Milano goes Pop!

Milano goes Pop!

Milan. City of cobbled streets, driving without rules, Vitello Milanese, Ray-bans and more recently, Salone del Mobile. An actioned packed few days of design, prosciutto and prosecco has drawn to a close. So what’s new? Here’s a few quickfire highlights from me…

80’s pop

Its been sneaking back for a while now, but Salone proudly unveiled it’s 80’s intentions on a number of stands. Dig out your cords and stick some Eurythmics on. Whether it’s bold stripes, thick velvety rugs, retro furniture or speckled stone finishes… 80’s influences were far and wide.

Jaime Hayon takeover

From Fritz Hansen’s Fritz Hotel to the Wittman Hayon Workshop. From Viccarbe furniture to Nanamarqina rugs. There was no escaping man of the moment Jaime Hayon’s influences across Salone – and he led the 80’s charge. With Huey Lewis’s Hip to be Square on full blast, leather fingerless gloves and bleached drainpipe jeans, Hayon softened every angle, added playfulness and fun and a recognisable Spanish design language of his own. Man of the match? Sí señor!

Nendo’s calming influence

At Jil Sander’s showroom in the Brera district, Nendo’s Invisible outlines exhibition blended a backdrop of meditative music with 16 Nendo projects on display exploring new ways of seeing and sharing things. Meanwhile at Salone, the prolific design team infused Japanese calmness to the Alias stand, with a coffee table range integrating Asian greenery, new refined Twiggy chair and the Okome modular soft seating range setting the scene.

Marble gets, erm… marblier

Marble has been back for a couple of years. But typically white marble with grey veins or vice versa, whereas now the trend is much more exotic, opulent and rare natural colours, often mixed with brass, copper or dull bronze metal framework. Sits nicely with 80’s vibes too.

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And finally… ch–ch-changes

Over recent years we’ve seen many brands reinvent themselves at Milan to re-align with emerging trends, the Wittman Hayon workshop was nothing short of a complete overhaul and a very positive one at that. Hayon’s Mediterranean baroque meets Wittman’s Austrian quality. Very cool.

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Unconfirmed rumours at Salone circulated that internationally successful design team Lievore Altherr Molina have split, with Manel Molina going it alone and releasing solo work. Is their website to be read as confirmation of this?

Japanese design was more prevalent than ever – with fantastic collaborations and influences. Yuru Suzuki, Stellar Works, Tokushin Yoshioka and of course Nendo. More please!

RIP Bar Basso. The design faithful’s bar of choice finally reached bursting point. A taxi ride to the other side of town, followed by a 4 deep bar scrum and drinking warm beer whilst standing on a roundabout has finally started to wear thin.

We need a new Bar Basso….

Until next time, Ciao! X

 

Ben Capper is an award winning Interior Specialist based in Zürich Switzerland, working with Zingg Lamprecht AG on interior and furniture projects for commercial clients. Ben has 20 years experience as a trusted independent consultant to Architects and Interior Designers having completed projects such as Manchester United stadium expansion, private Airport lounges, University campuses and 1000 person office schemes. b.capper@zingg-lamprecht.ch 

Open Source Furniture

Open Source Furniture

The sharing revolution has changed the planet. The way we call a cab, the way we holiday, how we work and live. And as often happens, what begins as a bold new phenomenon becomes normalised and must evolve to head off new challenges, or be replaced by the next big idea. Trudging around shops to buy DVD’s is pre-historic, we now stream and share the cost of ownership with monthly prescriptions. And in a world of spiralling ownership costs, millennials are leading the sharing revolution.

So why can’t we share design?

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“Laser cutting and 3D printing….”

Open source refers to a code made available online to be refined, improved and infinitely shared. Originally applied to computer software, open source furniture is one of the most searched-for subtopics of the sharing genre. Laser cutting and 3D printing – once mythical ideas – are commonplace in workshops across the globe. Combine open source design with affordable hi-tech local production and we have a furniture revolution in the making, driven by the Maker Movement.

