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Spend Up at French Furnishing Show, but Product Longevity Still Vital

A busy and well-attended Foire de Paris, one of Europe's biggest home furnishings event, confirmed a return of spending by EU consumers, though the emphasis clearly remained on innovative products with durability and lasting style.

Photo: Sitting pretty: a designer chair retrospective.
Sitting pretty: a designer chair retrospective.

Colourful parades of tropical dancers drummed up a distinctly festive mood at the recent Foire de Paris. By contrast, the 50 shades of grey and the neutrals dominating the home furnishing halls struck a somewhat more muted tone.

Full marks to 10surdix, a Strasbourg-based family firm, for capturing the prevailing spirit. Its furniture collection featured pure, streamlined designs in natural earth tones – notably greys and taupe – with Patricia Steinmetz, the company's founder, assuring all-comers they were "very easy to co-ordinate".

According to Steinmetz, industrial materials (such as steel, slate, ceramic and concrete) were now becoming increasingly popular. She said: "This is largely because they are practical, low-maintenance and easy to live with. People don't want to spend all their time doing housework."

Another champion of ceramics, Jonathan Partouche, the founder of Origone, a Paris-based "added-value reseller", recently-created App Living, a high-end, realistically- priced furniture brand. Based on the premise that the majority of contemporary furniture was "too expensive in relation to real costs", he currently manufactures in Italy and distributes throughout Europe, but is also now eyeing the Asian markets.

Explaining his approach, he said: "Ceramic on tables is already widespread, but on other furniture, such as sideboards, it is very new."

In terms of overall styles, Partouche noted that finishing had become more elegant, while the preference for slate grey had been joined by light grey, brown and beige. White, he said, remained the best-seller in lacquer, while mixing lacquer with wood was also a pronounced trend, particularly when it comes to shelving units.

Seeking to explain the lasting appeal of wood, he said: "In the general atmosphere of economic recession, wood is reassuring. People perceive it as more durable."

Tellingly, white lacquer was the material of choice for the Italian manufacturer Ideal Design for its extendable coffee-cum-dining table, complete with its innovative gas-piston system for precise height adjustment. Commenting on its new launch, Romain Gleizes, a Senior Designer with the company, said: "We are marketing it as space-saving for small apartments. It comes in various configurations to ensure as wide an appeal as possible."

Ideal Design was also promoting a white buffet on legs – another coming trend, according to Gleizes. This was available in a wide choice of coloured lacquer on the decorative sections on the doors. According to Gleizes, the thinking behind this was simple: "People like to be able to personalise their furniture."

This year's hottest new accent colour was widely said to be sunshine yellow, as was clearly apparent on Urban Design and Nicoletti Home stands, among others. A vivid orange asymmetrical sofa – created by Christian Ghion, the award-winning Parisian designer – made a splash on the Neology stand. Jean-Jacques Mazé, Chief Executive of the Paris-based design house, said: "With its original and welcoming open shape, it has proved extremely popular."

In response to the perceived tightening of budgets, Neology has also introduced a very pure and minimalist couch with thin legs and armrests. Mazé said: "We wanted something very simple in order to be aggressive on price."

Meanwhile, a soft and enveloping sofa conceived by another Paris-based designer, Philippe Nigro, for the French brand Cinna, highlighted another emerging trend. Gilles David, the company's Sales Director, said: "In France, there is a move towards vintage, with a strong orientation towards Scandinavian style – all the wood and rounded forms we saw in the 1970s."

According to David, Cinna was using pastels for those pieces designed to complement predominantly larger grey items, such as a pink pouffe or a little petrol-blue chair.

Similarly, Tolix's new T14 steel chair – apparently the 'poster chair' for the event – was also available in trend pastels and primary colours. Introducing the concept behind the piece, Marc Bado, the company's Paris-based Distributor, said: "Patrick Norguet, the designer, was inspired by the original model A from 80 years ago, a model that is still in production.

"People look at futuristic designs but they don't buy them. They buy designs with a bit of a retro feel, one based on history and roots. They want dependability. We sell a lot to cafes and bistros because they want products that are timeless and long-lasting."

