Megatrend Urbanisation

August 09, 2018 | Article from Katrin de Louw

Although internet sales of furniture and furnishings will continue to grow, the demand for individual advice and solutions is rising. On average, people will spend more money on furnishings per square metre because they have to optimise the available space ...

K atrin de Louw is an interior designer and owner of Trendfilter – Designzukunft für Möbel und Materialien. She is also the owner and initiator of Servicepoint A30, a material trend forum situated on the A30 motorway in Germany. In 2017, she oversaw for the fourth time the major materials and surfaces exhibition at the Materials & Nature Piazza at the Interzum trade fair. She is considered a leading expert on trends in the furniture and furnishings industry in German-speaking countries, and also writes for international trade magazines. In our interview, Katrin de Louw talks about urbanisation and what it means for the furniture trade.

Katrin, urbanisation is a hot topic right now. What exactly is it all about?
Katrin de Louw:Urbanisation describes the global megatrend that is seeing more and more people moving from the country to cities, with the result that rural areas are increasingly thinning out. Around 75 percent of Germans currently live in cities, and 30 percent live in large cities with more than 100,000 residents. That’s above the EU average. As a rule, large cities are growing. Some small cities are really struggling, and others are even shrinking. There’s a huge amount of variation and it’s very dependent on things like the local labour market.

What does that mean for housing in cities?
Katrin de Louw: There’s already a shortage of housing in cities, and rents are horrendously overpriced. And then you’ve got the idea of biophilia, which is where people want to be close to nature, despite living in an urban area. So the little free space that is available has to compete with urban agricultural projects. Policymakers advise cities to grow “inwards” so that there is at least space for recreational areas on the periphery. As a result, residential buildings are springing up wherever they can – in old factories, in disused production halls, schools and churches, on rooves and in the narrowest of empty lots.

Are these homes as we know them? With a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom?
Katrin de Louw: No, absolutely not. The way we live is essentially being reinvented – as micro-flats and tiny houses. We’re also seeing a lot of new communal living projects, where people live together and share a lot of rooms. The residents think hard about why they actually need a private refuge because it’s very expensive. If I can afford a two-room flat, then it’s divided into an active part and a passive part – or, as I also like to put it, into a noisy room and a quiet room. Room functions are merging, and so are furniture functions. If I only have one room in which I entertain guests, cook and work, then traditional lounge, kitchen and office furniture doesn’t exist for me anymore. People need individual and multifunctional solutions.

We’ve all seen those micro-flats where they’ve installed shelves up to the ceiling just to create some kind of storage space. That’s completely unsuitable for older people. How does this trend fit in with the demographic change?
Katrin de Louw: You’re absolutely right to ask that question, and it poses a major challenge for tomorrow’s furnishers. Planners will have to design micro-flats that are also suitable for elderly residents. We must not make the mistake of dismissing these kinds of homes as being just for young people and students. Many older people currently enjoy living alone while benefiting from the advantages of the city, its good connections and amenities.

What does this all mean for the furniture trade?
Katrin de Louw: Although internet sales of furniture and furnishings will continue to grow, the demand for individual advice and solutions is rising. On average, people will spend more money on furnishings per square metre because they have to optimise the available space. For this, they will need planning, delivery and assembly services. But furnishing will also increasingly become an issue for architects because clients will often ask for solutions during the construction stage itself. If the industry can respond to this and make flexible solutions possible, the trade could increasingly serve architects well. In addition, we need to stop thinking so much in terms of separate rooms. Furniture stores will also have to embrace a more open structure to show off their flexible, multifunctional and multi-room products.

But a lot of stand-alone furniture items are still being sold. Will the shortage of living space mean that these also become smaller?
Katrin de Louw: A lot of them will, yes. Around a third of all households in Europe are one-person households. In Paris, it’s as high as 50 percent. Germany has 16.8 million single households. That means there’s a very big demand for one-person furniture and flexible additions for when guests pay a visit. With modern shared homes, the exact opposite is happening: They need huge items of furniture that can accommodate a lot of people – this applies to things like sofas and dining tables, for instance. It’s also important that furniture is multigenerational. We need universal design – furniture and furnishings made to be used by people of any age.