The popularity of a handful of well-known kitchen brands on the continent has led to the whole world taking on a European flavour when it comes to design. Francesca Seden looks at the latest global trends
With their neutral tones accented with pops of bright colour in an open-plan kitchen/living space, European brands are influential around the world, particularly at the higher end of the market.
Consumers will seek out a German Poggenpohl or Siematic kitchen, a Spanish Doca, an Italian Scavolini or a British Smallbone or Mark Wilkinson.
As Egger’s head of décor design Elliot Fairlie points out: “Thanks to the historic perception of a handful of well-known European brands leading the way, foreign markets definitely influence customers who aspire to replicate ‘the look’. So it is important for those of us in the sector to keep an eye on trends in Italy and Germany – particularly from a furniture point of view – and then adapt them to the UK palette.”
So what is the UK palette and what tends to influence the colours and styles chosen?
Firstly, design is not only a reflection of culture, but also landscape and climate. For example, says Symphony marketing director Simon Collyns, when asked what people outside the UK consider as British design, “the reply will often come back as ‘shaker, in-frame, painted, traditional’ and this is regarded as unique to us.” This style is often sympathetic with our Victorian or Edwardian housing stock, and also relates to the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century.
Collyns adds that British design is full of unique features – from the door style, colours and use of drawer boxes, to differing cabinet colours and types of accessories and features like handles – that other markets fail to replicate.
“There is a definite market abroad for English kitchens, particularly in Scandinavia, France and even Germany, where the housing and climate is akin to our own,” he says.
Consumers don’t need a passport to learn about latest design trends either, as Collyns points out. “We’re moving towards a more global community with the internet and social media. The development of technology as a whole has influenced the way we think about design. The decision to purchase a new kitchen, bathroom or bedroom often starts with research online and in magazines, and the origin of images, styles and designs are less important.”
Egger’s Fairlie agrees, asserting that the UK leads the way in many aspects of interior design, along with architecture and media. This, he says can “have a disproportionate influence on international design trends. I’m told that the success of the BBC’s Great British Bake Off show has caused a surge of interest in island units in those markets where it’s screened”.
He adds that manufacturers and retailers must not underestimate the power of home interior websites and interactive mood boards such as Pinterest. “These give customers access to ideas from around the world.”
But while the Brits may be known for their skill at crafting traditional kitchens, the influences from Europe means that Germanic open-plan sleek and handleless, and stylish Italian designs, are the ‘in’ thing in many British homes.
“It is Europe that introduced the popular concept of open-plan living with the kitchen as the hub of the home, and the UK has embraced this way of life,” points out Wayne Dance of InHouse Design, which distributes German brands Next125 and Schüller in the UK.
“European kitchen style has placed white as one of the most popular colours and high-gloss surfaces as a countrywide favourite. Our tastes are more cosmopolitan than ever before and European kitchens, with all their high-end finishes and colours, have now become design leader,” he adds.
Scavolini’s Motus kitchen is one of the latest examples. Designer Vittore Niolu says: “Today the kitchen, together with the living room, is ever more dedicated to communication and sharing. It is no longer only a functional area for the preparation of food, but is also a space for relationships, informal and welcoming.”
The kitchen blends neutrals with bright colours, and shiny finishes, says Niolu, with strong colour variations. “It can be grouped by function, or it can be broken down according to the space and reconfigured over time. Individual elements can stand independently, able to autonomously perform the function for which they were designed,” he adds.
German brand Siematic meanwhile claims to have identified prevalent design trends in kitchen and living spaces from around the world and responded with three style-focused collections.
Siematic UK managing director Bernard Otulakowski comments: “The Pure collection is for those that appreciate the beautiful form of minimalist interiors and admire exceptional materials and discreet top-of-the-range features. The Classic collection, on the other hand, is ideal for anyone that has a love of bygone eras and beautiful detailing, but desires an interior that still feels modern and luxurious. While the Urban collection is ideal for those looking to create a modern kitchen and living space that has lots of personality and interesting little features that set it apart.”
Scandinavian design has also been a big hitter in recent years, which Pronorm UK and Ireland business manager Jason Grinton attributes to “people wanting a fresher, lighter feel to their interiors and an alternative to the browns and beiges that have dominated”.
He adds: “The Scandinavian look is refined, yet low key, combining an airy feel with a hint of rustic charm. The use of modern materials and drawer interiors also injects a contemporary edge.”
And while Scandinavian design is popular here, British design, according to Symphony’s Collyns, does well there. “Our experience in export shows the more English traditional design is popular in colder climates with softer light, like Scandinavia, while gloss finishes in white or stronger colours (like anthracite) are popular in warmer climes like the southern Mediterranean and Middle East.”
InHouse’s Dance also notes that stronger colours, “such as ‘curry’, emerald green, garnet red and pistachio tend to be taken up by more Mediterranean countries and indeed those further afield in the Middle East. The UK will only use these colours as accents in a kitchen design”.
Gold is set to be a big colour globally in 2016, according to Dulux which has named ‘cherished gold’ its colour of the year. Dulux Trade colour services activation manager for marketing strategy and innovation, Jo McMullen, explains how it arrived at the choice: “The use of gold has not only a long-standing place in history, but there is also a resurgence in its popularity. In addition to this, all the key trends identified had an element of gold or yellow within them. This, combined with the fact that gold and golden tones are currently being used everywhere at design fairs, in graphic design as well as architecture, fashion and interiors, made it a clear choice.”
