“Urban living” is the dream for most people. For some, it means the promise of a better life; for others, it signifies individuality and independence. But living in urban areas is expensive. When living space becomes scarcer, living areas merge and furniture increasingly defines living zones, the choice of furnishings grows in importance.
As with any other resource, when living space becomes less widely available, it must be used more efficiently. Anyone who wants, or needs, to furnish a compact space has the choice between individual space-saving items of furniture and moving in to a space comprised of fully-fitted, but unalterable furniture. And that is precisely what the trendy micro-apartment is. Back in the 1920s, architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky realised that unifying space and furniture could represent the most ergonomic and economical way to furnish a home. This resulted in the triumph known as the “Frankfurt kitchen” – the mother of all fitted kitchens.
The current boom in micro-apartments in major cities suggests a renaissance in furnished housing. As such, it is not just new room concepts that are in demand, but also new design concepts for multifunctional and space-saving furniture.
From a central European perspective, the prospect of a life in multifunctional living cells, like that of the fictional taxi driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) in “The Fifth Element”, is more of a nightmarish thought. But the micro-apartment is currently undergoing a process of reinterpretation – away from the image of the improvised student flat and becoming instead a comfortable living suite. With simple, functional furnishings for students who are always on the lookout for housing and in luxury versions for commuting executives and job hoppers, who never stay in one place for long.
Tiny Spaces: A successful model for trade fairs too
Real estate companies and project developers have already discovered this profitable business model for themselves. In many major cities around the world, flagship projects are planned or already underway - from affordable to luxurious. When it comes to fitting out such apartments with multifunctional and versatile furniture, design elements such as fittings and lightweight components are essential. Furniture technology is becoming a key innovator in these new living environments.
The topic of urbanisation is also of great importance for trade fairs. At ZOW 2020 - the supplier fair for the furniture and interior design industry in Bad Salzuflen - three scenarios were presented on a special area that were intended to provide impetus for tiny spaces. In addition to fully built-in furniture that optimises space and thereby merge space and furniture, the exhibition also showed ideas for age-appropriate, accessible living and co-joining concepts.
The combi-furniture „woek-dress“ by designer Michael Hilgers shows that options for micro-apartments do not need to be restricted to built-in systems. In an instant, “work-dress” converts from an apparently normal wardrobe into a comfortable, extendable workspace including rolling cabinets. The Berlin-based designer is known for his intelligent space-saving solutions. With a footprint of 0.9 square metres, his “Flatmate” design for furniture makers Müller Möbelwerkstätten is, for instance, the smallest fully equipped bureau on the market.
Flexible, multifunctional, digital: the furniture of the future
Where in the past space-saving tricks, such as the foldaway bed or the rotating carousel for pans, were only to be found in children’s bedrooms and kitchens, the entire home is now being explored for as-yet untapped opportunities. Whether pull-out cabinets or collapsible dressing tables for the bathroom, comfortable foldaway beds or space-optimised wardrobes – no stone is being left unturned. In the process, mechanical movements are often being supported by motors and can thus be operated via apps or voice control. As a result, wall units can be opened automatically on demand, or raised from the ceiling to a comfortable hight. This means that even the narrowest hallway can become a home office, the smallest space a multifunctional living, dining and work room or alcove a bedroom.
In a shrinking world, space-saving concepts are in great demand
Three-quarters of Germans already live in cities – a trend that is slowly on the rise. Individual cities, such as Leipzig and Frankfurt, are developing so dynamically that city planners can hardly keep up and complain about housing shortages. Having said that, with an urbanisation rate of about 77.3% (2018), Germany is still “only” mid-table in Europe (75.7%). In France (80.4%), Spain (80.3%) and the UK (83.3%), the rate is much higher and from Northern Europe up to the Benelux countries (Finland, 85,4% – Sweden 87,4% und Denmark 87,8%), the proportion of the population living in cities rises to an incredible 98% (Belgium). Worldwide, North America has the highest rate of urbanisation (82.2%), followed by Latin America (80,7%). Even though the majority of the inhabitants of Asia (49.5%) and Africa (42.5%) still live in rural areas, the influx ti cities is rising by leaps and bounds – also here a potential future market for compact furniture concepts for urban living? (sources: Statista ans United Nations)
In any event, according to estimates by the United Nations, there will already be 43 megacities around the world by 2030, and over 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. And that’s not all: the world’s population is growing – the planet is not. Figures from the German Foundation for World Population (DSW/Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung) suggest that, even in Germany, approximately 83% of people will live in conurbations in 40 years’ time.
And so, there’s no avoiding the fact that living space per person is reducing. More single people (young and old), more single parents and more and more families will need or want to manage in ever-smaller city dwellings. And not just students, but also single, higher-income earners like to live in central locations and enjoy the infrastructure for work, social networks, co-working spaces, restaurants, entertainment and culture.
The Scandinavian formula for success: more lifestyle in less space
As it happens, there has already been a clear trend towards smaller, stand-alone furniture in the past few years. Scandinavian furniture brands in particular are increasingly offering cocktail chairs instead of large lounge chairs, intimate two-seaters instead of XXL sofas and modestly sized desks on dainty feet. And it’s not just a question of aesthetics, because the pragmatism firmly anchored in Scandinavian design culture fits easily with the times. Perhaps this is another reason why their furniture and lifestyle concepts are so desirable at the moment. After all, they combine the essential with the enjoyable and give the necessity for reduction a comfortable, tolerable appearance.
The urbanisation trend, demographic change and the concurrent sweeping process of digitisation reinforce each other in terms of their influence on the culture of our home lives, which is likely to undergo lasting change in the coming decades. With diverse concepts and multifunctional products, space and furniture will be defined more closely as a single unit.