Owain Harrison, country manager with Belgian appliance brand Novy, reports on his recent visit to the famous Küchenmeile
If Milan is the kitchen catwalk, then the annual Küchenmeile in Germany is the ‘küchenfest’ of the industry. This is where the serious deals are made and while other exhibitions showcase concepts, this one sells reality.
It’s all down to business here, with retailers literally queuing up to view new collections and plan space in their studios for the next year’s must-have kitchens. The vibe has also spread over the past few years, with more customers heading over from the UK and Ireland to see at first hand what their German suppliers are bringing to the market.
How does it work? For the uninitiated, it’s a bit daunting. For a start, it is really hard to get there from the UK, with only a few regional carriers and no airports nearby. And the word Küchenmeile is a bit of a misnomer – more like Küchenmiles and miles and miles. This is one expo where you need to pack your trainers and rack up the steps, as there is no dedicated centre to it. However, once you are here, Westphalia is beautiful, and this year it was 29°C every day – a very good excuse to have a beer or two while going that extra meile.
This festival of German kitchens and related products feels a bit like a pilgrimage, with travellers comparing notes and ensuring they visit must-see brands and partners. The trade travels from expo to factory and from factory to showroom, always via a few small but very busy show areas, including the fabulous Area 30, where the component and niche premium appliance brands are to be found, and where Novy was exhibiting its latest induction and extraction innovations.
The one thing that immediately differed from a lot of trade shows that I have attended was the amount of ordering that was taking place. This was not a meet, greet and network – it was a highly focused and extremely modern show where dealers were clamouring to buy.
So, what were they buying and what were the trends? Across the board, amazing design and craftsmanship was evident. The trend for discreet, minimalist kitchens has drastically developed, where pocket doors and slide-and-hide units are now being used to conceal every aspect of a standard kitchen. These were definitely the cool cats in terms of design.
In increasingly open-plan and broken-plan spaces, this type of layout is extremely space-efficient. When the pocket doors are recessed, you have a kitchen with all cooking, cooling, dishwashing and (hidden) extraction appliances built-in – when closed, you have a completely different room altogether. Many designs included an island or block as the single indication that there might actually be a kitchen somewhere, but others just hid everything away, full stop. True multifunctional living spaces.
As one would expect from the German market, there was a wealth of choices for doors and drawers that allow maximum flexibility to sympathetically fill every centimetre of space. This answers a very UK-specific challenge for space-management and it was pleasing to see many clever, new storage concepts from a lot of brands. ‘Ergonomics’ was a buzzword for the show, and combined with ultra-modern aesthetics, nothing was too flashy or ostentatious, just very functional and beautiful, while being easy for humans to use.
Something that resonated, was the multitude of ‘healthy materials’, particularly in an era that is defined by our technology race. There was lots of serious information as to the content, or lack of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the constituents used to manufacture kitchens, which were being promoted as healthy living spaces. VOCs are often found in glues and they are important as it takes time for them to be neutralised in the home.
Many natural, organic and non-toxic products were on show and the glues used to make them were all natural and non-harmful. I believe that this will become a much bigger subject in the future and, as an industry, we should be looking at this now to get the ‘head start’ for our clients.
In line with the health benefits of the furniture components, also evident was the near absence of gas hobs, which produce more carbons and emissions than any other cooking medium in the home. These were eschewed for more economical and environmentally-friendly induction hobs, which were featured on almost all stands, without alternatives. Together with extraction, Novy specialises in induction hobs, and combinations of the two. With regard to ventilation, it was also clear that many manufacturers no longer consider extraction as a bolt-on, but an integral part of the overall kitchen design from the start, due to the rise of open-plan living.
In terms of colours and textures, it was a similar story to what we saw in Milan. Matt finishes were everywhere and warm muted tones in neutrals, browns, blacks and greys were popular throughout. These were contrasted with gloss glass and, in many cases, naturally hewn solid woods that brought previous 1970s trends and colours bang up to date.
And then there was lighting. This has also been reconsidered by brands at all levels. Out are LED lighting strips under units and plinths, with a preference for more functional and useful lighting within the cabinet and using natural ambient options, whether cold light for cooking or warmer light for socialising. Of course, given that your kitchen may also be acting as an entirely different room for some of the time, it makes total sense to have the perfect lighting for all of its multiple personalities.
This expo seems to be gaining ground, not just in terms of its relevance for the UK interiors and studio segment, but as a show that speeds up the time frame by which our studios change and freshen their displays. It is also a great way to get in at least 10,000 steps, which is no bad thing, given how much wurst is eaten and weissbier drunk – or was that just me?