The Interieur biennale, which opened in the sleepy Belgian town of Kortrijk at the weekend, is an insider favourite on the design fair circuit. Why Interieur works so well for visitors is because it is small, hence manageable, and relevant, hence interesting. This year it’s the biggest yet, though there are just 250 stands. Brands, big and small, international and local, each had to apply and be approved by a committee and with stand space at a premium it forces everyone to only show the things that promote brand direction.
The fair falls six months after Milan’s Salone. The dust has settled. Manufacturers have had time to assess criticism of their prototype launches, make tweaks and start bringing the better-received products closer to market. Likewise buyers have spoken to clients and orders are imminent. It feels less like the window-shopping of Milan and more like a living commercial market.
And how is the market? In a word – diverse. In slim-line Kortrijk it’s easier to spot the brands that are stepping out of the shadows, sloughing off the timidness of the past two years and charging ahead with new approaches and into new markets. Benelux brands are leading the way.
Bulo, the Belgian contract office brand, has acquired the licence to reissue Jules Wabbes’ mid-century furniture designs that straddle the contract and domestic market. It’s a first for the company, using its contract showrooms across Europe to target the domestic market. “We are following the successful path of Vitra,” says Arnold Van Garsse, Bulo’s sales director. “It’s the perfect way for us to grow – diversifying product ranges and markets is how all brands will survive the crisis.”
Dutch storage brand Pastoe is taking a similar tack albeit the other way round. “Historically our market has been domestic but we’re chasing more contract work,” says Remco van der Voort, Pastoe’s director. “We’re introducing simpler systems that can be applied to offices, cutting the cost of production by reducing the range of size and colour options. This cuts the retail cost by 30 per cent and suddenly the products are accessible to a new market. We’re also targeting new geographical areas such as Singapore, Dubai and Israel.”
Also expanding is Belgian brand Feld. Though young (just six), it has 30 products in its portfolio and debuted a children’s range. “We’re focusing on making our products as versatile as possible – indoor can be outdoor, domestic can also be office and the kids’ products could be for schools or homes,” says Sebastien Feldbrugge, Feld’s CEO. “Diversifying is the way forward.”
If Interieur is anything to go by – and, with attendance figures from the opening weekend up on 2008, it’s clear the industry takes it seriously – the design market is moving again. And it’s a range of dynamic, smaller, younger brands that are coming out on top.