Our tastes are more cosmopolitan than ever before and European kitchens, with all their high-end finishes and colours, have now become design leader.
In terms of what other country-specific factors influence trends, InHouse’s Dance says our diets can be a factor. “Colder countries, such as ours, have a slightly enhanced need for storage, since we tend to hoard. In warmer climates, outdoor space is often used for eating and since the people in these countries tend to eat a fresher diet, they don’t store food to the same extent.”
Doca’s business development manager Ashton Holgate agrees that climate and architecture influence global kitchen design and points to Mexico,
where kitchens and architecture are colourful, “matching a culture that’s influenced by a climate that is hotter than most”. He adds that “Russia’s history of grand, impressive architecture has undoubtedly inspired the opulent style of kitchen that is popular there”.
Evidence of the prevalence of European kitchen brands can also be found down under and in the USA. Tracy Stern of Sydney-based retailer Thinkdzine notes the popularity of open-plan kitchens and says it has just taken on Italian brand Cesar.
“The integration of the living room with the kitchen is a huge trend at the moment,” she comments. “Knocking out partition walls to open the kitchen into the living space to make it one big room is the design trend at the moment. Two-tone kitchens (a combination of colours and textures) is also something we are seeing a lot of. The feel of the board and the textures of the benchtops are playing a large role in colour selections and final look.”
Also in Australia, kitchen designer Robert Bayly of Adelaide-based Robert Bayly Design Ethics notes that butler’s pantries “are becoming more common in new homes or more extravagant renovations” and that “café-style doors are common, with a focus on access to outside living space, where built-in barbecues and pizza ovens are common”.
Lisa Day, director of marketing and PR for US retailer Henrybuilt, has also seen a trend for a secondary kitchen or butler’s pantry that is hidden from the main kitchen area. “Open-plan is still popular,” she says, “but there seems to be an increasing desire to hide messy dishes, etc. Not everything needs to be on display.”
Perhaps the most important way connections are made between retailers and international manufacturers is through the international kitchen trade shows. Thinkdzine’s Stern says that she discovered Cesar after visiting Italian trade show Eurocucina, in Milan, which demonstrates the importance of such shows in exporting trends around the globe.
“We have visited Eurocucina for the past six years and have been looking for a brand with the right fit for us. It took us a while to make our decision, and we are so very proud of the choice we made.”
Bayly, of Robert Bayly Design Ethics, adds: “International trade shows are a direct indicator to the future of design ideas. It’s the time a company can best present itself both today and into the future. If you are serious about this industry, it’s essential to visit at least one – especially Eurocucina in Milan.”
Egger’s Fairlie agrees and goes further, stating that “trade shows are a way to reaffirm key messages and colour directions to our more design-conscious customers, who see the trends from these shows as a key indicator of trends for the future and how to interpret them for their own customers”.
For Schüller, the Living Kitchen fair in Cologne, Germany, is the brand’s launch pad into the international market, but InHouse’s Dance says that from a UK perspective, he’s disappointed that so few retailers take the time to attend such shows, as they are a constant source of inspiration and design creativity.
“Forward-thinking UK retailers do visit leading European shows because they understand that the international brands set the trends. If you want to see which direction the kitchen market is heading then the first stop should always be the travel agent,” he says.
Finally, how do manufacturers’ approaches to retail differ depending on the market? What are the challenges and what can UK retailers learn from the way things are done elsewhere?
Firstly, it’s important to have a global strategy when it comes to marketing and keeping the brand message consistent. For this reason, says Otulakowski, “we have a designer, Marc Sporer, who develops our flagship showrooms, so that the Siematic identity is clear and well executed around the world”.
Training is also essential, so that retailers everywhere can sell the product, no matter how regional regulations or standards may differ.
“At Doca, all of our clients have training days to show them how to work with our product, so that they know all of the possibilities available to them,” says Holgate. “To this end, they are all invited to visit our factory at the beginning of the business relationship to show them exactly how the furniture is produced and to ensure that their training is complete. It is only when they know the business as intimately as we do that they can sell Doca with the expertise their customers have come to expect.”
As well as the product itself, there are also other challenges, such as tackling plumbing regulations and different methods of extraction in local markets, which have to be considered by the designer.
Nolte Küchen export director Matthias Berens adds: “There are also different tastes and requirements in terms of minimum unit heights, plugs, sinks, plate racks or other accessories that are defined by standards or by tradition. These must be part of the kitchen or it simply will not sell.
“For us as a manufacturer, exporting to over 60 countries worldwide means we have to be aware of these preferences and differences and offer a large choice of products to cater for these various demands. Some units, for example, that are a must or a top seller in one country might not work in another. This is also important to bear in mind when it comes to product training, which is always a good way to get feedback from customers, too.
“In addition to that, we have qualified contacts for all our various export countries, either in-house at our German headquarters, but also with our teams in their respective countries. We offer guidance as part of our service, making sure that our partners will be able to make the most of our products to satisfy their customers.”
In terms of where UK retailers can learn, InHouse’s Dance believes it’s not only from global markets, but also different types of retail: “The InHouse team, whenever we are travelling or visiting another market or country, will always speak to local retailers and property developers to see what challenges they’re facing and what we can learn to bring back to UK retailers.
“That’s what every retailer should be doing – continuously looking at different markets, taking ideas, developing relationships and bringing back this inspiration to their own showrooms. That’s what makes the difference. Time to stop moaning about the way things are and help to create a more successful future.”