SHOW REVIEW: kbb Birmingham

‘Give me an amazing mechanism and I’m all over it…’

Sandy Armitage (pictured), proprietor of Sandy Armitage Designs in Ipswich, looks back at her favourite products from the show and is critical of a number of brands offering ‘style over substance’

Staying over in Birmingham and coming to the NEC on a 10-minute train ride made such a difference. Standing room only and rammed with badge-wearers, there was a great energy. I had a spring in my step and was ready to absorb all there was to see with the hope of seeing some old faces along the way and comparing wrinkles.

We got there early doors (with boyfriend and trusty design critic Craig) and began in the bottom corner of the bathrooms section. I love the smaller stands, the last-minute stallholders, the emerging brands, the ones who’ve kept things cottage industry-sized and the ones who are a bit hopeless… they’re all to be found more readily in the small stands.

Within minutes, we were laughing. With no name to their product or any attempt at presentation, we saw two sheets of scribbled A4 stating ‘bamboo sinks’ and ‘cast-iron radiators’ and two Oriental-featured young women who were sat staring at their phones. We shook our heads and walked on.

Carisa radiators were fantastic… brilliant design.

Craig had to send an urgent e-mail, so I wandered off and found the next amusing stand with what seemed like a British-made product. Bizarrely, they were selling glass fibre-backed, undulating and very uneven bendy ‘real’ rock-face wall panelling. The chap told me that “the Indian producers take a thin veneer of uneven rock face (up to 30mm thick in places) following its contours (yeah, right) and spray it with glass fibre to make bendy rock panels…” Just like that. It was a comedy sketch. I wanted to say, “stop there, pal, I’m no scientist, but that sounded like utter pants to me”. However, it was entertaining and certainly made me chuckle, albeit inwardly.


We then found a little stand of loveliness in the Argentinian handmade, hand-painted cloakroom bowls of Lovasi International. Gorgeous.

Spongey shower trays were everywhere this year and there were some fun finishes, such as the grass-printed shower tray and matching vanity unit front. I like to have scope for bespoke creativity, such as having the choice of RAL colours – it’s about the possibilities and I love all of that.

Acquabella had a lovely stand and they answered honestly when I asked about their environmental friendliness – they didn’t know. There were some splendid bathroom furniture stands, but one looked like they’d got there too late with the furniture held in place by 18mm melamine board – my overriding memory of their product. Oh dear.

Rak and their rimless pans – superb, clean design – seats up, pans for men!

It also seemed all about the bath, and copper being the new gold – so much that it burnt my retinas – it was everywhere. Hurlingham’s uber-sumptuous stand was coppered-out. I thought the stand was really imaginative and well presented, and for a country manor-bumper-boutique style, its product rocks. I loved the carpeted bath – that was mad.

But the stand that really ticked all my boxes was Carron’s. What a lovely stand. Its rainbow of colours, beautiful display boards, new tactile logo and elegant staff made it inviting and friendly. The refreshed brand has been a total triumph and it’s all as properly Scottish as a tartan kilt. The design of the baths on show didn’t do anything for me, but that didn’t matter – the stand did all it needed to, because I wanted to know more. A fantastic example of superbly tasteful presentation. I was nuts about all the colour. Ten out of 10.

I’ve never been impressed by gadgets. Things like the press-button sliding-doors revealing a big TV (yawn) or the walk-in shower with strobe lights set into the wall and the floor, lighting up your nether regions like a scene from Blade Runner. What a load of showy-offy-blingy-piffle. Style over substance.

The new Samsung dual temperature/split oven was a bit of a ‘design for the sake of it’ idea, but I liked the blue pretend gas flame on the induction hob.

Generally, I have a real thing about coloured lights – I think they look tacky and, far from being impressive or ‘different’, I think they cheapen everything. Like coloured lights on Christmas trees – they should be banned. Give me an amazing mechanism or a solidly-built, ethically sourced, robustly and beautifully designed thing and I’m all over it. Blum mechanisms, for instance or Kesseböhmer’s storage systems.


And so on to kitchens. The bendy coloured sink taps were beautiful and seemed like they were everywhere. I loved Bushboard’s stand and their new thin laminate with solid-core and double-sided for dropped ends. Hoorah! In contrast, Formica’s stand had displays with dropped fronts and raw backing that was visible from the walkway – ironic as one of Formica’s folk was giving a talk on presentation. Oops.

Other standout things for me were Nolte’s end corner shelf unit with door – nice styling, and Kuhlmann’s three-way end-of-island optical illusion drawer unit was intriguing. I also liked their backsplash projector – that was a neat idea. Küppersbusch’s catalytic converter ovens were superb, with their interchangeable handles to match the kitchen, which was a nice option. I love the Germans. They continue to teach us the way forward on many levels.

Whitebirk Sink Company had a small stand that they collared last minute and its delightfully coloured, Aga-friendly fireclay Belfast sinks and round bowls were marvellous. Nice people. Lovely product.

And Franke – good old Franke – ethical through and through.

In one day, you’re not going to get to see everything and I missed quite a lot. I was trying to take in everything and I felt I needed two days. Hey, ho.

This year, I realised just how important the subject of environmentally-friendly products are to me. They are going to be the way forward and are going to form the basis of what I’m prepared to recommend and invest in for the future. I have never knowingly bought into the throwaway industry – the tuppence-a-tonne, cheap-as-you-like products that I despise. I try my best to eliminate those kinds of suppliers and manufacturers from my list. I want to see more manufacturers recycling and upcycling and investing and developing in environmental matters for all our sakes. I’m an eco-warrior and I know I’m not alone. Our planet is under siege. We have to change.

For all the things I found funny, cringeworthy, flashy and disappointing, I also found so much to admire and support and promote.

On that note, wherever Bodie Kelay’s stand is – you’ll find me close by. Always.

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