A sustained international presence at last year’s Brussels Furniture Fair ensured that the 75th anniversary of Meubelbeurs, although not visibly celebrated, was marked with quiet confidence and optimism. Furniture News’ Gemma Ralph reports.

As a first-timer to the show, what struck me most was how straightforward it was to navigate the impressive scale and diversity of products on display. Despite substantial footfall – with a modest yet encouraging 0.83% increase in visitor attendance this year – the effective zone-based layout ensured that stalls weren’t masked by busy crowds.

Indeed, despite relatively poor economic conditions and a difficult market in Belgium in recent months, the general consensus appeared to be that both quality and sales were an improvement on recent years.

While the show featured the expected majority of Belgian companies, concerted efforts by the event’s organisers to encourage visitors from Britain and Ireland saw marked results, with the fair reporting a 24.62% increase in buyers originating from these areas. Although these figures are based on a decidedly poor British turnout last year, they are perhaps indicative of slight improvements in the exchange rate, and a growing number of buyers turning to the Benelux market to seek alternatives to Far Eastern products.

Despite slight fluctuations in visitor numbers and nationalities, the fair’s focus on the middle segment remained consistent, while efforts to appeal to younger buyers were evident.

In addition to its usual collections for the Benelux market, the Mecam Group featured designs by the international label, B-by Indera. Offering a more accessible and affordable alternative to the Belgian design brand Indera, these chic seating and occasional furniture designs signalled the importance of preserving relevance within this mid-market sector.

Mobitec also geared its new Moods collection towards the 25-45 age group. This youthful feel was reflected in Mobitec’s vibrant stand – its four seats on display in an expansive variety of materials, dimensions and colour combinations.

The show’s core focus was complemented by a variety of upmarket ranges, often highly contemporary and design-led in their appeal. This was certainly marked in the Urban Nomad zone, which saw a fresh take on exotic themes and cosmopolitan designs this year. Pieces from established names such as Vincent Sheppard and Lee&Lewis joined with high-end ranges from the likes of VF Exclusive, Richmond by De Spieghel and Dekoninck Collections.

Art director of DAMn° magazine, Siegrid Demyttenaere, once again designed the show’s conjoining trend passages. Selected pieces from various exhibitors delineated three upcoming trends or themes – humanism, analysis and humorism –  creating both an attractive visual spectacle in otherwise overlooked spaces, and re-directing traffic to the stands of those companies featured.

In terms of more general trends, a modern take on rural styles was widespread. Grey, smoky finishes remained abundant within dining room collections, while upholstery in soft, organic hues was also prevalent.

Micheldenolf’s Cubico range captured exactly this fusion, and was duly recognised as the best entry in the Country Today category of the fair’s sixth Balthazar awards. Headed by Marie-Anne Desiere, a communication specialist who has been responsible for the furniture fair campaign for several years now, the judging body of industry experts awarded three further awards.

Joli’s creative application of materials for its range, Cosy, secured the award for most innovative product, while Theuns’ PEFC-certified range, Landeck, was recognised as the most eco-friendly product. Demonstrating Belgian innovation in the bedroom furniture sector, Magnitude won best Belgian product for its Area bed – featuring an adjustable headboard which doubles as a stylish room divider. 

These award-winning designs are reflective of the widespread ingenuity demonstrated at this year’s show. The ability to adapt to new and unusual trends, while also remaining committed to retailers’ needs, is a key component of the show’s success and, as the changing market brings new challenges, I hope that this successful formula remains a constant.