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'Rich Experiences Delivered Simply' Proves Mantra for US Home Expo

Bold colour combinations, AI-enabled gadgets, innovative solutions for male home aloners, digital care assistants for the elderly and a host of other sparkling innovations were all on offer at the 2019 International Home + Housewares Show.

Photo: Pria: The pill-popping personal assistant for the pensioner in your life.
Pria: The pill-popping personal assistant for the pensioner in your life.
Photo: Pria: The pill-popping personal assistant for the pensioner in your life.
Pria: The pill-popping personal assistant for the pensioner in your life.

Casual is out. Modern is in. And it's "all about me" –  at least according to many of the experts attending the Chicago-hosted 2019 International Home + Housewares Show. As to how businesses meet these new consumer expectations, apparently it's all down to leveraging the latest technology, opting for unusually bold colour combinations and, above all, offering something that makes customers' lives easier.

In line with this, "rich experiences delivered simply" – notably the use of smart appliances, robot vacuum cleaners, high-tech beauty care aids and the new generation of voice assistants – are said to be driving the market, at least according to Norbert Herzog, Senior Global Strategic Insights Manager with Gfk, a Nuremberg-headquartered research consultancy. In particular, Herzog sees aspirational products – those designed to enhance self-expression or to pamper – as having considerable growth potential. In terms of small household appliances, this translates into growing demand for higher-priced items, including premium toothbrushes and hairstylers, smart cooking aids and the latest in sleep technology.

When asked what was going to trigger the biggest change, Herzog singled out one particular range of products, saying: "Artificial intelligence [AI] assistants. The connecting factor for this incoming ecosystem will be an AI digital assistant, one that will control and manage other devices. Overall, such devices are poised to spark a whole new way of innovation."

Guy-Driven Design

In the meantime, traditional appliances are still selling well, especially if they're geared towards millennials and, in particular, millennial males. For the first time in almost 10 years, millennials are looking to buy homes rather than to rent, a new dynamic that Janine Michalek, Vice-President of Market Intelligence with Design Research, a New York-based trend consultancy, was keen to highlight. As part of her American Living Survey presentation, she noted that "casual" had been replaced by "modern", with a significant proportion of younger consumers now seeing their homes as platforms for showing off their personal sense of style rather than as merely havens. Expanding on this, she said: "While warm and friendly is clearly downtrending, sleek, fashionable and sophisticated is most definitely on the way up."

She also cited the growing number of single male occupancy households as playing a key role in driving this change, saying: "Single guys living on their own want sleek, fun and energising kitchens. That translates to kitchen cabinets in dark brown, black, cherry and gray tones, as well as a wide choice of natural-stone and even glass countertops. This trend has manifested itself with regard to small kitchen appliances, with the ubiquity of matte black and satin black continuing to increase.

"Millennial guys are also likely to purchase gadgets that make them feel like a gourmet cook, which has given rise to a range of smart devices compatible with Amazon's Alexa, as well as such items as KitchenAid's rinsible tablet."

2019 Colour Trends

Consumers are now, apparently, exposed to a broader colour palette than ever before and – according to Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute – this is all down to the proliferation of digital media. Addressing this issue as part of her keynote Color/Texture/Finish: Back to the Future presentation, she said this particular development set the bar high in terms of creating eye-catching colour combinations.

Providing an insight as to those combinations that are currently making the grade, she said: "Metallics and iridescents are still rocking it, especially silver, chrome, nickel, brass and very shiny gold. Copper is out of lustre, while foil treatments are popular, as are metallics with green undertones and striated presentations. This sleekness, though, is best contrasted with rich patina wood and felted products.

"Based on the continued strength of metallics, we've just produced a new colour deck solely with shimmery hues. It's a timely development as I've never seen so much sparkle in the marketplace."

Turning her attention to the role of a broader selection of colours, she said: "Red implies physical action and energy, as well as style and glamour. To convey a sense of heat, though, it's best to use a warmer note or a truer red, while bluer reds, for their part, imply a degree of sophistication.

"Interestingly, pinks are now being deployed in every room and not just in the bedroom or bathroom. They're also now to be found in such products as audio speakers. One interesting trend here is to pair hot pink with more of an earth tone."

