Features

The Art of Economics

Amid a recession, EuroCucina 2012 goes neutral and natural
By Alice Liao
July 11, 2012

Even as Europe stands knee-deep in economic uncertainty, EuroCucina 2012, which was held April 17-22 in conjunction with Salone Internazionale del Mobile at the Milan Fairgrounds in Rho-Milan, Italy, seemed fairly abuzz with activity. Aisles were sufficiently populated to require vigilance for circulation, and booths were well packed to make photography challenging.

Nevertheless, “The Europeans have taken quite an economic hit in the last four years,” said Giulio Petrilli, VP of project sales for Snaidero USA, and EuroCucina regulars, such as Petrilli, noticed a smaller footprint. According to show organizer Cosmit, while this year’s outing boasted 166 exhibitors (up from 151), total exhibition space was down from 32,652 to 26,894 sq. m, and attendance experienced a slight dip from 297,460 to 292,370 for the combined event, which also included a furniture accessories component and the International Bathroom Show.


KITCHEN ART

Regardless, the biennial kitchen extravaganza still had much to awe visitors, if not in the number of new innovations, then in sheer artistry. Whereas American shows tend to be more product-focused in their displays, here, booths were often fully accessorized and dramatically illuminated to stoke one’s imagination, emotions and viscera. Some displays took a real-life approach, such as SieMatic’s three BeauxArts vignettes, which were created by Mick De Giulio—who also designed the cabinet line—to be easily transferable to an actual home, and Marchi, an Italian maker of traditional and transitional kitchens, segmented its booth into four elaborately furnished environments, each inspired by a bit of Americana and each in near move-in condition. Others incorporated everything from paper sculptures and plastic flamingoes to crockery, oversized light fixtures and groupings of common household and food items to convey an attitude, a mood or frequently an atmosphere of warmth and domesticity.



Marchi’s booth was beautifully outfitted with several fully furnished vignettes depicting Americana


As in previous years, many of the kitchens on display were prototypes, noted Petrilli and Amir Ilin, president of Küche+Cucina and North and Central American sales manager for Pedini USA. This makes sense, as several featured mammoth peninsulas or multiple islands bridged by countertops outfitted with stools. Some islands curved, sloped and/or terminated in a casual dining table, seating or a shelving unit angled to break up the long horizontal lines. All required lots of space, which runs contrary to the reality of European kitchens. “In Europe, most people live in apartments, so the kitchens are much smaller than what you would find in a catalog or at a show,” Ilin said. “EuroCucina is like a fashion show, so you’ll see things that may never go into production,” such as large islands that could easily dwarf the roomiest of kitchens stateside. However, Ilin added, prototype or not, the products “set a trend or provide a direction.”


WOODEN APPEAL

One highly visible trend was a raw, sawn-wood look that some may recall from last year’s inaugural LivingKitchen show in Cologne, Germany. In fact, Petrilli thinks it may have originated in Northern Europe, where pronounced graining and rustic wood effects have long been favored. Shown in medium- and dark-wood tones, as well as gray, and often paired with countertops formed of large wooden planks that appeared as if sliced from a tree, the back-to-nature look was pervasive in Milan, but Petrilli and Ilin are doubtful about its success. Both Snaidero and Pedini introduced it a few years ago and “it never took off,” Ilin said. “Customers liked it, but they didn’t buy it. Sometimes you need products that make people ooh and aah, but then they move on.” Moreover, Petrilli said, “The Italian market has gone strictly into the lacquers,” which account for 90 percent of Snaidero’s business and tend to be less expensive than wood. “Italians, in terms of a general market, are downscaling their kitchens because of the economy, and they’re basically choosing lacquer.”



Minacciolo went back to nature with its Natural Skin kitchen in “cooked” pine.


Other popular finishes at the show included glass (especially in the frosted variety), metal and laminates, which hold appeal no doubt because of their affordability. Some companies experimented with textured concrete, ceramics or stone on cabinet doors, drawers and sides, and countertops, which were either very thin or very thick, were served up in a variety of materials. Yet despite the selection of finishes, colors in general veered toward neutral with white, gray and wood tones dominating the exhibits. Ilin noted, “From a psychological standpoint, when the economy starts to slow down, things become softer, and colors are less bright and gutsy.”


SMALLER AND MORE OPEN

Europe’s financial woes may have had a hand in another trend at the show: the merging of kitchen and living areas. Though not a new concept for either side of the pond, in the United States, its popularity reflects lifestyle changes and can translate into roomy open-plan arrangements where different functions are not distinctly defined yet remain well accommodated. In Italy, “Designers and manufacturers are having to contend with ever smaller living areas and the prospect of unique settings that have a kitchen and living space enclosed within the same room,” said Alessandro Melchiorri, marketing assistant for Scavolini SpA.



A raw wood look and stone come together in Lando’s Convivio is an open kitchen concept featuring a compact, multifunctional island.


As proposed by exhibitors, solutions for integrating the two spaces ranged from sliding doors, countertops and panels that conceal plumbing, appliances and pantries to islands with pullout tables or motorized shelving that appear when needed and retract when not. Some companies replaced conventional upper and lower cabinets with freestanding wall units and open shelving that are both kitchen- and living-room-friendly, while others showed leggy islands or peninsulas equipped for cooking, cleaning and prepping that require little space.


MAKING A NAME

Designer collaborations were popular at the show and, Ilin said, offer a way for companies to distinguish themselves. Scavolini, for example, unveiled its Diesel Social kitchen, which mixed materials to pitch a lifestyle as casual and luxe as a pair of designer jeans, and Foodshelf, a kitchen-and-living-room-as-one creation by French industrial designer Ora-ïto. Aran showed two futuristic Karim Rashid concepts—the all-white Beluga and the all-black Kook—both of which compact the kitchen’s functions into a single workstation plus, in the case of the former, a table with a sink. Snaidero again turned to Pininfarina for an update to its IDEA40 kitchen. Lesser known in this country, Michele Marcon lent his vision to an eco-concrete kitchen for Dibiesse and a series of ventilation products shown by Best in FTK—Technology for the Kitchen, or the appliance pavilion. Elica had several interesting ventilation hoods, one of which, a mix-and-match modular design, bore the creative imprint of Ludovica + Roberto Palomba.

Speaking of which, no recap of EuroCucina would be complete without mentioning technology. Though now new, white LEDs were definitely the go-to for illuminating everything from undercabinet areas and toekicks to shelving and cabinet interior. LED striplights were shown in longer lengths, some reaching nearly 18 ft., said Petrilli, who also noted that companies were playing with the thickness of cabinet doors for different effects. Sustainability, much bandied about at the last EuroCucina, assumed a lower profile this time around as exhibitors, such as Ernestomeda, touted new eco-friendly materials, finishes and practices.

With our world becoming increasingly digital, some kitchens made room for our electronic gadgets, and in FTK, alongside full-surface induction cooktops, ventilation hoods that promise to ionize the air and other appliances that may never land on our shores (such as KitchenAid’s Shock Freezer), apps demonstrated the convenience of remote controlling one’s oven or refrigerator. Ariston went further, offering peeks into a future where smart appliances help us keep track of what we buy, where we refrigerate it, when we should use it and how it should be cooked.

Seem far off? Perhaps. But in economic times such as these, when consumer appetites are weak, sometimes imagination is all one needs to make it to the future.

The next EuroCucina takes place from April 8-13, 2014.


Click here for a gallery of kitchen cabinets shown at EuroCucina 2012.
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