Italian furniture: toward the recovery

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The 55th edition of Salone del Mobile in Milan, scheduled from 12 to 17 April at Fiera Milano Rho, opens under the best omens: not only, as always, it is preparing to photograph the new trends of world design, but also aims to archive the economic crisis of the world of Italian furniture.

courtesy Salone del Mobile
courtesy Salone del Mobile

by Lara Colombi

On the domestic front, 2016 could prove to be a positive year for the furnishing sector, dealing with an hard and uncertain ascent.
The feeling of great optimism in the sector is due, first of all, to the renewal of the furnishings Bonus – the tax detraction for the purchase of furniture as part of a building renovation – but even more to the furnishing Bonus for young couples, real news of the year, that frees the opportunity to ask this “incentive” from the obligation to construction works at least for young people, who will be able to detract half of the expense for the furniture for the first home up to 16,000 euro.
Although figures on the potential beneficiaries are not yet available, the measure seems to put all agree because, as it has been pointed out many times, it is not only a measure of industrial policy but has also a social value.
Hopes on the domestic market, which has already begun to move in 2015, however, are not the only ones. Exports maintained a good rhythm and the various initiatives prepared by Salone del Mobile to push the companies towards the internationalization bring with them another amount of positive prospects. In addition to a further exhibition edition in Moscow, the Salone will arrive in China in Shanghai, another key market for made-in-Italy.
The optimism is partly hampered by some uncertainty due to the internal adjustment of the Chinese economy, the crisis in the Middle East and the sanctions against Russia. But apart from some due cautions, also on the exports seem to blow a good wind, that the Milan Fair in April may further stimulate.
Salone del Mobile, this year also hosts the biennial Eurocucina exhibition, with the collateral event FTK (Technology For the Kitchen), which includes the proposal dedicated to the built-in appliances and the technologically advanced design hoods, able to attract a very large number of visitors, confirming Italy as the birthplace of the kitchens production.
Of all these subjects we talked with three protagonists of the market, Roberto Snaidero and Giovanni De Ponti, respectively president and CEO of Salone del Mobile, and Alberto Scavolini, adviser in charge of the Kitchen Group of Assarredo.

Roberto Snaidero, president of Salone del Mobile
Roberto Snaidero, president of Salone del Mobile
«EuroCucina brings the whole world to Milan»
This year too, Salone del Mobile records the sold-out and confirmed itself again the must event in the sector for companies, operators and visitors. This is confirmed by the president Roberto Snaidero: «This important edition, the 55th, promises to be interesting and strong both for the wide commercial offer represented by a parterre of companies among the most qualified of the national and international market, and for the search for balance between tradition and innovation in the name of quality and culture. This variety and quality can be seen in the increasingly growing interest for the event demonstrated by operators, journalists and the public. Salone del Mobile, together with the city of Milan, manages to attract the attention of a more than 300,000 visitors coming from 165 countries.»

What will be the main characterization of this year edition?
For this edition of Salone del Mobile, on stage from 12 to 17 April in Milan, the International Furniture Exhibition will take the field together with the International Pieces of Furniture Exhibition, divided into the stylistic types of Classic and Design. The biennials EuroCucina also comes back with the collateral event FTK (Technology For the Kitchen) - in the 9-11 and 13-15 halls - and the International Bathroom Exhibition (Salone Internazionale del Bagno) in the 22-24 halls.
In addition we will be protagonists with three exhibits and a short film: the aim is to involve the entire city of Milan.
The first project "Rooms. Other philosophies of dwelling ", by Beppe Finessi, which we present as part of the XXI Trienniale, wants to combine business and culture. An exhibition that wishes to highlight the special task of interior architecture and giving a vision towards the future of our living.
With the next edition of the Salone we also want to pay homage to what came before the real design. With the project "Before design: Classic" and the short film made by the director Matteo Garrone it is told about the classic taste of made-in-Italy and of its contemporaneity in a visual and sensory journey. Then we will also have an exhibition at the Fair that will be a hint of reflection about the classical soul of contemporary living.
Last event in the city directly connected with the Salone del Mobile.Milano will be "Space & interiors" - organized by Made expo, the international biennial of architecture and building - at The Mall, in the heart of the Brera Design District in Milan: surfaces, floors, doors and interiors finishes will be presented in a picturesque setting by the Migliore+Servetto Architects studio.

What should we expect, instead, from EuroCucina 2016?
At EuroCucina they will present the news about high quality kitchens, answering to the growing demand for functionality derived from the renewed attention of the consumer. To complete the offer FTK (Technology For the Kitchen), collateral proposal dedicated to the built-in appliances and design hoods, where they will be showed the best of the technology applied to the world of "cooking" and living the kitchen in the innovative dimension of the "connectivity".