Open Source, Opendesk

Opendesk are a new breed of furniture manufacturer, disrupting the typical consumer supply route. They have become synonymous with open source furniture, linking designers and makers to the general public via an online platform. “Designed to be downloaded and made locally”, they’ve embraced the democratic nature of open source, inviting critique and feedback in order to improve design, processes and sustainability. See for yourself.

What were initially limited and clunky designs have developed, multiplied and improved albeit there is a clear design language within much of the collection due to the limitations of materials used and the inherent ‘simplicity’ of production and assembly.  Opendesk count Greenpeace, Impact Hub and Digital Ocean amongst their corporate clients and are currently featured in Vitra Design Museum’s Hello Robot exhibition – a sure sign of their success. But how far will the movement evolve?

To get the opinion of a true maker with sustainable ideals, I chatted to Rainer Kyburz – Director of Basel-based Kyburz Made and self-confessed furniture addict, who is enthused by the trend.

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Kyburz Made: old materials lovingly restored and unique – the opposite of open source?

“This movement is a perfect example of globalisation.” says Rainer, “We should make the best out of it and use it in a sensible way. Transportation of resources is optimised, local Materials can be used, or sent in Bulk as a single product to the customer, often flatpacked. Information as to how to produce something is shared and accessible. New international interdisciplinary cooperations are developed and ironically, creativity is pushed by the very limitation that a product has to be designed to allow it to be produced on the other side of the globe.”

That’s an interesting point. The very limitations imposed by remote access, production and logistics can in fact be a design catalyst. So where’s the down side?  “At present, the limitations of production techniques” explains Rainer, “but this will evolve over time. Quality control could also prove difficult as the complete product does not come from an individual provider.” Indeed. Using a vast network or supply chain means results may vary.

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Manufacturing techniques are constantly evolving

We’re currently seeing a boom in plywood, coworking and tech-style interior schemes and this theme fits perfectly – not just in terms of design, but also target audience. But playing Devil’s advocate, in the words of the Dragons Den cash wad stroking suits, Is it truly scalable? Will production limitations prohibit development beyond the techniques and materials currently used, or will it evolve to integrate other materials, upholstery and ‘internet of things’ style tech? Keep your eyes on Opendesk who have a few interesting new developments in the pipeline.

“Could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb…?”

Cutting out middle men and delivering design direct to the people, open source furniture promises to be the uber of the industry, but in the highly competitive field of furniture design, could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb. With real people power undertones, the complex topic of design ownership is widely discussed on the open making site.

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Herman Miller use 3D printing to speed up R+D process

And what of the big furniture players in contract and retail – Will IKEA offer open source production any time soon? Herman Miller (amongst others) are already using 3D printing to significantly speed up their R+D process. Maybe they feel open source is best left to the DIY-ers, or the margin just isn’t there. Smartphone apps to convert 2D images into 3D CAD files for printing and 3D printers are universally available, meaning anyone can be a maker in the market. Where that will leave intellectual property rights is yet to be seen.

Part Man, part Machine

Is the online maker movement the arch nemesis to the traditional craft movement?  Do the two meet somewhere in a ply bar at CDW to exchange notes over a craft beer, or would they end up in a Anchorman style barfight using downloaded ply chairs versus handmade oiled oak barstools? Personally, I think we will definitely see more ‘fusing’ of different production techniques across the industry as even old school manufacturers wise up to the benefits. Tech meets tradition. Furniture that is part man, part machine. Solid wood chair frames with 3D printed seat and backs and open source design with locally produced upholstery. One thing’s for sure, sharing isn’t going anywhere – it’s only just begun.

Until next time, you stay classy.

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Craft versus Tech at CDW

 

Ben Capper is an award winning Interior Specialist based in Zürich Switzerland, working with Zingg Lamprecht AG on interior and furniture projects for commercial clients. Ben has 20 years experience as a trusted independent consultant to Architects and Interior Designers having completed projects such as Manchester United stadium expansion, private Airport lounges, University campuses and 1000 person office schemes.        b.capper@zingg-lamprecht.ch

 

Tech Interiors of Future Past

Tech Interiors of Future Past

I enjoy reading about the future. Future cities, future cars, future office. Who doesn’t? The implications of technological advances are debated online with readers in awe and fear at what may lie ahead. I published Office 2030 and Smart @rse articles earlier this year on this very subject.