One combination that caught Eiseman's attention in the blue family was turquoise and avocado, while she saw indigo blue as the coming colour for fashion runways. She also urged designers / manufacturers to bear in mind the fact that while blue-purples are still relatively rare in the housewares marketplace, they have tracked well in a number of recent consumer surveys.

Whimsy, Bubbly and High-Tech

Onto the showfloor, then, where many of the items on offer reflected fundamental changes to both consumer preferences and regulatory regimes. The recent ban on plastic straws imposed by California and a number other states, for instance, had engineered a boom in demand for paper and metal ones, as well as for several associated products. Commenting on this particular altered priority, Tiffanie Lambert, a Sales Manager with Kikkerland Design, a New York-based product development specialist, said: "While we've offered such items for quite a while, they've never been anything like as popular."

Photo: Much clutched: Non-plastic straws.
Much clutched: Non-plastic straws.
Photo: Much clutched: Non-plastic straws.
Much clutched: Non-plastic straws.
Photo: WeMo: Cuff drafts.
WeMo: Cuff drafts.
Photo: WeMo: Cuff drafts.
WeMo: Cuff drafts.

Clearly keen to ride this particular wave, the company's 2019 product portfolio includes straws in reusable plastic and telescopic stainless-steel variants, with both options coming complete with a bespoke cleaning tool. Over the next few months, it also plans to introduce silicone straws and metal ones with silicone tips.

Water carbonators, too, have seemingly been around forever and the same anti-plastic sentiment has also seen them restored to favour. It hasn't hurt their prospects that they now boast sleek designs and feature flavour bottles that would look quite at home in any upmarket mini-bar.

Well-positioned to benefit from this particular development was Sodastream USA, a New Jersey-based carbonator manufacturer. At the event, the company was inviting attendees to create their own bespoke bubbly, allowing them to select their favoured level of carbonation and preferred flavour. And, of course, they got to take their suitably branded bottle back home.

Summing up the appeal of this revived sector, Field Sales Representative Cheri Abernathy said: "People can see that pure water carbonation is a fun way to drink more water, while also appreciating its contribution towards eliminating single-use plastic bottles."

Old school meets new tech, meanwhile, was the premise behind the WeMo, a wearable memo bracelet you just slap on your wrist. "It's an easy way to jot down a note when you don't have time to look at your phone," explained the rep of the Japanese company behind the product. Apparently, it's proved something of a hit in the nursing and construction sectors.

More purely high-tech innovation was evident when it came to the provision of smart-home solutions for the elderly. Stealing the headlines here was Hannah Ferrill, winner of the student innovation competition. The inspiration for her winning entry – an alarm system for the hearing-impaired – came from her own grandparents, who apparently "feel paranoid at night when they take out their hearing aids, afraid they won't hear any smoke alarm that might go off". Ferrill's solution is a device that responds to an alarm by projecting a fire symbol onto the ceiling, activating a sub-pillow vibration unit and alerting the relevant authorities.

Beyond this, AI is taking remote elderly care to a whole new level. A prime example of this was Pria, a voice-recognising digital assistant that works with Omni, a new mesh Wi-Fi router developed by Stanley Black & Decker, the Connecticut-headquartered household hardware manufacturer. Once in situ, the unit allows a caregiver to remotely monitor their patient's activity, keeping track of them as they move around the house, drink water, take medication and so on. It also has the facility to provide remote alerts in case of falls or prolonged inactivity.

Over time, it can learn to distinguish individual residents, thus eliminating the need for cameras and motion detectors, while reducing the number of false alarms. As part of its care assistant function, Pria can dispense pills and ensure that the right person takes them. The company also has plans to integrate heart-rate and blood-pressure monitoring capabilities and sees the unit as playing a key role in helping seniors stay in their own homes rather than having to be relocated to an assisted-living facility.

Photo: All about ‘me’ apparently: The 2019 International Home + Housewares Show.
All about 'me' apparently: The 2019 International Home + Housewares Show.
Photo: All about ‘me’ apparently: The 2019 International Home + Housewares Show.
All about 'me' apparently: The 2019 International Home + Housewares Show.

The 2019 International Home + Housewares Show took place from 2-5 March at Chicago's McCormick Place. From 2020, the event will be re-badged as The Inspired Home Show: IHA's Global Home + Housewares Market.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Chicago

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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