Ahead of the interiors game: Proof that Hertfordshire's finest know their stuff
PUBLISHED: 10:06 27 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:16 27 June 2019
Our local interiors experts are ahead of the curve, when it comes to international trends, as Richard Burton discovered at a recent industry trade fair in Cologne.
I'm comfortably seated at one of the hundreds of booths in Cologne's equivalent of Olympia, sipping something that tastes of fruit and surrounded by women who want me to tell them about my sleeping habits. Well, preferences, as they would put it.
I am actually there to interview them; I should be asking the questions. But it would be ungallant to decline so I tell the Swiss lady how I prefer to be on my side instead of my back, how I quite like memory foam and that I prefer flat pillows to plump.
Ten questions later, she asks how much I typically spend and how often I buy them. I admit upfront I'm probably going to lie, or at least exaggerate, to impress. So I ask what other people say. No clues, she insists, which is fitting as I didn't actually have a clue, having never bought one myself.
But I knew it was important. Just the surface level of a very scientific survey into so-called sleep science and designed to help furniture manufacturers improve their bedroom products. And while a light diversion for me, it was an indication of the level of detail the interiors world is applying to stay ahead of the game these days.
It was also an indication of something far closer to home but more on that in a moment. To set the scene, the event was interzum 2019, an event run every two years and one firmly established as the world's leading trade fair for interiors and furniture production.
It attracted 1,804 exhibitors and 74,000 visitors from 152 countries and I was there as editor of the fittingly glossy magazine that supported it.
Spread among 10 vast halls, actually, more akin to the Olympic village than Olympia, were the industry's biggest brands, and in amongst them many of the most celebrated architects, designers and interiors influencers on the planet.
As you'd expect, there was lots of technical stuff about the way laminated surfaces can imitate all sorts of natural woods, how surface edge bands are improving every day and what's happening in bio-based plastics.
There were some heavyweight presentations on the emerging "megatrends", such as the impact digitalisation is having on homes and spectacular ones too as a group of Furniture Club members demonstrated the wider potential of interior design by furnishing a model cruise ship cabin.
And, of course, ethical issues such as sustainability and recycling. Today's homeowners, we learned, want interior design to be as contaminant-free as possible, and many want to minimise their ecological footprints, even if that means the chipboard has to be bio-based and meet the most stringent indoor air quality requirements.
Technical textiles, the sort that light up and move, were a big thing, as were the growing number of disruptive materials, something of particular interest to a growing army of young designers increasingly working with an eye on the shortage of resources.
Many are reviving old craft techniques and using locally available raw materials. A special event area even demonstrated how a return to "closed-loop material cycles" could transform the world of design.
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Fascinating stuff but there were many buzzwords doing the rounds over the four days, and several in particular, resonated more than most.
Tiny Spaces was one of them and Flexible Living was another. Furniture giant Blum had even constructed a revolving platform, split into three like a themed fairground roundabout on which models stood cooking, ironing and folding away clothes in the most compact of "rooms".
And the German storage specialist Vauth-Sagel presented their philosophy that the modern - and shrinking - living space requires intelligent solutions, pointing out that as the "transitions of living spaces become more fluid", kitchens become less about cooking and more the centre of social life and posh rooms we once kept for Sunday best were now 24/7 functional spaces, a philosophy that drove their two-year OpenUp project to rethink living spaces.
And the fittings supplier, Hettich, showed me examples of how they'd focused their design talent on ensuring furniture was reaching new heights of flexibility to earn their place in the modern home.
Interesting and relevant but entirely familiar. Why? Because it was something the Bushey interior designer Diana Civil had hinted at two years ago.
"The buzzword is multi-use," were her exact words, something mirrored by Harpenden's Deborah Fitz who told me of the growing trend to make storage a priority during a chat about how she'd made the most of under-stairs possibilities.
Germany's AMK, a leading authority on all things kitchens, regaled with stories about the trend for black surfaces and several manufacturers demonstrated all sorts of non-scratch and easy-clean surfaces designed to preserve the drama of the look.
And I was hearing this only weeks after Natalie Roukin of St Albans told me, not only that darker units were at the forefront of current design, but how it was important to implement them through a range of textures.
A common theme among designers was the hotel look, partly because many of the leading lights had top hospitality brands in their portfolios. But it was something with which I was familiar, not through the mass of PR material sent out from posh Mayfair offices but from a chat with Mandy Chody at a converted barn in Bricket Wood last year.
And a buzz among one particular section was the way in which 3D printing - the use of nylon-based parts created by computer - was transforming the way furniture was built, giving room designers extra scope to add strong, individual statements, a phrase not a million miles away from a view expressed to me two years ago by St Albans-based Sarah Pritchard, who talked similarly of "punctuating" a scheme to inject personality.
All of which told me that, while it was both useful and insightful to get the views of the cream of pan-European expertise, a lot of the trends were being voiced right here under my nose.
Mind you, I can probably hold my own on a few things, such as how enhanced sleep regeneration is being aided by the way mattresses connected to apps via Bluetooth can produce individually selectable firmness changes in multi-dynamic foams.
Yep, I'll sleep easier knowing that. And it'll be on my side.
Like 66 per cent of us, according to the survey.