The future of relationships within the furniture sector
Phase two is here. TRJ, one of the entities directly involved, has questioned itself over the future of relationships within the furniture sector after the COVID19 emergency and beyond.
Guidelines to implement the reopening of businesses in the food and beverage, tourism, services and retail sectors and consequently for furniture showrooms have been drawn up but shifting to a future time frame, we wonder how the areas in trade fairs, showrooms and events will be designed, and ask whether everything will be reduced to a mere digital relationship or whether human contacts will remain fundamental.
Above and beyond information regarding the use of personal protective equipment and the implementation of organisational measures, i.e., working from home or shift work to reduce to a minimum the number of presences and guarantee social distancing between workers and third parties (e.g., customers, suppliers, etc.), how will this situation evolve?
TRJ, both as an agency assisting furniture retailers, and as consultants for architects and developers, has spent considerable time in the last 10 weeks glued to the screens of its devices on video conferences, webinars, live interviews, to discuss, to learn, to ponder over the past and envisage a new future within the furniture sector.
We asked some of the leading professionals in the world of design and architecture to share with us their vision of the future of relationships within the furniture sector.
“I don’t think it’s possible to reduce the complex mechanism of the design industry to a mere digital relationship given that the system is based on relationships, meetings and physical displays of products. All of us were saddened when we learned Salone del Mobile had been cancelled. For the most part, we were all ready for the world of design’s main event, the one that marks its creative and productive year; Salone, together with FuoriSalone, represents not only a crucial moment from a commercial viewpoint, but also an opportunity to confront creativity. As such it’s the non-renounceableevent for all persons working in this sector. Everyone in the supply chain of this industry, from designers, architects, entrepreneurs, distributors, institutions to the whole world of communication, is trying to fill the void left by Salone’s and FuoriSalone’s absence by organising virtual and digital meetings, conferences and presentations. However, in each and every one of the 170 interviews we are publishing in the June paper and digital issues of Interni, entrepreneurs as well as designers all said they long to return to old habits as soon as possible. For September, Interni magazine has been toying with the idea of organising the same type of event we were accustomed to having during FuoriSalone, and offer suggestions for strategies and values we can count on, and most importantly, albeit with post-pandemic limitations, enter into a complete recovery phase permitting direct encounters between everybody in the sector. The pandemic has unveiled the need for us to change the way in which we relate to one another, but my hope is that these constraints are only a passing emergency” – Gilda Bojardi, Director of Interni Magazine.
“During this period, digital technology has helped us tremendously to keep in touch with our loved ones, colleagues and customers alike. Right from the start in February, we took the necessary measures to make sure that worldwide, our whole staff and the company’s entire eco-system employees could constantly work from home, in total safeness. We even moved our designers’ hardware into their homes to ensure work continuity. All this would not have been possible without technology and a new mentality. We understood to an even greater extent, how powerful and useful the technology available nowadays is. But we also understood that technology is only the means, not the goal. We do not believe this period will stop development and evolution, nor do we desire it, but we think it will bring more centrality and value to man, time and relationships. We do believe that the value and work behind brands and products such as ours, where major research is conducted on content, craftsmanship, materials and shapes, will be become increasingly more important “- Hans Hoegstedt, CEO of the prestigious and ever innovative British brand Tom Dixon.
In the words of Francesco Librizzi, who founded his eponymous Milanese architecture, interior design and industrial design studio in 2005, “The relationship, tested over time in Milan, between Salone and FuoriSalone, has provided a wealth of experience to our sector and will furnish the answers and models on how to manage large crowd events. For years we have been experimenting with exhibitions in spaces that became actual prototypes for an innovative relationship between public and private, new interpretations of outdoor areas and moments of great attractiveness. Dissecting this experience will provide us unprecedented moments and formulas able to respond both to this emergency, and possibly generate new enduring models. I think great opportunities for exhibitions also exist in virtual space where they already live as advertisements and in the form of brand storytelling, in-depth analysis, portraiting and reach. However, sales are deeply characterised by human contact. Contact with objects in a shared context creates the moment in which desire embodies the idea of a purchase. Furthermore, without human contact, there is no negotiation, which is essentially an art based on personal mediation. So the idea of the physical trade show will remain alive but we must give it time to let innovations made to its model in recent years mature, and stop thinking of itself as a monolith”.
With his thirty years of experience in the academic, curatorial, editorial and research fields, architect Luca Molinari, founder of the eponymous firm – Studio Molinari – believes that the future of relationships within the furniture sector will rely on improving the “experience”, through greater attention to relationships and better quality and safeness of the service provided.
