Tearing Down the Walls

The trend towards Great Rooms and "loft" lifestyles is proving to be a widespread -and global -shift in the way that people view, organize and define their interior space. This is particularly evident in how kitchens have evolved -a trend that was highly evident at the recent imm 2005, the international trade fair that took place
here earlier this year.

"The home is no longer structured into separate functional areas such as sleeping, cooking, body care, entertainment or working.Today, living in the home is regarded as an overall concept, with overlapping areas," declared Udo Traeger, v.p., furniture, interior design & textiles at Koelnmesse GmbH, organizers of imm 2005.

The fundamental lifestyle shift to fewer walls prompted the event to expand its exhibitor base in order to become "the comprehensive idea center for the furnishings sector," Traeger explained, noting that the trade fair particularly increased suppliers in the home accessories category this year, with a greater emphasis on the kitchen, and kitchen furniture.

A number of U.S. kitchen and bath designers were on hand for the event, which included 1,329 exhibitors from 48 countries, and over 130,000 visitors. One such designer, Ruth Thompson, president of New Angle Design, Inc., in Pittsburgh, PA, believes the event was particularly inspiring to kitchen and bath designers because of the wealth of new design possibilities on display. Thompson enthuses, "I love the Cologne show! You get a lot of ideas from a lot of different countries and the [global concepts] can be personalized to [translate] to my own projects."

One of the key themes of this year's trade fair was quite universal: the idea that good design should be accessible to everyone, and should imbue all parts of life. "In addition to its functionality, creating an own identity via design is currently the most important aspect for a product," opines Traeger.

To that end, imm 2005 featured an "inspired by Cologne" venue, which showcased up-and-coming, often radical and wildly innovative designers' works, along with a separate event under the umbrella of imm cologne, entitled imm cuisinale. Taking "the kitchen as the focal point of life" as its theme, this section of the show focused on kitchen furniture and fitted appliances. It featured products from a host of key manufacturers, including SieMatic, Poggenpohl, Miele, Leicht-Kitchen, Linea Quattro, Poliform/Varenna, the BSH Group (Gaggenau, Bosch, Thermador), LG Electronics, Zeyko, Allmilmo and Electrolux, among others.

Imm cuisinale also included an international online design competition for young designers and architects, with the best 30 entries on displayed to further inspire attendees to new heights of innovative design.

Kitchen Emphasis
While space planning has always been a strength for European design, where spaces tend to be smaller and more compact, the idea of wall-less or loft-style design -a clear trend at this year's show -provided some new twists on the idea of effective space planning.

Nowhere is the new approach to space planning as important as in the kitchen, which has undergone fundamental changes in recent years. Both in the U.S. and abroad, the kitchen has become the central space of the home, cooking has emerged as a fun and satisfying hobby instead of a chore, and the "work triangle" has gone by the wayside -all of which has altered the kitchen products sector, according to show organizers.

Many products on display attested to the artistry that has gone into space planning, inspiring U.S. designers with new ideas for maximizing kitchen space.
"They are very resourceful in their spacing," says Jeff Cannata, CMKBD, 2005 president of NKBA and owner/president of Designer's Showcase Kitchens & Baths, Inc., in Carol Stream, who attended the event. In viewing displays, he noted an influx of radius corners and fluid shapes in evidence.

Another show attendee, Stephen Wahrhaftig, v.p./marketing for Ameriwood Industries, Inc., in St. Louis, MO noticed innovative multi-functionality in a lot of the furniture, particularly space-saving dining tables that opened up to larger sizes. "One Japanese manufacturer was showing a product made out of wood slots," he recalls. "When you closed it up, it just looked like solid wood blocks lined up side by side. When you pulled it apart, every other slat went in a different direction [forming a table] -it was very clever."

In cabinetry, a smaller space to work with translated to simple, compact style and design. But Wahrhaftig did observe "a very large bank of drawer systems -four- to five-foot banks of drawers and furniture-looking buffets and islands with top-of-the-line drawer slides."

"I noticed that a lot of the islands were extra large," echoes Thompson. "They also incorporated an eating space, like a large table." She thinks that many of the exhibited kitchens seemed bigger this year, perhaps to make European lines more appealing to American designers.

Inventive space planning was also reflected in more sophisticated displays of closet systems. Thompson observed "the use of wardrobe and closet systems as furniture, integrated and incorporated into master suites -and offices, and regular bedrooms as well.

"I hope it is practical for American design because I am going to take one of the lines that I saw in Italy," she adds. "The typical walk-in closet is nice, but incorporating a smaller entertainment system for viewing in bed [provides] a nice feature where everything is right at your fingertips."