Durability is also a consideration in children's bedrooms, according to Bruno Beasse, Sales Manager of the French manufacturer Gautier. He said: "We realised people want rooms that last longer, which is why we are diversifying into higher-quality bedrooms that can carry through into adolescence. Our compromise was to introduce a more modern and sober style that can be adapted for a boy or girl."

Moving more into the kitchen arena and the patented Diamond line, courtesy of the Italian manufacturer Maior Cucine, was distinguished by its innovative diagonal shape and metallic lacquer cabinets. Ideal for small urban kitchens, Maior Cucine's ingenious space-saving solutions include tables that unfold from drawers or slide into island units.

The challenge of limited space was also addressed by the Italian firm Veneta Cucine. Andrea Giorgini, its Export Area Manager, said: "We have played with the elements for a different effect in linear-style kitchens. We see the visual interest deriving from the varied-depth wall units, with their combination of shiny and matte doors. There is also an element of added practicality from the extra-deep worktops."

In a completely contrasting approach, Veneta is also targetting the Russian and Middle Eastern markets. Its tactic here is to offer a black version of its luxury neo-classic kitchen in polished lacquer, featuring handmade details using gold or silver dust. However, the more general trend, according to Giorgini, is for natural-looking wood veneer done in a modern way, typically in flat and minimalist cabinets.

Virginie Vinson, the Conceptual Designer for Maior Cucine, predicted that wood effects, taupe, beige and lacquer would remain popular for at least another year or two, with their look offset with touches of colour in worktops, furniture pieces and walls.

Maior Cucine's sister company, Aran, had on offer a novel breakfast bar, one with no visible support. Vinson said: "It's machined on the inside, so there's no obstruction when you are sitting down. It's intended for people who basically live in their kitchen."

The same unobtrusive approach was being taken by the Swedish manufacturer Hygena for its new Music In system. This uses super-discreet wireless speakers to create ambience without clutter.

Photo: The Extra cocktail range.
The Extra cocktail range.
Photo: Cycle of fashion.
Cycle of fashion.

The company's new Café In offers a similarly aesthetic solution. Thierry Froger, Hygena's Regional Sales Director, said: "There is a big trend, especially in France, for coffee machines with capsules, which usually sit on the worktop, so we have created a dedicated space that is visually attractive and has a drawer underneath for the accessories."

If coffee really is your thing, you can percolate with great-tasting water courtesy of the first-ever kitchen tap to integrate a water filtration system, thanks to the latest innovation by the German manufacturer Grohe. Guy Feliciano, the company's Regional Key Accounts Manager, said: "It gives a choice of still or sparkling water, filtered and refrigerated."

As well as the luxury of sparkling water on tap, Grohe is also emphasising the positive ecological impact of eliminating bottled water. This eco-concern was also apparent elsewhere, with Aran, for instance, recycling plastic water bottles into cabinet doors – another first and a recognition of consumers' greater environmental awareness.

Winemaking, too, had its fair share of green innovation. Vindicating its manual, chemical-free approach to winemaking, for instance, the small Terres des Templiers vineyard scooped three medals at the Foire for its Banyuls and Collioure reds.

Meanwhile, in the Bordeaux region, Vignobles Guindeuil was producing a white wine using a unique egg-shaped vat in order to aid fermentation. "This year we used 100% sauvignon gris grapes, and the result is superb, very fruity," said Bertrand Guindeuil, the winery's owner.

For those looking for more of a cocktail experience, ex-rally driver Paul Bourion has just launched Miranito, a French twist on the mojito. He said: "Based on the Mirabelle eau de vie from Lorraine and vanilla from Madagascar, it's a festive, slightly sparkling drink made using all natural products. We are hoping it will shortly debut in China."

Also likely to find a willing market in the East is Vincent Gouzilh, scion of a cognac-producing family. He said: "Five years ago, there was something of a cognac crisis, so we had to find a new approach. This saw us introduce our trendily-packaged Extra line – six cocktails based on cognac and fruit mixes. As a result, we've posted annual sales growth of 10%-15%."