“We have entered Phase 2 to all intents and purposes; you can tell from the growing number of people milling about on the streets and an uptick in the noise pollution level of our cities, but the thought that keeps gnawing away at my mind and at that of the thousands of people who deal with collective spaces, is how we will behave in museums, shops, restaurants, parks and gyms from now through the coming months. In recent days every newspaper has endeavoured to offer imaginative renderings illustrating Plexiglas devices, windows and spacers with the hopes that imposing such features will suffice to reassure people. But I don’t think this is right course of action to take. On the one hand, quarantine has definitely got us used to using digital tools in a more widespread and mature way. This is an important point and from this, there’s no turning back. But on the other hand we are social animals, we are citizens and we will always need relationships and human contact. The issues of social distancing and safeness should transform into an increase in the quality of services, a differentiated and more conscious use of time thanks to digital contribution, greater attention to providing a richer and better quality public experience. I believe that, in due time, it will be necessary to work on the concepts of care, quality and safeness as primary services that every manager will be able to offer, thus building stronger relationships over time that could enrich what we have left behind. All this may have consequences on spaces but I believe we should not rush ahead but rather observe what happens in the coming months so we can focus on well thought-out transformations that will bear up in the future. We can think in terms of quality, and avoid panic and haste that would lead to further confusion. The richness of service will boost a stable relationship with users and our lives”.
Antonio Iraci, founder of Iraci Architetti studio, that deals with private residential construction, commercial, industrial and public works, hospitality structures and industrial design tells us that, “It was a pause, a pause for reflection, we were always thinking about the next day as we listened to our clients. We told ourselves to keep on going while we waited to see each other again, but to not stop, to continue, to continue planning and detailing, to make sure we were ready and so the lockdown period flew by. At the same time we wound up with new projects right away and we immediately realised that the lockdown had not curbed our desire to “DO”. New proposals lead us to think that architecture and the home environment are fundamental for rebirth, so we can forget, so we can feel the emotions they give us once more, so everything becomes “frenetic” again. So we can have moments to recapture lost time and re-experience space, that space which generates well-being, work, conviviality, relaxation; that all-purpose space which, to varying degrees seemed so small and constricted to us. So we start all over, endeavouring to understand what happened then – and what is still happening to us now – and to evaluate it. Paradoxically, the world of architecture and design has an opportunity to ensure the rules of conventional society are upheld, provide for professionalism and answer the thousands of doubts arising from recently passed legislation remind us that ethics is of primary importance out of respect for those who believe in us“.
As far as Paolo Bleve, Chief Design Relation Officer of Keywords Design is concerned, fairs and events will maintain a fundamental role in “physical” meetings but it will be necessary to rethink them. Now is the time to be bold and creative. “In this emergency, a window has opened on new working methods. Companies want to explore new digital tools, identify valid solutions with an eye to extending and integrating their commercial, marketing and communication strategies towards an ecosystem of combined digital activities and services to support new business contexts. The design and high-end showrooms will be the places where you can live the brand’s Design Experience; they will guarantee even greater tailor-made attention by offering new design and customer services, to make the shopping experience increasingly more satisfying”.
As Massimiliano Troja, founder of TRJ, says, “Many companies have proven to be proactive in trying to remotely stimulate architects and end–consumers and steer them towards their collections and corporate philosophies. We have interacted on a daily basis with dozens of architects and new potential “leads”, as have my collaborators and our partners from various regions whom we involved in the diverse digital projects of each brand. Aside from the true picture they gave us of people’s moods, these conversations emotionally “infected” us with their widespread positivity, and confirmed that at the end of lockdown, our final choice of quality projects could only come about through the pleasure of physical contact with products and people”.
“In brief, we have definitely found that while some purchase choices in our sector can no doubt be processed with proper know-how with a click from home, sales cannot be finalised, except in rare cases, until after crucial “physical gestures”, like sitting on sofas, stroking fabrics, “feeling” woods and materials, checking the “live” lighting characteristics of a lamp or the comfort of an armchair, have been made. Moreover, in the last 10 weeks sales on e-commerce sites specialising in our sector have not increased despite the enormous rise in the number of visitors to Internet. In some cases instead, there has been a decrease. Because if you buy a pair of shoes you know that without remorse, you can simply put them back in their original box and return them immediately. When it comes to choosing a bed, a table or a sofa, that will be part of your life for a long time, physical contact and human relationships still mean something”.
Once this emergency has passed, the future of relationships within the furniture sector will still be characterised by the emotions and values that, in the opinion of these experts, only human contact and physical relationships can guarantee. We will certainly have to work on improving this “experience” both in terms of relationship quality and safeness, but the “world of design” is ready for a new humanism, centred on the renewed value placed on relationships.
TRJ May 20th, 2020