What are the main trends of this market?
About the subject ‘trend’, I want to highlight an important initiative this year: LivingScapes. This is a research conducted by Salone del Mobile.Milano Trend Lab, the new research laboratory and intelligence center of Salone del Mobile, to intercept the main trends that emerge internationally in the world of design, furnishing and living, starting with the observation of the evolution of lifestyles.

Is the market growing thanks to exports but domestic consumption is stuck as in previous years or is something changed?
In 2015 companies recorded encouraging signs, certainly starting from foreign markets, but also with regard to the internal one. At the end of 2015 about 37% of companies gave a positive judgment about Italy, percentage that will rise to 48% in 2016.
Further better the situation abroad, positive sentiment for the 48% for 2015 and 64% for 2016. To move the domestic market, moreover, we must not forget the industrial policy initiatives undertaken by the Government.

To what extent has the house Bonus (which allows a tax detraction of 50% of the expenses for the purchase of furnishings) affected the obtained results?
First I want to point out that since it entered into force the furniture bonus, in September 2013, 1.8 billion in revenue were recovered and about 10,000 jobs were safeguarded.
For 2016 we had important news from the Stability Law. First, the Financial law of this year has welcomed the FederlegnoArredo request to renew also for 2016 the Furnishings Bonus: so the companies in the sector will have another year to take full advantage of a measure that in recent years has offer an important oxygen whiff for the safeguarding of many Italian companies and their employees, representing also a great opportunity for consumers to buy quality furniture more easily. But the absolute novelty this year will be the Bonus for young couples, the tax detraction of 50% for the purchase of furniture by young couples up to a maximum of 16,000 euro.

What will happen in 2016 with the new bonus for young couples?
Unlike the Furnishings Bonus, this new measure is not bound to the realization of building renovation works, but to the purchase of a new home.
This measure, together with the Furnishings Bonus, consolidates a package of tax detractions in favor of the house and offers more favorable terms to the many young people who plan to make a family, giving them the opportunity to buy quality made-in-Italy products.

What else could prove strategic for a good performance of the Italian furniture market?
Innovation and internationalization are surely the two most strategic points: these are the assets on which the sector's Italian companies must increasingly focus. For this EuroCucina is an unmissable event with its innovative format and its ability to bring to Milan the whole world.
Alberto Scavolini, adviser in charge of Kitchens Group of Assarredo
Alberto Scavolini, adviser in charge of Kitchens Group of Assarredo
The new kitchen, technological and green

Alberto Scavolini, adviser in charge Kitchens Group of Assarredo, has no doubt: technology is confirmed as one of the key points in the kitchens of the future, which will also be more and more elegant and functional, with a focus on aesthetics and energy savings.

What should we expect from EuroCucina 2016?
Stylistic perfection and practicality: these are the two ingredients that will characterize the 2016 edition. The rediscovery of conviviality of an environment suitable to gather family and friends together, welcome guests and make the purest familiarity revive, requires an extreme customization with many finishes and materials, to create a kitchen that reflects the most different tastes and lifestyles and make it more elegant and functional. Another central theme of EuroCucina 2016 will be the integration between the kitchen and the living area: clean geometries and refined details for a more sophisticated space that is integrated to the living room in a more and more elegant way.

What will be the main news put in place by the companies?
Surely we will see a particular care in materials research - from the warmest essences of wood to the most innovative materials such as carbon fiber, the cement resin, the Fenix (a material made with nanotechnologies) - and in the mix of the same - solid wood paired with steel and chipboard together with the etched glass. Obviously then EuroCucina remains the international stage where companies present all their news, therefore, as every year, we must wait to go to the Fair and see with our own eyes what it will be proposed.

Why is the exhibition confirmed as a strategic data for the sector?
I would say this: not a strategic date but the strategic date for the sector. Milan is the capital of design and EuroCucina is the most important international showcase of all, to whom the whole world rushes to catch the new trends and appreciate a made-in-Italy know-how unique in the world.

During the recent years the Salone has dedicated much of its energies in the organization of events in the main capitals of the world (London, New York, Moscow, Shanghai) to present to the media and buyers from these countries what the Italian kitchen really is. Which are the features that allow our furnishings to stand out?
Surely the synthesis of all are three words: craftsmanship, technology and design. The Italian kitchens are a perfect mix of all this: the craftsmanship know-how, applied to large investments in technology, combines with an innovative design. But not only. As a manifesto of a Kitchen Tour we organized in the past years said, the added value of made-in-Italy is: "a soul that is born from the tradition of a great country and from the passion of great masters. Because, after all, technology can be bought, design can be copied, but not the history, neither the heritage nor the talent to see beyond." We have something innate that we want and we must cultivate and preserve.

What are the more interested markets in made-in-Italy?
Despite it still represents a little share of the sector's turnover, export is giving great satisfaction. Among the first, we record good signals from the Anglo-Saxon countries, from China and the Middle East.

This year EuroCucina will host FTK once again, another event dedicated to the built-in appliances. Are the results of this segment strongly influenced by the internal dynamics or is exports gradually acquiring a bigger share?

