7 April 2016
Natural Materials, Handcrafted Items and Metallics Resurgent in Paris
While worries about the wider economy seemed to be echoed in an austere aesthetic at the Maison&Objet homeware fair in Paris, there were strong sales in the high-end sector and a truly diverse offering of lifestyle products on show.
Natural materials and a handcrafted feel were trending, while metallics, especially gold, were resurgent at last autumn's Maison&Objet homeware fair. In keeping with the growth of concept and lifestyle stores, a trend driven by pressure from the global economy and e-stores, the event showcased a wide product offering. High-end goods still sold strongly, with wealthier consumers seemingly unaffected by financial worries.
Grégory Allard, Managing Director of Chehoma, a Belgian design company, observed that trends in furniture design seemed to be influenced by the economy. He said: "There is a strong development towards more clean lines – simple, light products, with more Scandinavian and 1970s designs." He added that Chehoma's streamlined furniture, which uses wood recycled from gymnasium floors and incorporates concealed handles, channels 1970s influences.
Denmark's Norr11 makes use of leather upholstery in its best-selling winged armchair, which has a distinctively Scandinavian wood frame. Marketing Manager Jehona Morina said: "We are revisiting classics, making them more modern, and with clean, Danish lines." Sales in Iceland are "exploding", she added. Norr11's wingback chair is also available in wool fabric, which Morina said was proving popular.
Simple, uncomplicated furniture made from lime-washed ash featured prominently among Parisian retailer Blanc d'Ivoire's exhibits. A company spokesperson said that modern Scandinavian style works well in Germany, whereas Asian consumers prefer aged-wood effects.
Natural materials such as linen were in abundance among the upholstery and textiles on display at the fair. Tine Timm, owner of Copenhagen-based Cozy Living, whose exhibits included linen scatter cushions and mohair-rich plaids, said: "The trend is to bring nature inside the house."
Wood is taking a starring role in furniture just now; however, the rustic look is out. Jamie Bensohn of One World Trading Co, based in Surrey in the UK, noted there has been a move away from painted finishes towards natural oak and pine pieces that are not intended to look antique. He said that wood-topped tables with French Grey legs are popular, and that the industrial look, featuring zinc, was popular in France.
Recycled wood is also being used widely, and is combined with concrete and metal to good effect by Dialma Brown. The Italian brand's on-trend credentials were further in evidence at the show with its wood wall panelling in an oxidised finish or with 1970s-feel backlighting.
Marble has been enjoying a renaissance in both furniture and accessories, in colours ranging from classic white and black to brown, blue and green. Tables from two Danish companies – Tradition and Frama – paired marble with cork, as well as wood and steel.
Besides featuring on furniture, leather was prominent in handcrafted home and office accessories, notably from Italian brands such as Pinetti, whose General Manager, Ezia Pinetti, said the high-end segment was growing.
Ginger Brown, from near Caen, France, uses shagreen in its exclusive pieces, which sell mainly to the US and the UK. Designer François Xavier Turrou said: "It's in the English culture to spend money on décor. The French are very classic – [but] they spend money on holidays, not furniture." The Brazilian market was developing fast, he added.
At Maison&Objet, Blanc d'Ivoire said it was launching bedcovers and cushions block-printed or screen-printed by hand, techniques that are enjoying a revival in France.
Japanese tableware company Kinto collaborated with traditional pottery craftsmen on its new Ceramic Lab mugs and tableware. "We believe people enjoy things made with care that celebrate traditional skills," said Sales Executive Makiko Minami. Dutch brand HKLiving, meanwhile, reported good orders from Europe for its 1970s ceramics, which have a handcrafted look.
Asiatides of France relies heavily on traditional Chinese artisans for its high-end porcelain re-editions. Marketing Manager Grégory Poignant said: "We are currently targeting Scandinavia because of its consumer spending power."
Artisanal flair was also to be found in handmade candles from various parties, as well as in the "couture" soaps from Paris-based company, Cousu de Fil Blanc, which come wrapped in hand-stitched paper.