Mark Eltringham wrote a great article last month for Workplace Insight suggesting our limited human grey matter cannot fathom where this is going. He’s right (well my limited bonce can’t). IT, AI and VR amongst other technological advances are accelerating at such pace we’re lagging farther and farther behind, our puny imagination unable to digest the far reaching consequences as speed of progress is infinitely redoubled. And redoubled.

Computer says yes. Brain says ‘erm wait… gimme a second…”

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Great Scott…….

Eltringham quotes Stewart Brand’s ‘How Buildings Learn’, “describing each building as consisting of six layers, each of which functions on a different timescale. These range from the site itself which has a life cycle measured in centuries, through to the building (decades), interior fit out (years), technology (months), to stuff (days). The effectiveness of a workplace design will depend on how well it resolves the tensions that exist between these layers of the building.” Very well put. And with our future workplace needs so uncertain it is clear that flexibility is vital.

Yet as advances continue apace, the very style of our commercial interiors is stripped back to basics. Check out my last post on Factory Office to see what I mean. Swathes of furniture and interior design has become utilitarian in appearance. Exposed beams, ceilings and plywood are rife. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

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Google King’s Cross Office

AHMM Architects recently unveiled Google’s King’s Cross Office, complete with ‘Jack’; a meeting room which is reconfigurable and portable within the building. Plug and play. Effectively the rooms which come with built in video conference equipment can be hacked to suit requirements – something that no doubt appeals to the IT crowd.

Dr Kerstin Sailer, a lecturer at University College London commented “The inflexibility of space has become particularly problematic in the 21st century business environment. It could be argued that Google is now making a move towards a more profound workplace innovation.”

Again the scheme’s overall interior style is very ‘coworking’ flavour, stripped back, typically tech. The IT industry that has led the coworking interiors style revolution are perhaps more aware than most of why commercial interiors should be simple, flexible and updatable. Perhaps these IT folk that live in dark cupboards snacking on pot noodles and energy drinks think of the building floorplate as a mother board onto which updates should be regularly downloaded in order to maintain its effectiveness.

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Google Jack meeting room

Away from tech-focused desks and meeting furniture, we’ve seen the rise of young edgy breakout furniture firms with playful, retro and ironic styles ripe for Palo Alto. The likes of Facebook and Twitter have had cuddly soft breakout spaces with rocking chairs and old school sofas for years. The antisocial nature of technology itself perhaps promotes the need for good old fashioned chat in a space that feels safe and warm. But stripped back ceilings and plywood doesn’t necessarily feel warm you say. Ah yes, but it feels basic.

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Deadgood at the Office Group, London

 

There’s the ‘everyone wants to be a start up’ factor. A leaning towards personal, approachable ‘low tech’ human service. “Hi I’m a friendly human. Let’s sit on a sofa, drink coffee and chat business.” steering clear of the high tech server stack that is beeping, whirring and being cooled by air-con in the back room.

And we’re now seeing not just the return of bent metal utilitarian furniture, but a number of other materials formerly linked with granny’s front room are popping up. We’ve had mid century design and Scandi lounge settings re-appearing. Marbles and velvet too. But who would have thought that handwoven wicker, the antithesis of technology, would be making a comeback anytime soon? But here we are. And here it is.

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Perhaps it’s part of human nature to dig our heels in. As IT races on at light speed, keeping our interiors ‘real’ gives us echoes of days gone by. A visit to old Aunty Beth’s for a cuppa and some custard creams. If people feel good, they are happy and productive, remember? Whatever the key driver to this trend is, it’s ironic that as IT progresses to new found heights, our interior style is going backwards. And nowhere more so than in the tech industry hubs themselves.

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Factory Office

Factory Office

As this year’s Orgatec comes to a close and local airports shepherd battle-hardened armies of salespeople and creatives back to their respective hubs, I reflect on some themes from this year’s show.

20406721The Office: a place of industry.