From our point of view, we can say that the kitchen market is giving encouraging signs both in Italy and abroad, which makes us think that the home appliances market may have had a positive trend. Certainly ours is a sector where the internal market still weighs a lot, but it is equally true that the demand from abroad is becoming more and more important, and Salone del Mobile is the best starting point to develop internationally.

Are consumers, both in Italy and abroad, ready for the connected kitchen?
Inside of the trends that Salone del Mobile Trend Lab is analyzing, home automation is found among the topics of greatest interest. For years now we are talking about this subject, but now at last it has gone from a purely design perspective to a commercial one too. We want to make fully accessible the opportunities that technology offers today and kitchen is surely one of the most suited places in the house to this combination. If only a few years ago it might seem like science fiction to manage the oven or the dishwasher through an application, today all this is reality.

In the future, what kind of kitchen will we find in homes?
It would be difficult and unrealistic to propose a unique image of what it could be here in a few years. Certainly great attention will be given to the observation of how people lifestyles will evolve. It will be first of all from this that an adequate response will be found to the needs that will be created. Just surely I can say that we will see a lot of applied technology, many efforts aimed at energy saving and green, but without sacrificing the aesthetic level.
Giovanni De Ponti, managing director of Salone del Mobile.Milano
Giovanni De Ponti, managing director of Salone del Mobile.Milano
Salone del Mobile: more and more “global”
The expansion plan developed by Federlegno Arredo Eventi goes on. In collaboration with Ice, it sets new milestones and new challenges to bring Salone del Mobile in the world. Scheduled for 2016, in addition to the historic event in Milan, there will also be a new edition of the Fair in Moscow and the first landing in Shanghai.
The goal is make the Italian furniture industry better known, teaching to appreciate not just a product, but also a story, a philosophy of life and some services.
Giovanni De Ponti, managing director of Salone del Mobile.Milano, explains the expansion plans to tell the Chinese, and the whole world, the excellence of the furniture and of the Italian lifestyle.

When is it born, and which benefits has your partnership with Ice brought?

We have always had a strong relationship with Ice, as we represent one of the excellence sector of the Italian industry. In recent years, largely thanks to the efforts of the Vice Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda, and the new "Plan for made-in-Italy," we had the opportunity to develop this partnership, for us absolutely fundamental. When you have a chance to make country system, the good results are visible.

In addition to traditional markets like the USA, France and Germany, which new countries are revealing strategic for the Italian furniture sector?
In 2015 Britain recorded very interesting growing trend, probably the most important together with the United States. There is a very great interest for the Italian products in the Middle East and data confirm us that companies are developing their presence especially in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. In Iran, turnovers are still small, but thanks to the work of commercial intelligence we have done during the last three years, now that the market is opening we are in pole position and we have great expectations. Then of course there is China, which continues to score double-digit growth.

Does China remain your main goal?
On last 17 December in Milan the press conference was held to present the first Salone del Mobile.Shanghai, that will be held in the Chinese metropolis from 19 to 21 November 2016 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, very prestigious location that hosts cultural and artistic events of the highest level, and the city's landmark.
The debut of the Salone del Mobile.Shanghai represents the fundamental step in the strategy of Federlegno Arredo Eventi in the development of Chinese furnishing market which, after a phase of analysis and scouting, has realized in the past two years with a series of activities and services to facilitate the entry and consolidation of Italian companies in the sector.

What other steps do you have conceived to bring the Salone in the world?
First I want to underline that, in 2016, Salone del Mobile will occupy the international scene with three dates: 12 -17 April in Milan, 12-15 October in Moscow and, as mentioned above, 19 -21 November in Shanghai. I think that these figures are more than any other indicators of how we're spending internationally. We are the world's leading trade fair in our sector, but for us is not enough, we work tirelessly to always improve, and to offer our entrepreneurs always new markets.

Have you also planned other B2B missions?
For the first half of 2016 we have already defined a rich program of B2B missions. We started with Iran from 21 to 23 February, while from 1 to 4 March was the turn of Azerbaijan and Georgia. Immediately after, from 7 to 9 March, we had a mission to China and then, after Salone del Mobile, at the end of May, another interesting stop, Kazakhstan.

Abroad they copy our furnishings but no one has managed to copy the winning format of the Salone. Why does Milan go on to be a strategic stop for those who want to make and sell furniture?

In 2002, Wallpaper magazine has included Salone del Mobile.Milano among the fifty "Italian excellence" with the definition "The design village, that leads where the others will go" The Milan Salone has two passwords over all: innovation and internationalization. The most important industry players come to Milan because they know they can find the best innovation in terms of product and project. In the city of Milan trends are dictated that are then taken up during the year.
In each edition more than 300,000 professionals come from more than 160 countries. Companies interested in developing foreign markets, must be at the show. There is no better internationalization tool than this.