Theo Grootendorst, CEO of Amsterdam-based Pols Potten, said trends are losing importance: "It's more about having a unique signature in a collection, but you need to keep a balance between innovation and identity."
The latest idiosyncratic designs from Italy's Seletti include rocket-shaped salt and pepper grinders. Owner Stefano Seletti said the best sellers were a neon alphabet, "because it can be personalised", and white monkey-themed lighting "because it is fun, easy to live with, and people like friendly products."
Retailer Lane Crawford recently devoted a window to Seletti in Shanghai. "Increasingly, the Chinese understand quickly about design; the market is growing up very fast," said Seletti, adding that his brand's quirky half-English, half-Chinese tableware sells well in China.
Danish brand Kreafunk offers owl-shaped music players in bird-box packaging, and a floating shelf that conceals an entire sound system, all in pastels. Founder Ruben Fog-Fredsgaard said sales were booming in France.
A big story at the fair was the return of gold, ranging from Pols Potten's golden porcelain pineapples to a pale gold velvet sofa from Belgian company Puylaert Home Basics. The owner of the latter, Rudyger Puylaert, said the metallic trend was following fashion and conveys a "feeling of well-being that we need when the world situation is so unstable."
With its price falling, copper is also holding its own. British brand Tom Dixon uses the material in chair legs, in desk accessories and in a coffee collection. French brand Orée chose matte copper for a high-tech pen that digitally records notes and sketches, while Zuiver from Holland offered copper coffee tables, chair frames and lighting.
Metallics were especially evident in lighting. Abdul Azim, CEO of the Indian lighting company Visba, said: "Copper, gold and black are the most popular finishes, with pendant lights and dome shapes performing well." He added that Scandinavia is proving to be a good growth market for more contemporary products.
The industrial feel was prominent in numerous dome-shaped suspension lights, ranging from nickel to gold-tone. New matte finishes gave a cool twist to HKLiving's retro dome designs, while Norr11's Morina identified oxidised finishes as a best seller.
Copper was popular for table lamps, while metallic finishes, including brushed brass, also provided contrasting interiors for lampshades. Raymond Raven, Commercial Business Manager for Dutch company Light & Living, said: "We introduced black velvet shades lined with pale-gold laminate, and sales have been incredible." The brand was also on-trend with its hammered metal and marble-effect ceramic lamps, while Raven said its more classic collection had been losing ground and would be discontinued.
The Great Outdoors
Garden furniture was proving a popular area for product diversification. Seletti's first outdoor range adds kitsch motifs to classic metal furniture. Stefano Seletti said: "It's new because of the decoration and the material, as not many people work in cast aluminium anymore." Surprisingly lightweight, the items are easily dismantled for transportation.
Bernard Reybier, CEO of French outdoor furniture maker, Fermob, said: "Garden furniture is evolving from functional to more creative. The level of comfort has risen, and people are investing more." He said lightweight pieces are more solid, woven is returning, and the outdoor/indoor crossover is growing. Accessories like cushions sell well "because they are fun, trendy and update the furniture."
Following fashion's lead, blue trended strongly at the event in everything from tableware, lighting, cushions and rugs, to furniture – including Portuguese company Brabbu's asymmetrical chesterfield sofa in midnight-blue velvet. At Blanc d'Ivoire, royal blue furnishings and textiles were accented with orange, and turquoise items with sage.
Charlotte Hundeboll Hansen, Strategic Brand Manager for Denmark's Lene Bjerre, said green was also capturing imaginations. "The green trend is everywhere. In the spring there will be a lot of green and bamboo."
Grey is still prominent, and a base palette of grey, black and neutrals is often offset with splashes of yellow or orange. HKLiving had chartreuse yellow as a trend colour for lighting, while GioBagnara showcased burnt orange.
Maison&Objet Paris took place from 4-8 September 2015 at the Parc des Expositions de Paris Nord Villepinte, attracting 69,000 visitors.
Linda Watkins, Special Correspondent, Paris