Retro shapes and colours were all the rage, as the design world turned its attention last month to the 44th Furniture Fair of Valencia. By Adam Dawson.
The Spanish city of Valencia has been hitting the high spots of late. Perhaps most famous for its successful staging of the 32nd America's Cup earlier this year, Spain's third city has undergone something of an architectural makeover thanks in part to the inspiration of architect Santiago Calatrava and his City of Arts and Sciences, as well as the sailing event itself, which has seen the port area undergo a tremendous transformation. Valencia will also host a Formula 1 circuit come 2008, joining the likes of Monaco in being one of a few places to offer an urban course throughout the city's streets.
But an event that is increasing the status of the city throughout the design world is the annual Habitat Valencia Forward that took place at the end of September. Housed in the extended Feria Valencia, the international furniture fair featured a total of 700 key exhibitors from all over the world displaying their latest products in 80,000 m² of exhibition space. This year was notable for its change in direction with a more international feel given Spain's more aggressive policy of courting more foreign investment in its furniture. The exhibition was a dazzling affair with local exhibitors such as Andreu World and Barcelona Design along with foreign companies such as Italian company Fiam putting effort into making their stands as glitzy and expensive looking as possible. And the different subsections: Haute decoration; accessories and textures; classic; modern; upholstered furniture; leisure and cutting-edge meant the show was also user-friendly.
There was also a lighthearted addition to this year's event in the shape of 'a house for...' project. This saw two houses created, one for Marilyn Monroe and the other for Leonardo da Vinci using furniture, decoration and lighting from exhibitors at the show.
What was evident at this year's event was the widespread use of polypropylene and polyetilene in many products following a heavy retro theme of 60's and 70's chic. Chairs and tables in a range of bright pastels and styled in geometric shapes such as rhombuses, squares and circles were notable. Stark white seemed to be the dominant colour throughout the major exhibitors' products. A good example of this was Joan Gaspar and Josep Lusca's new collection of chairs for Dd. The Fiona, Hey, Frida and Bob collections come in a range of colours such as lime greens, reds and oranges. An unusual take on the stool was the ergonomically designed Flod stool from Barcelona-based Mobles 114, while Novecento from Paco Capdell was an interesting example of how man-made materials can lead to furniture that crosses the indoor/outdoor divide.
Glass proved to be above the radar with a number of companies using it freely in their designs. Particularly interesting was Fiam's take on a glass chair with Cini Boeri's Ghost and its new Luxor and Virgola range of tables.
The most dominant theme throughout the exhibition was modular and extendable furniture, which ranged from kitchens and bathrooms through to sofas and chairs. "It seems that there is a retro feel at the moment in Spanish furniture manufacture and this is translating into a modular look," said Imma Estape, general manager, Estoli. The Spanish company makes modular storage furniture for bathrooms and other areas. Furniture was not exempt from this modular theme with Kanaba unveiling its sofa collection of upholstered shapes. The rectangular blocks can be manouevred to create a variety of different seating arrangements. This theme was also seen in the Fields collection by Stone, which is comprised of fully independent modules that can be joined together using pieces of Velcro.
The look for the bedroom was one that saw long headboards coupled with low beds and hollow modular bedside units, as illustrated in bm's Plural and Singular range. Low-lying sofas with strong rectangular shapes were everywhere with lime green proving to be a surprisingly popular colour choice alongside the usual white and black. Teys' 5th Avenue and Molteni and Co's Reversi range, which has three adjustable back positions, were testimony to this double trend.
Textiles were all about unusual textures and bright imperial colours with many rugs made more for display than comfort. A case in point was O.A.T's Zipper rug by Joao Rolo, made entirely of zips. "This year we are seeing a lot of emphasis placed on big textures that are hand loomed, with colours moving towards the purples and deep reds," explained Ariadna Rousaud, press and communications officer, Nanimarquina. The Spanish company's new Twister and Dolce ranges take textures to a new level with the latter's rose bud style loop weaves proving to be particularly unique.
One of the standout designs of the exhibition came in the quirky form of Punt Muebles' PO Light parasol and table system. The daytime umbrella system changes into an ambient focal point at night thanks to the internal LED lighting system inside the central mast. Rising Spanish design star Jaime Hayon and his Showtime Collection for BD Ediciones de Diseno was also a highlight. Inspired by classic MGM musicals, his pieces are made from material combinations such as leather and plastic in organic forms with classic detailing.
Once again the Habitat Valencia Forward played host to Nude. Now in its sixth year, the show for budding designers to display their wares to an international audience threw up some inspired creations. Particularly of interest were the modular designs of furniture company Medessin and its Wrap-Pad collection for commercial spaces and Alejandro Martinez's modular TAO Space Programme with internal storage.
It is evident that Spain is actively pursuing a policy of marketing its furniture worldwide. Over 1000 foreign professionals from over 65 countries were invited to the event, including a number from the UAE itself. Spanish companies are now keen to do business with the Middle East and the UAE in particular. "Everyone is talking about Dubai," admitted Patxi Comas of Stua. "It's seen as a very lucrative market due to the construction boom and many Spanish companies are working hard to get a foothold in that market." Indeed Stua will be supplying its Gas chairs to the Burj Dubai.
The organisers of the event are already planning a bigger and better event for 2008 as part of their four-year plan. This will include integration with the International Lighting Fair and the International Fair for Home and Decorative Textiles and Art. The following year will see a range of new parameters including a space dedicated to the kitchen and office. It seems that the future for Spanish furniture is in good hands with the Habitat Valencia Forward going from strength to strength.