Now Cocktails Extra New offers six dessert drinks, all based on a smooth blend of cognac and caramel and available through small, specialised shops. Gouzilh said: "Over the next few years, we believe people will be looking for products to sell in delicatessens and epiceries."

As an accompaniment, French consumers may well consider the crunchy cocktail snacks from the French company Jimini's (as in the cricket). These combine real insects with a range of flavourings, including cumin, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. Then again, they may not.

Even a number of traditional French producers are springing surprises, notably Valette's duck foie gras with pine nuts and orange zest. Jacques Valette, the company's proprietor, said: "There's a trend for marrying foie gras with fruit, but it's still a very specialised market."

In line with this, Grolière is adding chestnut crème for a sweet edge. "People are looking for original products that you don't find anywhere else but are still authentic," said owner Jacques Grolière.

For the cheese board, distributor La Palette à Fromage was proposing new coconut and nettle varieties of tomme de vache. According to Anthony Hatchikian, a Director of the company, the green pesto blend is its best-selling novelty cheese. He said: "It gives a different flavour and adds a touch of colour to raclettes or salads."

Appliance of science

Moving away from ingredients and more towards gadgets and preparation, professional quality seems to be becoming the norm for many kitchen and home appliances. A case in point is the new kitchen robot from the French manufacturer Moulinex, being demonstrated at the show by the caterer Emilie Mazère.

She said: "The trend is for kitchen appliances that help women manage their work, family and private time. The idea of this product is to save you time yet allow you to eat healthily, especially through a choice of simple homemade dishes that are cheaper than convenience foods. You can also make soups or sauces without having to stir once or stay in the kitchen."

In a similar vein, Swedish manufacturer Asko has devised an intelligent system for steam-cooking on induction cookers. This sees a sensor placed on the saucepan lid in order to communicate with the hotplate. Giles Bossuettem, the product's Distributor, said: "The sensor regulates the temperature on the inside of the pan, and it steam-cooks with minimal water and without supervision."

Similarly smart is the new oven from the high-end Swiss brand V-ZUG. This is said to bring sophisticated sous-vide cooking to home kitchens. Explaining its appeal, Thierry Raphanaud, the company's Sales Director said: "The French will pay Euros3,000 (US$4,000) for an oven, but not for a washing machine, making this a strong growth sector for the brand."

Proving the buoyancy of premium appliances, V-ZUG has expanded into 20 countries over the last five years. Its new high-performance fabric-care unit can be freestanding or built-in and is aimed at both commercial and private customers. As with other items in the V-ZUG range, it is being marketed as environmentally-responsible, a claim justified by its energy-efficient heat pump.

Predictably, such environmentally claims were de rigueur in this particular sector. The fair, for instance, was awash with all-purpose steam cleaners, with the Italian brand Byeco stressing the benefits of air purification via its innovative double filtration system. Karen Mourier, the product's Distributor, said people were prepared to pay the high price tag in light of the quality of the results on offer.

Flush with ideas

Over in the bathroom, new products designed to enhance toilet hygiene included the revolutionary Rimfree from French manufacturer Allia, a system that distributes water via a small 'lip' on the bowl. Swiss-based multinational Geberit, meanwhile, has introduced toilet seats that lift off easily for cleaning, as well as touch-free flushes on futuristic panels.

Laure Xancho, Geberit's Showroom Manager, saw a pronounced trend towards suspended toilets, with bidet toilets also representing a growing market in Europe. She said: "We worked a lot on the design so you don't see any buttons. It just looks like a normal toilet."

Taking less of a futuristic approach was the bathroom concept business L'Aura du Bain. This French company was showcasing a retro-revisited bathtub with integrated feet, created by the Italian brand Teuco.

Thomas Verlier, a Director of L'Aura du Bain, said: "Using Duralight, a patented material, can mould whatever you want with a single piece. We are also using it for washbasins, with the matte material proving a world away from the usual resin."

Photo: Yellow: this year’s accent colour for European furnishing.
Yellow: this year's accent colour for European furnishing.

The 110th Foire de Paris took place at the Porte de Versailles, 30 April-11 May. It featured 3,500 exhibitors and brands and attracted 575,000 visitors.

Linda Watkins, Special Correspondent, Paris

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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