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.

kin-tiny-01-b
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.

okapimissanaperezochandocualitijimenezdenalda01
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.

dunder_150408_27
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…

slim_rack_ambient
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.

slim-ret2
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.

slimironyshelf
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.

1424638049818
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.

4
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.

arik_levy-ldesign-vibia-wireflow-09
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.

lee_broom_opticality_black_nd_white_striped_lighting

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…

Advertisements

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.

1x-1

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.

image-bank_covers_960x500_ro

“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.

20150325102139206
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.

2_3132013

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…

managing-risk-in-your-portfolio