Stand ground

John Stones discovers how the IMM Cologne furniture exposition is faring in the wake of Germany’s recession

From the glum expressions on the faces of the taxi drivers you could be forgiven for thinking that very little was going on at IMM Cologne, Europe’s biggest furniture fair after Milan’s Salone. But that would be unfair.

As usual, many of the big names decided to keep their powder dry for Milan in April. However, there was a smattering of interesting new products on show. And with visitor numbers slightly up and trade bodies reporting signs of increased sales, the organisers were keen to put on a positive gloss, describing this year’s event as a ‘good mood fair’.

There were no fewer than three bar stools on display from Italian company Plank, including a stackable bar stool called Miura, designed by Konstantin Grcic and made of reinforced polyethylene. Dutch company Label presented Kite, an attention-grabbing new plastic chair designed by Karim Rashid. And Tom Dixon tentatively showed a giant version of his Cone light and the prototype of a wall-storage system.

However, a restrained yet elegant new chair designed by Piero Lissoni for Thonet, was typical of the conservative and commercial nature of much that was on offer. Other exhibitors chose to introduce variations of existing product. For instance, Knoll’s Turtle chair, designed by Pearson Lloyd, and Driadestore’s Meridiana chair, designed by Christophe Pillet, were both presented in new colours.

Plush carpets were very much in evidence. Moroso’s display (designed by Patricia Urquiola and Martino Berghinz) featured a particularly troublesome red carpet that shed over the rest of the (very black) stand.

‘Best of the best’ awards went to Ligne Roset’s Facett sofa and chair, designed by the Bouroullec brothers, MDF Italia’s Elevenfive Shelving by Bruno Fattorini and Swedeser Möbler’s People chair, by Thomas Bernstrand.

But some of the most interesting work was to be found among the entrants for Inspired by Cologne, the fair’s competition for young design talent. Young Danish designer Lene Toni Kjeld scooped the top prize of E3000 (£2080) for her wallpapers that changed patterns as they repeated. Of the 37 entrants for the competition, no fewer than seven came from the UK, including Committee (comprising Clare Page and Harry Richardson) with its Kebab lamp stands, made from discarded objects such as irons and bits of porcelain. Also representing Britain were What They Did Next (Caroline Tomlinson and Luke Miles), Emma Jeffs, Annick Collins, Simon Hasan, Jackie Choi and the duo Yve Thelermont and David Hupton.

Outside of the cavernous main halls a series of events form the Passagen, including the self-conscious Fusion event in Stylepark. The entrance of the former railway headquarters on the other side of the Rhine was beautifully draped in plastic chains for the event, and its main hall featured a table designed randomly by computer, with a little help from Reed Kram and Clemens Weisshaar.

The organisers of IMM asked figures from the design world (including Reiko Miyamoto, Tom Dixon and Stefan Ytterborn) to define the current direction of interior design. The result was the platitudes of ‘transformation, multiple identity, emotional sensuality and time is value’, and an installation that seemed to be largely ignored by visitors.

More successful in giving an edge to the fair were the Ideal Houses, designed by the two female designers Hella Jongerius and Patricia Urquiola (see feature, DW 13 January).

With signs that the German economy is finally coming out of its doldrums, perhaps next year will see more big names deciding to launch new products in Cologne.

IMM was partnered with the Paris show – the Salon de Meuble de Paris, which closed its doors as the German show opened on 17 January. The Swedish Furniture Fair takes place in Stockholm from 9-13 February 2005

The designer’s view Luke Pearson, founder, Pearson Lloyd

As the Salone in Milan increases in pulling power, the Cologne IMM fair seems to reduce in size and allure. However, while IMM fails to excite, it does at least offer a far less stressful opportunity to sift through the plethora of design iterations, with most of the big players still evident. It is also an interesting indicator for figuring out which products will be a commercial success. Whereas Milan is so often about splashing new creations on to the scene, Cologne is very much about selling – especially to the German market.

What is strikingly evident for me is not so much the lack of exciting new designs, but the quantity of high quality and invested copies. It is clearly no longer the exclusive domain of the super brands to create highly tooled and developed objects. However, the opportunity that this cheaper global production base offers must be met by good quality design and a less commodity-driven marketing structure.

The retailer’s view

James Mair, managing director, Viaduct

My first impression of the IMM was that the number of visitors seemed to be down on previous years. Walking around the fair, part of the fun is always catching up with old friends from around the world and comparing notes on the market. This year there was an almost universal resigned shrug. The market is tough out there and it’s not surprising that manufacturers are minimising their investment in new products.

The results were tweaks to existing collections and elements of follow my leader. As a consequence, this year saw more glossy polycarbonate and glass fibre chairs in red, black and white; masses of coloured glass and thin timber table tops, slightly raised from the frame to give the shadow gap look. Highlights for me were few, but the sofa/bench by Jean Marie Massaud for Cassina was a treat, as were the installations by Patricia Urquiola and Hella Jongerius. MDF Italia won a ‘Best of the best’ with its Elevenfive wall system, which does look spectacular.

Outside the show, during the rapid trip round the town there was little to impress at Stylepark. Boffi, Living Divani and Porro are installed in a spectacular conversion near the Pesch showroom and worth visiting just to see the quality of the building. Otherwise, unfortunately a little gem failed to materialise for me this year. The search will continue in Milan…

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