Vitra have been presenting an industrial feel for a couple of years with Jean Prouve and the Bouroullecs leading the way. This show very much continued where they left off. Unfinished metal frames, warehouse style plastic doorflaps to divide spaces, metal mesh side panels and screens hanging from pulleys that would usually be found on a factory floor. The ‘start-up feel’ is still flavour of the month as everyone wants to work at a coworking desk wearing jeans and trainers with no socks, whilst sipping lattés and eating carrot cake…

The industrial feel echoed through the fair this year with many brands acknowledging a factory floor setting, either with a new modular mesh shelving product or simply with the backdrop of their set design. If the Hacienda was still around I’d tell Tony to stick some big ply desks on one side and a coffee barista next to the DJ booth and Fac51 would become a coworking mecca.

img_2054Modularity… 

An important feature in architecture and interiors; the ability to create a grid format of interchangeable blocks allowing users the flexibility to increase or decrease in line with changing requirements. The latest modular trends at Orgatec include space dividing screens suspended by a ceiling mounted rail system, allowing screens to be slid around continuously to carve up spaces (see my Office 2030 blog). Black metal styled storage systems such as Wiesner Hager’s Cage product (below) and boxy storage modules with integrated desking, acoustic panels, soft seating and other features industrialised an office planning theme made familiar by Herman Miller’s Living Office, where soft seating peels off desks, which in turn peel off a modular storage system.

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The use of modular systems on exhibition stands (whether product or prop) firmly illustrates a desire to split up a large open plan commercial space with towering high storage as both a feature and a facility.

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In general, workplace furniture fashion is beginning to look like commercial exposed ceilings: stripped back to bare boned essentials, bolts and fixings proudly on display rather than hidden from view. Solid, rigid, mesh and modular. Carefully considered, then intentionally styled to look a bit rough round the edges. A bit like Jason Statham.

And Tom Dixon’s getting in on the act, with his first foray into the workplace. Aside from a promising chunky wooden trestle-legged team desk, his Boom task light makes no secret of its industrial DNA.

tom-dixon-office-furniture-tables-chairs-lights-accessories-british-design-london-uk_dezeen_2364_col_13Soften the blow

With all this harsh, technology driven metal framed office furniture, we need some softness to compensate. And following in the footsteps of Verpan, Walter Knoll – and more recently Gubi, there was a lot of dark opulent velvet upholstery and mid century vibes. Buzzispace seemingly had a personality transplant and you’d be forgiven for thinking their stand was actually of Danish heritage, with wooden framed easy chairs and muted velvet fabrics, long curtains and screens. Large numbers of plants and foliage are also needed to offset all that tough metal, so expect even more biophilic integration in the new wave industrial workplace.

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In spite of a return to metal frames, there’s still a strong appetite for wooden furniture. Soft linoleum (or linoleum effect) meeting table tops with wooden underframes are as popular as ever, with huge numbers of wooden frame breakout chairs, tables and bar stools launched. Hussl quietly slipped in a nice family of wooden framed chairs and barstools with a rather unique linoleum backrest. Nicely done.

The Scandinavians are still doing what they do best: beautiful wood and hand stitched leather combinations, with Fredericia looking the part. Meanwhile Poltrona Frau impressed with exquisite quality leather meeting and waiting furniture for high quality interiors.

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Swoon chair in velvet

Walter Knoll displayed a range of succulent leather and velvet furniture, with a great new linking meeting table system. In addition they tapped in to another theme which was large executive V shaped electric sit stand meeting tables, perfect for group discussions and ideal for video conference.

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Aside from these themes there’s still plenty of marble, black chrome, copper and brass – plus a wave of 3D style fabrics, tiles and textiles sweeping through. As ever, halls were awash with hundreds of clever stacking, folding, flipping and collapsing solutions- and the race is well underway to embed ever smarter data gathering hardware within furniture. ‘Millennials’ and ‘Digital Nomads’ are mainstream topics now and brands like Samsung, Google and Swisscom are developing IT products to optimise the way current and future generations use buildings and furniture.

But that wraps up my general thoughts on Orgatec this year. Ultimately wellbeing, communication and technology remain centre stage in the modern office and the stripping back of office design only emphasises that. With the fourth industrial revolution looming, it’s ironic that office design chooses a factory style design backdrop to personify itself. The creation of the Factory Office, the rise of smart tech, metric data harvesting and coworking means the future of the workplace is cool, edgy and exciting. And definitely not dead.

