It's a small world -- especially when it comes to home design. Those retailers, designers and architects seeking cutting edge, forward thinking in form, materials and color, sometimes artisanal or bespoke, are more frequently heading to international destinations. Perhaps the most significant design shows in diversity and style are in Paris, Milan, Cologne and Frankfurt.
The number of Americans attending these furnishings, lighting, accessories, kitchen and bath shows has ratcheted up in the last decade or so. But perhaps most significantly, the lead time to actually see that product -- or the trend it represents -- has diminished greatly. What used to take up to a year to show up in a store now is sometimes ready to take home almost immediately.
And trends have a shorter shelf life. Michelle Lamb, co-founder and chairman of Marketing Directions, a Minneapolis-based company that publishes The Trend Curve, a subscriber-based forecasting service to the trade, says: "The life span of a trend used to be seven years. Then five, which was a huge drop. Before the Great Recession we were stuck at three. Now we're careening to two. Sometimes I wonder how consumers can keep up. They are on Pinterest and Instagram. But for every 10 pins that might fly past, they may pick up one they'll embrace.
"What trend experts do is connect the dots," she says. "Show how that piece fits into a larger scheme. What it means for tomorrow. How it works for a color story that's more of an umbrella trend."
"With social media and transparency, the world is so much smaller today," says Caroline Hipple, an expert in marketing and merchandising and principal partner at HB2 Resources in Atlanta. "Everybody has eyes on (design) fashion, museums and travel, where furnishings can be edgier and more exotic."
Most top retailers shop internationally, not only to buy, but also to forge connections with artisans. One recent case in point: George Venson, a young New York wallpaper designer, whose high-octane graphics have been praised by Architectural Digest, recently was "discovered" by Anthropologie. The retailer commissioned the artist, whose watercolors are translated digitally to surfaces, to create a proprietary collection for summer: his fabric patterns on their furniture, all with a mid-century vibe, as well as one wallcovering.
Italian designer Paola Navone was drafted to do a successful housewares collection for Crate and Barrel. And Patricia Urquiola, whose admiration for crafts led to a charming collection of rugs, poufs and chaises for the Spanish company Gan, introduced those knit- and crocheted-look floor coverings to the office and hospitality world at Haworth, as well as a few of her standout furniture designs. The result is a warm, revolutionary approach that embraces the tactile and unusual palettes of mustard and pink, chocolate and pale blue.
Mid-century furniture seems at home on both sides of the pond -- '70s-inspired pieces as well as hints of Art Deco are having moments. But aside from furnishings styles, other design trends already are emerging. Here's what to look for in the coming months:
-- Positive/negative. We are so graphics-aware in advertising, labeling and other media that simple images in high-contrasting colors really appeal. Black and white is the obvious for impact, but still effective is a more quiet take in foliage-patterned dinnerware from Herend.
-- Mixed media. Teak tables topped with metal or stone, or resin wicker chairs with teak legs are a hit in outdoor fashions. In Europe, these expressions have advanced to arresting combinations, like the stone and wood cutting boards seen at the Belgian retailer Flamant, or a modern console crafted in wood and brass from Mambo. The style works beautifully in traditional looks as well, such as a distressed wood table with stainless steel top at Lexington, launched at the spring High Point market. It references industrial style dressed up and refined.
-- Warm metals. Gold -- gilded wood looks or brass -- and a rosier gold and copper have been warming interiors. They still are on trend, and not just in accessories, but in small tables and lighting, most recently in a faucet collection by Olivia Putman for the Paris-based luxury brand THG. Both shiny and matte finishes add glow, and layering with silvery tones gives us permission to mix.
-- Color. The fondness for indigo is not going away anytime soon. "I just looked on One Kings Lane today," says Dixon Bartlett, a partner at HB2 Resources, "and four of the top six sofas featured were in a shade of blue -- from indigo to sapphire to greener shades of peacock and teal." Michelle Lamb is seeing medium shades of green, with a bit of yellow and a move to softer hues.
-- Worn and weathered. Bartlett talks about the rubbed-out, burned-out, worn-away look in rugs, textiles, finishes and fashions -- "all part of a sub-trend of "Restored Renewed Reborn" that has been universal for several years. The Dutch company Studio Ditto creates the look of stacked old worn painted metal containers in a new collection of wallcovering.
