Old As The New New

The furniture business is evolving as consumer habit changes and the landscape become more competitive. Innovation is not always in the form of something completely new, but can also exist in different approaches, thinking and applications. By Jackie Wong

No doubt about it. The furniture business as a big business. According to Milan-based research institute CSIL Centre for Industrial Studies, world trade of furniture amounted to around US$129 billion in 2016, and world production of furniture was worth about US$406 billion in 2015.

 

It is no surprise then that there are many who are eyeing to grab a share of this lucrative pie. With the world becoming ever more connected and businesses beginning to traverse different industrial segments, players in the furniture business have begun evolving as well.

 

Online shopping has pretty much become a norm and Ikea was a little late to the party in Singapore, only launching an online store in the country in November this year.

 

On hindsight, it was perhaps a timely move since Amazon announced its first furniture brands shortly after. After venturing into the fashion scene, the online retailer introduced two new furniture brands: Rivet and Stone & Beam.

 

The former is a mid-century modern-inspired brand with a focus on urban, small-space solutions and high style, while the latter is more tailored to the ‘modern family’ with comfort and durability in mind.

 

Both brands offers sofas, furniture, chairs, rugs, lamps and decors.

 

Ikea is likely to face even greater competition in the future with a slew of start-ups around the world that aim to provide consumers with affordable designer furniture by cutting out the middlemen. Although still relatively slow to take off, the direct-to-consumer model is expected to gain traction as buying habits continue to shift towards online.

 

Shopping online is much more than just finding and selecting a product that you like, it is all about the user experience. Retailers are well aware of this fact and for years, have been introducing ways for consumers to interact with products to determine whether they fulfil their needs.

 

Companies like Ikea have already rolled out applications and programs that make use of augmented reality (AR) to help consumers arrange their living space and see how a furniture piece fitsbefore making a purchase.

 

Williams-Sonoma, which owns furniture companies including Pottery Barn and West Elm, recently announced the acquisition of AR company Outward for US$112 million.

 

With 53% of its total revenue coming from online, Williams-Sonoma believes that AR is critical for the online shopping experience.

 

Another area that would see further growth is the integration of digital functionality and electronic appliances with furniture products.

 

For a long time, home studio speakers have been bulky, boring and intrusive elements that forces audiophiles to compromise their interior aesthetics for.

 

Sound specialist JLA showed that design and functionality can co-exist with the launch of the M.1 hybrid speaker that also functions as a side table.

 

 

Sometimes though, you don’t need new technology to create novel furniture. All you need to do is just to slap a fresh coat of paint on it—almost literally.

 

South Korean design studio Orijeen showed us how with the Color Flow furniture series, which comprise cabinets in simple shapes, but with a colour twist.

 

Decorated with lenticular film, the same material used on double-vision prints that appear differently depending on viewing angle, the furniture changes in colour as you move.

 

 

Finally, with the help of 3D printing, the city of Amsterdam has been encouraging its residents to recycle plastic waste by making permanent fixtures such as furniture with it.

 

Under the direction of The New Raw, a Rotterdam-based design studio, recycled plastic is used to make public benches in what the company called a ‘closed loop’ of use where the plastic is used,  reused and materialised in the same environment.

 

 

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