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Decor 2000: Retail Profile

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Trends in furniture design at the Milan show.

Above, an left an ecological alternative called "It's Only Paper" - designer Jurgen Wedhorn.

Marc Petruccelli won an Alitalia trip "home" to Italy. Very nice for him, but great for us! He brought back observations and insights priceless to retail strategic planning for the Millennium and beyond. It's all a matter of opening our minds, getting into new age concepts of what's really important to people under their cyber facades.

It began back in October of last year. Canada's Furniture Mart at the vast International Centre in Toronto, home of both the January and August Home Furnishings Markets, staged Designers' Day in conjunction with the annual IIDEX/NeoCon Show. More than 500 designers, a goodly percentage of whom work directly within the structure of retail home furnishings stores, prowled the 65 manufacturers' showrooms, with their trove of quality upholstery, wood and metal furniture, bedding, lighting and accessories. The showrooms, many of them room-setting, are open during Markets for retailers and designers, and on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the year for designers and their clients, consumers referred by their retailer, and consumers alone who can browse for ideas but not buy.

Designers' Day featured product information seminars and a draw for a business class ticket to the '99 Milan Furniture Fair. Letizia Petruccelli, a downtown Toronto designer with a busy practice, was in luck. In fact, she doubled her luck! By the date of the Fair, Letizia and Marc's daughter was scheduled to arrive on the scene. Letty stayed home, and Marc ably substituted for the Milan jaunt.

Marc communicated a pot pourri of ideas, all of which provide plenty of food for thought. Demographics, as we've observed, are in a constant state of flux, and what the marketplace demands in 1999 may not be au courant by 2001. There's no generation gap now, for example, between the 55-plus group and Generation Xers when it comes to environmental awareness. So, Jose Francisco Abreu's plastic bottle and Jurgen Wedhorn's recycled paper concepts exhibited by The Electrolux Group, hosts of the environmental section, could claim ready acceptance. On the other hand, paradoxically, Elledue's magnificent, handcrafted Louis XVI inlaid desk, as a work of art, finds its own place in the design firmament.

The theme of Philips' La Casa Prossima Futura, "The home of the future will look more like the home of the past than the home of the present", is illustrated in three little sketches. The first, the past, could be a '30s living room, no television, a comfortable chair, a clock, a fireplace. In the second, the present, only the chair remains. Added is an ugly, untidy plethora of electronics. The third, the future, has returned to the visual simplicity of the '30s, the comfy chair harbors a cat and the electronics have been reduced in volume, enhanced in utility.

Six years of research went into La Casa, a structure through which one could walk and wonder, housing tangible, touchable working models of multi-functional, streamlined home furnishings and appliances, a futuristic vision of domestic life. Consider a breakfast tray with a soft base to keep plates and cutlery stable, topped with a wooden tray which maintains food temperature, and an attached touchscreen to browse the news and check your e-mail. Next to your bed there's a table that controls lighting and temperature as well as selected ambient sounds and images. There are attractive, cable free lamps that can be placed anywhere on an interactive tablecloth, with light emitting polymers that radiate a soft glow to enhance your dinner table mood. Sleek bookshelves, designed to harmonize with the familiar use of traditional materials, are connected to the net and contain a recharge for books and a printer. Each interactive book, consisting of a touchscreen, a pen and a video camera, is a window through which you access specific areas of interest.

Philips defines La Casa as an "exploration of domestic experience in the near future, a first step towards creating a vision of the home of tomorrow. It will contain intelligent objects which can learn to behave in ways that fit our lives, that get to know our home environments, relationships and the rituals of everyday activities. Products will resemble familiar objects and furniture with greater relevance and significance to our home life than the "black boxes" of today. The formal boundaries of rooms and functions in the house will give way to a polycentric and fluid map of activities and experiences supporting our ever-changing lifestyles." And it takes a holistic approach to our well being, linking up with doctors, keeping a check on allergies, even monitoring blood pressure. "Progress means simplifying, not complicating," says Philips.

Electrolux wants us to "reflect on the road travelled thus far by manufacturers and the directions that we need to take to guarantee a better environment for the next generation." For example, paper, cardboard and papier-mache furniture and objects. Marc was impressed and said, "Paper is an ubiquitous old material. By combining old and new processing techniques with contemporary forms and designs, they've achieved new results in the creation of 100 percent recyclable and affordable products. It's a new definition of the ecologic expression."

Brazilian designer Abreu provides a "shell and a style" for chairs, tables, beds. Marc smiled, "You provide the bottles!" It seems that discarded PET bottles are a serious problem in Brazil and elsewhere in the world. Abreu traps air inside these bottles using a simple rubber tube-like device, thereby giving it structural strength. The bottles are then linked together to create, for example, a three section chair that can recline and that moves and stores easily. It is perfectly balanced so that when you flip it on its side it becomes a sturdy table. There's an added bonus -- it floats. "An amphibious line that presents a new concept in outdoor as well as indoor furniture."

R. A. Mobili offers an updated but still traditional look in home office desks, walnut and elm with leather or other materials. And O. Kitalia's easy, flexible approach to the working environment is based on the principal that everything should rotate around the individual. They have designed work spaces that, in a minimum space, offer efficiency and comfort in pleasing embracing shapes, totally without sharp edges.

What really shines through all the glitz and glamour is the knowledge that not only must the retailer of the future have a firm handle on upcoming trends, but her/his store will have to reflect the best of an increasingly broad cross-section of design interpretation.

And, as we have seen recently, forward thinkers have and are installing holistic decor centres in their stores, integral to Y2K customer service. We must be authorities, and hire other authorities to work with us on our retail floors, to answer styling, color, fabric and construction questions. And if we can organize to add paint, wallpaper and floor covering like alert Monica Heinrich of Home Furniture, and complete interior design service, even to draperies sewn on premises, like Stan West's state-of-the-art Almira Furniture, our next issue's profile, so much the better.

While not as huge and sprawling as High Point, the Milan Fair covers two million square feet, showcases 2000 exhibitors in 26 pavilions and is visited by some 160,000 buyers annually; 70,000 from outside Italy. Said Marc, "Pavilion 9, Salone Satellite, was the most interesting and exciting, in fact the most important exhibition in the world for talented young designers."

By the way, Letizia's back at work now. Marc's OK, too! They'll both be at the Mart on Designers' Day '99, Saturday, September 25, and one of them will draw Alitalia's tickets for Milan 2000. What's next?

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.