he Imm Cologne 2010

International experts agree: when it comes to relaxing furniture with majority appeal, Germany's upholstered furniture manufacturers are important innovators. In terms of ever more sophisticated comfort functions, new upholstery creations like the dinner sofa or environmentally compatible seating ensembles of the kind created by talented designer and EU award-winner Kati Meyer-Brühl, Germany is the benchmark for upholstery producers the world over. From 19-24 January 2010, trade visitors from all continents will be able to see this innovativeness for themselves at the imm cologne. Sofa manufacturers from Wervik to Singapore will be vying with German manufacturers to make their mark in the Cologne furniture fair's biggest sub-section, the "Comfort" segment in Halls 5, 6 and10.

No wonder - when it comes to upholstered furniture, Germany is the biggest and therefore most lucrative market in the EU17/EFTA. As the Italian Centre for Industrial Studies (CSIL) in Milan reports in a recent study, "The European market for upholstered furniture", 2008 saw the Germans overtake the British for the first time, moving into the lead as Europe's biggest buyers of upholstered furniture.

A total of 110 companies - including Hukla, Ponsel, Nordica, Natuzzi, Hjellegjerde, Molinari and Hans Kaufeld - will be using this segment to showcase their latest products, with firms like Candy, Carina and FM Munzer broadening the spectrum at next year's fair. But upholstered furniture isn't only on show in the Comfort segment: it plays an important role in the Pure section too. Cor, Cassina, Walter Knoll and De Sede will be showing their innovations in Hall 11 alongside firms like Rolf Benz or Brühl & Sippold.

Europe's sofa Mecca
"The international market for upholstered furniture is very complicated, " says Benny Nilsson, founder and owner of Scandinavian firm Furninova, a Swedish-based shooting star in the upholstered furniture sector. "Every country has its own particular design preferences, so an upholstered furniture manufacturer has to be extremely flexible if he wants to succeed at international level. Germany is a particularly difficult challenge if you're operating in the mid-price range. The Germans cultivate their own very special style of what they call "Gemütlichkeit", or cosiness. And then you have to come up with an answer to all the comfort functions that Germans pretty much expect as standard features." Benny Nilsson will continue to seize every opportunity for bringing his timeless Scandinavian furniture to the German and international markets. "The fact that we'll be exhibiting at the imm cologne again next year is all part of our expansion strategy, " says the ambitious Scandinavian. "For us, it's the most important fair there is."

Stable consumption in the "Comfort" segment
As for the situation of upholstered furniture manufacturers in Germany right now, global economic conditions are making growth scarce. The household furniture industry, which includes upholstered furniture producers, reported sales of 3.9bn euros in the first half of 2009 - a drop of 13.8% as compared to the same period last year. But as far as overall business developments in the upholstery sub-segment are concerned, Dirk-Walter Frommholz, president of the VdDP (Association of the German Upholstered Furniture Industry), paints a more optimistic picture: "Whereas export orders were very sluggish in the first six months of 2009, the situation on the domestic market has remained relatively stable, " says Frommholz, whose East Westphalian company manufactures classically modern sofas. "Several internal surveys conducted by the VdDP very clearly indicate that domestic demand has become the mainstay of the industry. But export business will no doubt pick up again eventually, and we're expecting recovery to start in spring 2010."

Vintage and blue-violet
It will take a mighty effort for upholstered furniture manufacturers - regardless of their nationality - to stimulate consumer demand for sofas, armchairs and the like on a grand scale. What will they have to offer us at the imm cologne? According to Kurt Beier, an experienced designer at upholstered furniture company Koinor in Michelau, Upper Franconia, "The trend is towards user-friendly creations with sophisticated functions and multiple uses. In terms of shape, things are starting to get rounder again, the sofas are getting more "cushiony" - you sit in them rather than on them. Neutral colours like black, white, brown or grey continue to dominate as far as coverings are concerned, and leather is still very popular. But there are some new trend colours as well, like dark-blue violet shades and royal or night blue." Benny Nilsson of Furninova's adds: "I've noticed that the strict, cubic shapes we've been seeing are starting to soften up - a perfect fit with the casual, laid-back look of our Scandinavian sofas." Nilsson also acknowledges the growing importance of vintage and romantic styles. It looks as if upholstered furniture is being given a more distinctive character again - another excellent reason for visiting the imm cologne!

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