Minimalist & Eclectic
Several key trends emerged from imm cologne. "I think [the event showcased] a trend towards greater sophistication [in general in] design and style," says Wahrhaftig. "[Which] does not necessarily mean expensive. It's more something that helps create [a unique] look in your living space, that begins to affect your room."

Overall, Wahrhaftig saw "a strong trend toward simplicity, with larger and cleaner lines. Products were much less complicated."

Similarly, Cannata cites "lots of stainless steel appliances and countertops, stylish appliances and sleek new hood shapes, fluid lines, very non-traditional, [with] compact sizing and bright colors" as some of the hottest trends seen at the trade fair. "[The Euro-pean market is] continuing to be minimalist in style," he adds.

Cristina Morrozi, journalist of critical design and member of the Cologne Trendboard, in Milan, Italy, also cited a renaissance of the eclectic pairing of old and new, giving antique looks a new feel via more spare, clean arrangements. "You have simplicity, minimalism, but on the contrary, you have baroque romanticism and you can combine them together. It's not like before, when all styles of design and architecture were either modern or post-modern," she explains. "Now, if you look in the street, things are mixed and combined. It is the age of romanticism, ecology, luxury and simplicity."

Some exhibits at imm 2005 exemplified this new trend by applying spare, edgy arrangements to country and rustic looks, as well.

An innovative mix of materials, with a fusion of textures and colors, was also evident. Aluminum, stainless steel, glass, granite and other natural stones were the predominant materials featured. Glass was this year's breakthrough material, those attending agree.

"The use of a lot of glass was hot," says Thompson, who saw glass and mirrored finishes coupled with other sleek finishes. "All of the dividers were either a sand-blasted glass, or they would frame a smaller mirror on top of a typical mirror. I also saw a lot of glass shelf units, very sleek and simple but very elegant."

Light behind glass -and light in general -also played an increasing role in the designs on display. "There was a trend towards incorporating light in furniture," notes Wahrhaftig, "such as the front of [a] desk, shiny blue with black lights, or in the shelf." Blue lighting was especially popular, he adds.

Darker Colors
New research indicates home furniture and furnishings are becoming more colorful in Europe, not only for furniture pieces but with built-ins such as cabinetry. However, the American attendees surveyed seem to think that for the European market -never one to shy away from brights -the bigger story at imm 2005 was the advent of darker colors.

For instance, Thompson notes the dramatic mix of white and a dark Asian walnut color in kitchen displays. "There were some bright and bold [designs], but not as much as in the past," she thinks. "[European designers] definitely aren't afraid of colors, but I think the integration of all the rooms focused on opening up the space [as well as] having a transition from the kitchen into the eating area to a family living area."

"We are seeing much darker colors than [in the U.S.]," says Wahrhaftig. "That is unusual because in Europe, people tend to live in smaller spaces, and that usually means lighter colors." He believes European designers are using dark wood tones to achieve a sophisticated look: "The kinds of woods they choose are really very interesting and rich compared to what we do." Part of the effectiveness of these displays may also come from the use of exotic woods, such as ebony, or exotic veneers like makassar, palisander, lemon or zebrano.

Medium-toned walnut shades also seemed popular, Wahrhaftig adds. "[But], it is a mistake to think [European trends] are transferable to the North American consumer. We tend to be fairly meat and potatoes and less sophisticated about finishes. We've had our flings with darker colors in the kitchen, but by and large, you don't see very much in the marketplace."

As far as bright colors go, Wahrhaftig noted an influx of orange, lime and blue shades, though really bright colors were used more for accents.

Streamlined Future
How does all this translate to the American market? While European design has traditionally been more contemporary than in the U.S., the trend towards loft-style open plans does indicate that a sleeker, less cluttered look may finally appeal to the American mainstream. The new approach to eclectic or antique looks -what some have dubbed "minimalist traditional" -also seems to be a burgeoning trend.

Consumers are also likely to want something new and exciting to add to their Great Room space -Thompson is betting on fireplaces. "I do think we will see the incorporation of all sorts of different fireplace units in the kitchen and bath," she predicts. At Cologne, she reports, fireplaces ranged from 36" wide, with a slick, stainless steel finish, to up to six or seven feet, with a minimalist feel. One unique exhibit even had a hanging fireplace.

"Hopefully we will see a lot of the simplicity of the design [come over to the states]," Thompson concludes. "Nothing was overdone at the show -it was either a simple transition from a wood finish incorporated or mixed in with a laminate or paint finish. They really concentrated on design, and keeping it simple -and with as busy as we all are, and as much junk as there is [in our lives], it is nice to have something that chills you out." KBDN