The future for interior design is likely to be a lot about building spaces able to enhance human health and comfort – with furniture playing a major part.
So says Italian architect and interior designer Enrico G. Cleva, who believes fashion and construction go hand-in-hand, and “the trend is to project, construct and furnish buildings that will improve our wealth and promote the best habits to increase our well-being”.
He told an international audience at the Malaysian Furniture Fair (MIFF) in March that well-being will be the next big thing after ‘sustainability’ – referencing the WELL Building Standard, which measures, certifies and monitors features of the built environment that impact human health and comfort.
“It is a pilot project [of the International WELL Building Institute], but with a great future. And the focus is on the role that furniture will have in the picture.”
Cleva was among many internationally renowned and successful designers at the annual Malaysian fair in Kuala Lumpur, including the venerable Japanese designer Eiri Iwakura, who says the designs of tomorrow will only come by breaking free from the here-and-now and seeking a more human way of life.
He believes living design should pursue harmony among men, objects and space; and with 16 projects on the go, plus his Rockstone and Takayama Wood Works brands to manage, the 66-year-old energetically pursues his search for “a fascinating and entirely new value”.
At MIFF to judge the show’s young designer competition, Iwakura thinks about and creates furniture 365 days a year. “Some men keep on looking for a better woman; I put my energy into furniture.”
He collaborates with highly skilled traditional craftsmen on works that pay tribute to Japanese traditions. One of his favourite lines (KAMO) requires the use of kiri (paulownia) – one of the world’s softest timbers. “Even a craftsman requires 20 years to master carving it and a chest of drawers can cost up to 3 million yen,” he says.
Selling a lifestyle
Roberta Mutti and Franz Rivoira, co-founders of Italian Consulting, say it is not enough just to make a good product. “Perfection lies in detail … and furniture makers need to realise they are not just building things, but creating something that stands in time and in the mind of consumers. You are selling a lifestyle, dreams and atmosphere,” they told a MIFF seminar.
Mutti, who was also chief judge of the MIFF Furniture Excellence Award for product innovation and quality, had some tough messages for local and other ‘emerging’ producers. “It is mandatory that the Malaysian furniture industry starts to think about its future, and to do so with real design as a key factor… It is time to look for their identity; something based on [an] ‘original brand’ that has not been confused with positioning.”
She identified ergonomics, good design, local materials, attention to small details and awareness of the needs of different markets as the main ingredients in well-designed products.
One of the highest profile new living furniture collections at the fair was ‘No1’ by China-based Malaysian designer Philip Yap (featured in showcase, above). The Scandinavian-influenced mid-century look features Malaysian hardwoods and spray-painted door panels.
“Yes, it is definitely more Scandinavian than Malaysian, but consumers these days are very much exposed to design through the advancement of the information age. They are not satisfied with, say, a middle-age design and only that… It is not about what ‘you’ want. It’s about what the market wants,” he says.
While he acknowledges the importance of the timber in his new collection – including sepetir, a walnut look-alike that grows throughout Malaysia, Indochina and Philippines – Yap says the design is by far the most important element. “Western markets won’t buy just for the timber – there also has to be good design. Unlike the older Chinese who still think buying furniture is something where, if you invest heavily in, say, rosewood, it will appreciate regardless of what it looks like. But what they don’t know is the next generation won’t want to have that kind of furniture.”
He admits the No1 collection is evolving. “It is ‘teething’ time and there is a risk that somebody will copy us before we perfect the work. But there are a lot of complicated elements that will hopefully keep them guessing until we can show the improved collection in Shanghai later this year.”
©timber+DESIGN online 2015