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Stripes, Industrial Chic and Zebras

Stripes, Industrial Chic and Zebras

As I work on projects searching for the right products, trends can gently (or sometimes not so) present themselves. In the run up to joining over 50,000 trade visitors at Orgatec in Cologne next week, I’ve recently felt my ‘furniture nerd antennae’ twitch to a couple of design styles which I’ll share with you.

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Zeitraum

There’s a movement within certain design circles of simple, chunky legged, childlike design. Mathias Hahn has developed a number of pieces for Zeitraum in this style and I like the playfulness of it. He makes it look easy and effortless, but the proportions are very carefully considered and well executed.

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Okapi chair by Perez Ochando for Missana

Meanwhile Missana recently launched the Okapi chair, designed by Perez Ochando. The design studio based in Valencia describe ‘the front side of the chair reminding us of a giraffe and the back of a zebra’. Ok. That’ll be last orders at the bar guys…

Bla Station have been on this theme for years, with tele tubby forms, oversized upholstery buttons and simplified shapes. Sometimes our subconscious is drawn to a design style as it reminds us of something. If we have an inner child, then Bla Station have been waving Kinder Eggs and Alcopops at it for a while now.

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Bla Station

But there’s another theme that has caught my eye. A more grown up theme, based upon simple clean lines, 3D shapes, industrial materials and graphite shades. And I have a feeling Orgatec – and 2017 – will be awash with it…

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Zeus: Slim Irony

Zeus have been creating cool iron furniture for decades. Their ‘Slim Irony’ range is a culmination of their time-served expertise. They call it ‘Industrial Chic’. With a blend of minimalism and urban Milanese cool, the range includes rusted top finishes and a glass option that reminds me of school windows… Rusted metal finishes have been a regular feature in external architectural design for some time – perhaps they are finally creeping indoors.

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Zeus: Slim Irony

But that’s not all Zeus are known for. During Milan Design Week the lovely food served in their showroom (a converted car garage tucked away in an unassuming Milan side street) has also gained notoriety. So much so that old folks from the local neighbourhood suspiciously shuffle through the showroom doors en masse around lunchtime, hoping for a free bowl of risotto. The lovely folks at Zeus usually oblige.

Back to what Zeus do best – furniture. The pure, simple form of Slim Irony is nothing new as far as shapes go. But this cubic semi transparent ‘3D’ linear theme is something we’re going to see a lot more of.

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Zeus: Slim Irony

“Handcrafted furniture from the Industrial North…”

From downtown Milan to down the Toon (that’s Newcastle, UK if you didn’t know). Nestled amongst and inspired by faded crumbling industrial heritage, a furniture brand called Novocastrian is emerging with a style of their own. Acknowledging modern trends, with hints of art deco and inspiration from the industrial revolution, a group of metalworkers, designers and architects with a self-confessed obsession with metal are steadily growing their furniture collection. And fanbase.

I love how Novocastrian present themselves: Handcrafted Furniture from the Industrial North. In an era of Brexit, declining industry, fear and propoganda, this is a brand bursting with northern grit to turn it all on its head. Go on lads and lasses.

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Novocastrian’s Straiths Unit – inspired by industrial architecture

Aside from a growing product collection, Novocastrian turn their hands to one off commissions and bespoke products. Whilst retaining their flavour and classic style, they deliver unique elegant forms echoing Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in fabulous materials such as blackodised or bronze patinated steel.

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Novocastrian tables (above and below)

Light years ahead…

But this theme of dark lines and stripes isn’t exclusive to furniture. In recent years we’ve seen lighting designs hit the trade fairs, perhaps illuminating (sorry) this dark linear trend. Michael Anastassiades’ String lights (below) were inspired by electricity wires as seen through a train window…

A recent favourite of mine is Arik Levy’s playful Wireflow collection for Vibia which adds a decorative Gothic touch to a project. Great for a large reception space or gallery. This would look really cool over a bespoke Novocastrian Blackodised steel boardroom table.

