'Global Fusion' Seen Impacting Design Trends

'Global Fusion' Seen Impacting Design Trends

That was the perspective offered here during a presentation at April's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS) by a pair of veteran product designers for Armstrong World Industries.

According to the pair Deb Esbenshade and George Gehringer today's interior design trends are being heavily influenced by the manner in which distinctly different cultures are meshing together in an eclectic trend known as "Global Fusion."

"Global Fusion mixes elements in a new way to create a look that is both fresh and intriguingly familiar," Gehringer observed. "Such trends give people a new way to customize their surroundings to make their personal statement come true."

According to Gehringer, Global Fusion was visible first in commercial interiors, and is now seen widely at the retail level. "You can see the impact at the local store, for example, with these little Japanese water fountains," he explained. "Designers pick up on this international influence and then it becomes mass culture. The interior designer starts to see these trends reflected in other contexts and begins to incorporate them in his design work. Everything kind of fits together. What you need to understand, as a designer, is how they fit."

Kitchen/bath and designers of other interior residential spaces have "to be open to what's occurring" around them, and be "able to find the right connections at the right time," said Esbenshade, the general manager of product styling and design for Armstrong.

"You have to know when a trend is going to hit interior fashion," she noted. According to Esbenshade, it used to be that whatever was happening in Europe, the North American market would follow some 18 months later. However, "now the design cycle is down to about six months, and maybe even faster," she said.

"If you talk to designers in the U.S., they still tend to refer to Europe as where design comes from," Esbenshade observed. "If you talk to the Europeans, they refer to the Far East. If you go to the Far East, they say it all comes from America. But what happens is, every time someone looks somewhere else, they interpret what's going on through their own eyes their own design paradigm and re-interpret it for their culture and their consumers. It's a constant evolution."

Gehringer said a key place for interior designers to search for emerging trends is Australia. "Australians tend to look at themselves because they are somewhat isolated geographically," he commented. "But what they do have that fits at the moment is a great blend of cultures. Eighty percent of the people in places like Sydney and other urban centers are non-Australian. Australians are a cultural mix and that fits [an] eclectic global trend. So, if they hit a new trend first, they are the ones who lead it."
Gehringer pointed out that trends are seldom truly universal.

"Whenever you get a major trend, like the trend toward natural materials, you always get a countertrend," he said. "The word we've heard designers on the West Coast using recently is 'Industrial,' which implies a commercial look. You see a lot of concrete and steel, and rusted metal and exposed materials. You're starting to see some of that interpreted in residential design, in high-end kitchens with a lot of chrome where stainless steel is being reinterpreted in combination with wood for a warm-cool look."

Gehringer also said there is an influence of ethnic trends on American culture and interior design. "The Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic segment, and the U.S. demographic is moving quickly toward more diversity," he said. "Ethnic trends will certainly have a major influence in interior design moving forward."

Another important interior design trend, according to Gehringer and Esbenshade, is being called "repurposing."

"At its best, interior design supports the emotional needs of the space," Gehringer said. "For example, as designers of hospital waiting rooms and other commercial spaces work to create a more comforting, home-like environment, they place new demands on flooring. Traditional resilient flooring for the home wasn't designed for that. So, flooring manufacturers are reinventing flooring to deliver higher performance and improved durability, while eliciting the right emotional response."

"Repurposing" also moves in the other direction, Esbenshade noted. "As kitchens, baths and home offices incorporate more commercial appliances, fixtures and cabinets, interior design requires careful coordination to maintain a unified look," she said.

"Metallics and concrete can cross over, and linoleum makes the jump with fashionable color options for residential interiors. In short, the kitchen becomes more professional while maintaining warmth, the bath more sensually functional, and the home office more professionally equipped in a casual setting."