Ode to cologne

Henrietta Thompson rather enjoys the work on display at the Cologne furniture fair, but what impresses her most are the organiser’s neat touches. Meanwhile, Natasha Edwards samples what the rapidly evolving Paris fair scene has to offer

IMM Cologne

London could learn certain lessons from the design festivals and furniture fairs around the world, and this year IMM Cologne showed exemplary organisation in a few aspects. There were the fantastically crisp pea green-and-white uniforms of the staff – complete with pillbox hats and supersized smiles. There was the fact that a day pass to the show would also see that you through free use of any of the city’s public transport systems. And then there were all those little details that are designed to help a seasoned fair-goer remain standing just that bit longer at the end of the day – we’re talking free, fresh pretzels in the taxi queue – London Design Festival, are you listening? Could we perhaps set up a collaboration with Krispy Crème in 2008? (Just a suggestion.)

These touches are the mark of a massive, sprawling, important furniture fair with the infrastructure and budget to prove it, of course. But this year’s Cologne fair seemed to be much more manageable than previously. It was doable in two days, Passagen and all – the fair is no longer trying to compete with Milan and is all the better for it.

The most notable difference was that the Ideal House installation, which has seen the likes of the Campana Brothers, Zaha Hadid, Naoto Fukasawa and Konstantin Gcric design massive conceptual spaces in the middle of the fair, was missing. Although it’s sad to see the back of such an energetic annual commission, the German Design Council’s initiative has clearly run its course, and in its place is a show by a partner country demonstrating its design in an international context. The 2008 choice was Dutch design – and it was interesting enough, but not in any way distracting from the few launches going on.

And what of them? At the show itself, a handful of manufacturers were presenting new pieces. MDF Italia was perhaps the most notable – with a new logo and a slew of gorgeous new designs to match – the big news was that founder and chief executive Bruno Fattorini has sold the company. Fattorini reassured press that the MDF Italia brand would not change in ethos, but rather grow and flourish under its new management, and looking at the new collection it was difficult to be negative: from Bora Bora, a new modular seating system, to the S Table – a round or oval table with a S-shaped twisted stand, moulded in white Ecotek (the new Corian?) – this is Italian design at its best.

E15 was another hit, presenting its hugely successful 2007 collection refined and complemented by a striking new line of textile accessories in tartan. Alongside E15’s classic architectural designs the results were stunning, and perhaps the closest a manufacturer has got to keeping abreast of the catwalks when it comes to fashion.

Cassina and Walter Knoll also shone out through the aisles, with Cassina’s new designs from Piero Lissoni and Philippe Starck, and Walter Knoll’s Living landscape range, developed with Austrian design team Eoos.

Outside the main halls at the Design Post showrooms, DP founder Montis stole the limelight with Simon Pengelly’s two-tone Lotus chair. Offsite, bar Arik Levi’s Rock collection for Tai Ping (though we’ve seen much of it before), there was only one place to visit: Dornbracht Culture Projects’ latest Mike Meiré installation – Noises for Ritual Architecture.

Attempting to do for bathrooms what its previous project The Farm is doing for kitchens (touring all around the world and winning major acclaim) – the idea is to recreate the bathroom as a sanctuary of zen calm and luxury through transcendence. The installation involved weary fair-goers being supplied with sake and sent to lie down in a dark room to be hypnotised with visuals and meditative soundscapes, and was extremely popular. Another one to bring to London in September, please.

Paris Meuble and Maison & Objet and Now!

In what, at last, seems to have been a fit of common sense, Paris’s competing furniture fairs have got back on the same schedule. The former Salon du Meuble left its home at Paris Expo and merged with its general public offshoot Planète Meuble to reappear as Paris Meuble at Le Bourget trade fair site – on the same RER line or a shuttle-bus ride from the giant Maison & Objet and Now! salons. With more than 3500 brands, 165 000m2 of stands and an expected 100 000 visitors, the combined Paris fairs mark managing director Etienne Cochet’s ambition that ‘the decoration and furniture fairs together form a transversal gathering to rival the vertical gathering of Milan’.

Paris Meuble’s different halls, though sorely in need of adequate signposting, have been rebranded, too, as Atmospheres (classic and traditional) and Today Living, taking in contemporary furniture, bedding and a growing children’s niche sector. Furniture industry body Via gave carte blanche to Jean-Louis Frechin for pieces that didn’t necessarily work at an aesthetic level, but provided interesting attempts to render digital technology as physical objects: a gesturally operated lamp or a shelf-cum-electronic noticeboard. Eco Design Bois Bourgogne showcased furniture by 11 designers for nine manufacturers using Burgundy’s know-how with sustainable wood. As with a Via-sponsored project between Philippe Nigro and the Compagnons du Devoir and a first appearance from new group Neology under the artistic directorship of Christophe Pillet, this indicates a new design awareness from French furnishing manufacturers more usually associated with craftsmanship than design.

How long, however, before Meuble Paris is simply swallowed up by Maison & Objet and Now!? The trawl through the seven halls at Maison & Objet provides the entire interior package from furniture and luxury wallpaper to tablewares, room perfumes and even a new section devoted to museum shops. Although it used to be viewed as an interior decoration fair, more and more furniture names choose to exhibit here, and there’s no doubt that most of the innovative design is to be found here, notably in the Now! hall, where exhibitors range from French heavyweight Ligne Roset-Cinna with two large side-by-side stands, to hopeful young designers.

Noteworthy launches included Patrick Norguet’s range for Silvera, Patricia Urquoia’s lacy garden furniture for Emu, additions to Sifas’s Kolorado range by Mark Robsen, aerodynamic vases by Ross Lovegrove and Zaha Hadid at Serralunga, and Jean Nouvel’s intriguing Skin line for Molteni, which uses leather as a true architectural structure. Branex celebrated the 40th birthday of its Tamtam stool with a version for iPod, while those after bling could invest in Philippe Starck’s crystal-topped chairs at Baccarat, as the luxury crystal group continues to diversify.

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