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Wireflow by Arik Levy

In both of these lighting collections, the clever twist is that the actual light itself isn’t the main event. The power cord cuts a stripe in thin air, allowing a 2D or 3D shape to be created and make its presence known.

Another related example is Lee Broom‘s Opticality exhibition from LDW last month. With 80’s undertones, Broom plays with the senses to present his latest lighting product ‘Optical’. This is where the playful linear trend crosses over to 3D graphic design, visual perceptions and perhaps even fashion.

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Once you tune in to these themes it’s hard to stop noticing them and I could literally go on and on throwing related products at you. But I won’t. If like me you’re jetting off to Cologne next week for Orgatec, look out for cubic linear shapes, black stripes, 3D frames and industrial black metal. Oh and keep your eyes peeled for the occasional zebra or giraffe lurking in the background…

Clerkenwell V BREXIT

Clerkenwell V BREXIT

Another Brexit post. Yawn.

This isn’t a political broadcast, this is a short insight into problems and opportunities faced by the British furniture industry, brought on by volatility in the pound. Of course many of these problems are replicated in other industries such as consumer electronics or cars, but as I’m an expert in neither of those, I’ll leave that to PC World and Top Gear.

The headlines across financial markets have been “Sterling Drops to 31 Year low” which conjures up images of irritated Brits spluttering ‘how much?’ at the beach bar on holiday whilst UK exporters rub their hands together as their market takes off. There is very much a flip side of positives and negatives here, littered with dangerous potholes.

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As we know Britain has a trade deficit: net import is higher than net export. In terms of furniture, there is a complex network of furniture importers, dealers and distributors across the UK that act as trusted local agents for their clients. These businesses collectively bring in huge quantities of furniture and interior goods to the UK. The big danger to these companies is short to medium term volatility. Here’s the scene:

  1. Week 1: Regional dealer wins sought after project at competitive margin.
  2. Week 2: Quotation agreed with local client in Pound Sterling.
  3. Week 3: Orders placed with European supply chain, buy prices in Euros. (rate 1.2)
  4. Weeks 3-9: Market volatility follows, pound drops sharply.
  5. Week 9: Furniture arrives along with supplier invoice (30 days).
  6. Weeks 9-12: Pound Sterling continues to drop and hits 1.1.
  7. Week 13: Unlucky for some. Supplier invoice due…

That’s a big hit to anyone’s margin and can easily render a project loss-making. For a five or six figure furniture contract, that’s potentially a huge loss to the bottom line.

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“Many agents and overseas manufacturers are now feeling the pain of subsidising the weak Pound…”

Aside from regional dealers there are national agents who try to steady the ship by setting a rate for the year ahead. There will be many agents and overseas manufacturers now feeling the pain of subsidising the weak Pound after betting against the possibility of Brexit last year. January is the time many new 2017 price lists drop and the UK market can expect significant cost increases from American, European (and other currency) suppliers. 

Meanwhile UK exporters are hugely optimistic (unless they are heavily reliant on foreign components purchased in other currencies that is) and have to take advantage of overseas opportunities. But whilst there are always short term advantages in these volatile markets, any long term successful strategy needs to be just that – long term. It’s easy to bag some quick overseas wins when your currency is bargain basement, but if and when it returns you might need to do the subsidising if you want to keep developing that new business.

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Many British manufacturers of office desks and chairs import components from abroad so are not immune to rate volatility

Managing Risk and Exposure

So what can and what does the British industry do to repel the volatility of the Pound? Of course many importers agree a long term exchange rate in advance. The local dealer / agent would be wise to buy foreign currency in advance through a reputable currency trader (rather than a dodgy bloke in a mac at the local bus interchange…..?). Open a Euro account with your bank and spread the pain whilst exchanging chunks at better rates, in advance of that big project coming in. As risk and financial advisors will always say – it’s about managing your company’s risk and exposure.

