Satisfy public appetite for contemporary gear

One of the best things about 100% Design is the way it has caught on with London retailers. Though it sees itself largely as a contract show, opening to the public for only one of its four days, high street furniture stores such as Habitat and smaller “lifestyle” emporia have seized the opportunity to put on special events to place contemporary design under the spotlight for the duration.

If there is a lesson there, it’s that the British consumer is less conservative than we’ve been led to believe. Whether or not you consider some of the quirkier one-offs we’re likely to see at 100% Design to be “design”, even if you hate much of the stuff there, you have to admit there’s a growing market for fresh ideas. Why else would commercial concerns such as London department store Selfridges be cultivating such an interest in contemporary furniture, however strong the commitment of its managing director Vittorio Radice to good design? Why would national newspapers – most recently the Guardian with its disappointingly uninspiring weekly Space supplement – be trying to attract advertising through a flurry of interiors-related features?

If things continue like this, furniture could soon be on a par with fashion as a public attraction. The events surrounding this year’s 100% Design might not quite rival the lavish affairs that now attend the twice-yearly London Fashion Week, but it’s just a matter of time. Activities might even become nationwide, with shops such as Glasgow’s Nice House, Leicester’s Paul Atkinson and others staging complementary shows in the way their Milanese equivalents do during the Milan furniture fair and London’s contract furniture showrooms did for years for that one-time annual fixture, Designers’ Saturday.

The difference between the current craze and previous bids to promote contemporary furniture in the UK is that public interest appears to be driving events, rather than the furniture trade. The challenge now is for more manufacturers to follow the likes of Allermuir, Ness and SCP in their belief in indigenous design talent and give the public a better choice of well-designed contemporary products.

But designers also have to do their bit. Many of those touting highly individual, highly priced oddities at shows like 100% Design haven’t the slightest idea about the realities of mass-production. The cost of tooling and the efficient detailing that makes for affordable pricing are too often lost on them, but they must learn if they are to satisfy a growing domestic market that’s had its fill of reproduction. If they help to create strong public demand, the more lucrative contract business must surely follow.

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