-- Two tones. A tweaking of color blocking popular in fashion a few years back looks fresh again, played out in bold strokes, as in a shapely sofa called Halo from Softline that shifts in related hues from back cushion to seat. Glassware from SkLO plays with transparency and opaqueness in combining hues.
-- More functionality in clever ways. Double duty has become a welcome staple in home design, with hidden storage in cabinets and charging stations in drawers. At Ligne Roset, a clean-lined sofa bed offered this bonus: a remote control. And storage hooks are morphing into colorful artistic elements -- with or without keys, caps or handbags hanging on them.
-- European designers often push the envelope with the familiar. Mirrors are leaving traditional shapes and sizes, like Karim Rashid's new collection for the Belgian company Deknudt. It's impacting how retailers are showing mirrors -- hung en masse, all the same or different, like artwork.
-- Florals. Never really off the radar, fashion designers especially embrace them in the spring, when everyone craves beautiful blossoms outdoors and in. Shifts in scale -- from oversized to teeny (and we're seeing both now) and palette keep patterns fresh. Also, watercolor-y, painterly looks or more abstract expressions are gaining traction.
A new lush floral collection from Ted Baker for Portmeirion strikes romantic notes. "There's definitely a feminine energy," says Lamb. "After a decidedly more modernist period," says Dixon Bartlett, "it appears as though home fashion is taking a turn toward 'pretty' and a more traditional, decorative approach."
-- Keep an eye on tech. Space age-y fabrics that add structure to fashion with all the stretch and pleating are impacting home design as well. Pierre Frey's Architectonic collection is audacious with stretch, texture and dimensionality.
-- Eastern motifs. Eastern is striking a chord now, especially with the "China Through the Looking Glass" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. "Products and fashion images are covered with Asian-inspired design -- birds, blossoms, fret work, stylized clouds," says Bartlett.
What's especially relevant about global influences is that they've opened our eyes. Perhaps the most profound upshot is that we're more open to mixing things up. Not matching all of our furniture -- same finish, same fabrics. It's more interesting that way. It feels more collected. And ultimately, more livable.
-- Anthropologie, 800-309-2500, www.anthropologie.com
-- Deknudt, +32 (0)56 73 25 60 (Belgium), www.deknudtmirrors.com
-- Egitsia, at The Perfect Setting, 312-202-1260, www.theperfectsettingonline.com
-- ercol, +44 (0)1844 271 800 (Great Britain), www.ercol.com
-- Flamant, +32 (0)54 41 54 75 (Belgium), www.flamant.com
-- Gan Rugs, +34 933 633 260 (Spain), www.gan-rugs.com
-- Herend, 800-643-7363, www.herendusa.com
-- Jardin des Lumieres by Christian Lacroix, +33 (0)1 46 33 48 95 (France), www.christianlacroix.com
-- Kristin Drohan Collection, 770-837-2076, www.kristindrohancollection.com
-- Lexington Home Brands, www.lexington.com
-- Ligne Roset, www.ligne-roset-usa.com
-- Mambo, +351 2 18 13 33 91 (Portugal), www.mambo-unlimitedideas.com
-- Portmeirion, 888-778-1471, www.portmeirion.com
-- Rubelli, 212-935-3713, www.rubelli.com
-- Softline, through DWR (Design Within Reach), 800-944-2233, www.dwr.com
-- Studio Ditte, +31 6 29 09 84 96 (Netherlands), www.studioditte.com
-- Thibaut, 800-223-0704, www.thibautdesign.com
-- Tom Dixon, 212-228-7337, www.tomdixon.net; www.lightology.com
-- West Elm, 888-922-4119, www.westelm.com
FROM TRADE SHOW TO SHOW FLOOR
The timeline between the debut of product and its arrival at retail or online is melting away. Six month lead times barely exist anymore. And sometimes, pieces are ready to roll out almost as quickly as they are introduced.
Tom Dixon's newest Melt pendant lights were shown at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York in May, and they were almost immediately available at Lightology in Chicago and online. Alessi's Dressed Wood collection by Marcel Wanders found its way into major retailers soon after it launched.
Some categories, like lighting manufactured oversees, don't move as quickly. "UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approval in the States sometimes takes up to one year or more," says Beth Dickstein, owner of bde, a public relations/marketing firm based in New York.
But the biggest takeaway is the exposure to well-designed new products, and as Dickstein puts it, a show's "responsibility to act as laboratories or incubators."
"Shows are important to talk face to face (with manufacturers and designers) and to see future designs," says Dickstein.
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at email@example.com.)