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But is the UK Government doing enough to support the importers? New PM Theresa May is certainly taking decisive action and Brexiteers are keen to point at the export market as a response to the weak pound, but for importers who have built successful businesses on importing quality goods, volatility means sleepless nights. Is there something else that can be done to support this important sector of the industry? Could there be a relief tax for importers who can demonstrate losses generated by Sterling volatility? London is a truly global city and Clerkenwell is packed to the rafters with international furniture and interior companies. The effects of this market will be evident in the next 12 months – and not just in Clerkenwell…

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Perfection V Ambition (finale)

Perfection V Ambition (finale)

At the close of part two we’d established that design practices often stop hiring once they have reached a certain ratio (ar kid) to maintain their design language and quality control. Furniture companies seem to have their sights set on different goals, however. And who better to pick this up than Matt Welsh of British furniture Co Naughtone who, after a decade of solid growth are now going global…

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I ask Matt to talk us through their journey to date.

“As a small to medium sized, fast moving furniture manufacturer, the ability to change direction and respond to market and client requirements has been the foundation on which we built naughtone. However, the market is changing.”

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Truphone, London.
“This is what an office looks like now!”

“We’ve seen a real shift in the type of business that is interested in a warmer, more eclectic, domestic style in their environment. ” Yes indeed I think to myself – thinking back to a previous article on Furniture Strategist No Place Like Workplace. Ahem, sorry Matt, carry on…

“More traditional businesses like Law Firms and Financial Institutions are following the lead of the forward thinking, flexible businesses and are creating softer, less system furniture orientated spaces.” Matt continues, “So, this trend isn’t just for the Tech Start-ups and Marketing Agencies anymore, this is what an office looks like now!”

Very true. Everyone wants to look like a start up. Big businesses want to appear more approachable to their consumer base. People like local, craft and casual in an increasingly corporate and globalised world.

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naughtone at Lancaster University Library (Sheppard Robson)
So having heard about naughtone’s success on the other side of the pond I ask Matt to walk us through it.

“We launched into the US 2 ½ years ago and saw instantaneous success.” explains Matt, “This gave us the confidence to push forwards. The US is highly service orientated, so it became apparent that to really become a significant business over there we would need to start to product our furniture in North America.”

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Naughtone’s Chicago showroom
‘So how did you develop this opportunity?’ I ask.

“A plan was hatched. We decided to explore the opportunities a partnership with a major manufacturer might offer us. We’ve always admired Herman Miller and felt that, like us, design was at the very heart of their business.”

But how did it come about? Did you just walk on to the Herman Miller stand and say ‘Hi guys, check out our cool British brand?’

“The initial contact came from a cheeky message from myself to Brian Walker (CEO) of Herman Miller via LinkedIn! Things escalated quickly as it became apparent they were also exploring opportunities in our sector. Once we met the synergies became very obvious.” Now there’s a lesson in northern sales tactics for you. Lesson one: Thee don’t ask, thee don’t get.

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Etsy HQ, NYC.
Matt continues, “In June 2016 we entered into a “Strategic Partnership” with Herman Miller, this probably sounds a bit woolly?” Whoa there. They’ve already got you speaking ‘that commercial speak’ Matt. Strategic partnership..?

“Basically Herman Miller have invested into naughtone and are providing us with assistance in growing our business globally. We start production in North America in October, with Asia following shortly after. This means we can provide much better support for our clients, particularly on an International level.”

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So Herman Miller provide the network, experience and infrastructure to take naughtone to the next level and beyond. ‘Is there any danger of brand dilution?’ I ponder, having watched the brand steadily grow over the last decade.

“We’re still running the business and defining the creative direction, but we have a support network to enable us to do it on a Global scale.” says Matt, ” In essence, this deal enables us to continue to grow, but also to retain the character and personality that many of our clients have grown to love.”

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Well, there’s no two ways about it. This is a furniture start up’s ambition crystallised. Full access to the support, network, business acumen and kudos of a Global leader in furniture, yet still retaining creative direction. Could this be furniture brand utopia? It’s great to see a British start up we’ve watched grow up (to the ripe old age of 10) now hit the global stage. Congratulations to Matt, Kieron and Mark and may your new partnership bear lots of fruit. Strategically of course…

 

Thanks for reading and thanks to all participants in this mini-series:

Roger Stephenson OBE of Stephenson Studio

Paul de Zwart of Another Country

Simon Millington, Interior Designer

Matt Welsh of Naughtone.