cooking mean that induction detectors can identify the dimensions of a saucepan and heat only its precise area. Kelly said: "You can have either a full-width cooking surface or cook across five zones. The intelligent hob recognises your pans and shifts the temperature setting if the pan moves." Intelligent technology was even apparent in the range's dishwashers, with residual heat from the hot water used to dry the crockery.
The PureLine and ContourLine ranges herald a new era in cooking, at least according to the company. The highlights of its Generation 6000 Whole Bean Coffee System include the CupSensor, EasyClick Milk System and One Touch for Two functions. The CupSensor automatically adjusts the height of the spout for different cup sizes. It even detects if milk is in the cup and raises the spout to make room for any incoming espresso shot.
The EasyClick Milk System, meanwhile, comprises a milk flask that clicks into place at the front of the coffee machine. The machine also automatically rinses the milk spout after each use. With the One Touch for Two, users can make two types of coffee at once, say a cappuccino and a macchiato, speeding up the whole process.
The most striking and practical of the kitchen and bathroom brands, at least for Hong Kong and mainland consumers, came courtesy of Splashbacks Co. Describing itself as a "crackle glass specialist", Splashbacks' attractive, zanily-coloured, speckled and toughened glass designs are suitable for worktops, floors or splashbacks.
Describing its applications, Richard Bloom, a Director of the business, said: "It can transform the smallest area and is entirely suitable for compact apartments. Tiles are a thing of the past. Glass is where it's at. We're a glass company, making bespoke glass patterns. Glass has the advantages of being very hygienic, easy to clean and simple to install from a design point of view." The company is now said to be looking for distributors in Asia.
Across the way were streamlined bathtubs from Castello Luxury Baths of London. Laurie Clayden, the company's Managing Director, believes that his British-designed, American-made tubs are unique in their use of a particular high-tech composite material. He said: "It looks like stone, feels like stone, but isn't cold. It never needs resurfacing or maintenance as its surface can't stain."
Again in the market for an Asian distributor, Bloom described the overall Castello bathing experience as smooth, warm to the touch and non-slippery. Already installed in Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Limited Edition luxury retreats, these tubs and basins are said to reflect the trend for upmarket bathroom products that are long-lasting.
Bloom said: "We are meeting consumer demand for high quality products with longevity. While minimalist designs continue to be popular, there is a move away from geometric forms to freestanding tubs in smooth, round shapes.
"The new trends for bathrooms are muted, with neutral and calming colour schemes. Plain white, cream and grey are on trend for bathrooms at the moment."
Wet leisure was another product zone that looks to have a ready market across Asia, with Hydropool and Desjoyaux Pools two of the UK's most notable suppliers. Hydropool was attending the show to promote its eco-friendly, self-cleaning hot tubs and swimspas – the world's only carbon-neutral products in the sector, apparently.
The company also boasts a Vacuseal Cover for saving energy and eliminating heat loss. Its Vacuseal Lifter reverse pneumatic technology, meanwhile, creates a pressurised fit, reducing evaporation and helping to keep the water's chemistry balanced. At present, the company is looking to develop its Asian sales.
According to Lloyd Burden, the company's European Sales Director, interest from Asia is growing slowly. He believes that there are slightly different rules when it comes to bathing in Asia, but sales are building steadily in Taiwan and South Korea, although North America remains Hydropool's biggest market.
Desjoyaux Pools, meanwhile, prides itself on its revolutionary patented concepts – special pool casing structures and pipe-free filtration systems, which are currently used in resort hotels and domestic swimming pools in 86 countries.
Assessing the potential, Clive Elsden, Managing Director of Desjoyaux Pools UK, said: "With no restriction on pool size or shape, the possibilities are endless. The long and costly work required to lay underground pipes from a pump house to pool inlets and outlets is now a thing of the past. Our exclusive process ensures that the pool is strong and long-lasting, while offering total creative freedom in terms of design."
With regards to living room furniture, few genuinely new trends were apparent. Seal grey and plain brown leather suites were much in evidence, with L-shaped and three-seater-plus sofas still the best sellers, according to Italian design company Saporini. Despite this, acid green was definitely this year's "in" colour, according to the company's representatives.
Among the more interesting products with niche market appeal were attractive jukeboxes and home pool tables in various sizes from The Games Room Company. In a similar vein, but strikingly different, were elegant bespoke dining tables from Sir William Bentley Billiards, where, at the flick of a switch, the table top rolls over to unveil a classic billiards table. Precision-engineered mechanisms facilitate this remarkable transformation, with obvious space savings. Bespoke designs range from antique to contemporary, and are made of wood from oak and mahogany to ash and walnut.
The Grand Design Event was held at London's ExCel from 3-11 May 2014.
Anna Healy Fenton, Special Correspondent, London