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German Furniture: Building for Better Times

As the International Furniture Fair opens in Cologne, Germany’s furniture industry is hoping for better times – but products "Made in Germany" continue to sell well abroad and are especially sought after in Asia.


Furniture makers are promoting German design

Thousands of buyers are descending on Cologne over the next few days in search of the perfect addition to their home at the world’s largest furniture fair.

With the conference space completely booked out for the show that opened on Monday, German exhibitors at International Furniture Fair Cologne 2003 are doubtless hoping for an upturn in fortunes.

Although Germans spend more annually on furniture than any other Europeans – 400 euro ($422) per person annually in comparison to the European average of 260 euro ($274) – turnover in the German furniture business sank by over 10 percent in the first ten months of 2002.

The gloom hanging over the German furniture business reveals itself in the percentage of German exhibitors at the fair this year. About 65 percent of the 1,350 exhibitors are foreign with participants from Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Austria, as well as from further afield. Furniture from the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and even the People’s Republic of China will be on display at the fair, which runs through Sunday.

But not all branches of the German furniture industry are suffering. Furniture in the culinary field continues to do well: exports of kitchens with the "Made in Germany" tag have increased by a third over the last five years – something which has much to do with the level of German craftsmanship, according to Dirk-Uwe Klaas, business chief of the German Furniture Association.

Kitchens selling well

“Kitchens are a high-tech product; the production is very complicated and traditionally we’ve championed this in Germany,” Klaas told DW-WORLD. “Poggenpohl, Siematic, Bulthaup – these are all German names with an international reputation that precedes them and demanded as much in South America as in Asia.

“And at the moment in Asia, especially in the big cities, there is a great demand for western status symbols other than western cars,” Helmut Lübke, president of the German Furniture Association told DW-WORLD.

Lübke is hoping to raise the profile of the German furniture industry – not just in terms of its quality, but its design as well.

“ ‘Made in Germany’ is a byword for quality. But it’s not just the building we do – the design is also German. You could also say “design from Germany,” Lübke said.

As for the design on show in Cologne this week, apart from side tables made from concrete, a soft "snake chair" and natural stone desks, the big news is that flexible forms in upholstery are in.

This is apparently part of a new trend sweeping the world of furniture design which the fair's PR people are calling a "renaissance in nesting." They would hardly do anything else.

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