At the centre of Leicht's booth was an impressive kitchen island combining dark wood, marble, brass and "Umbra" surfaces from the "Les Couleurs Le Corbusier" collection.

There is no crisis

Kitchen manufacturers showcased refined portfolios at Living Kitchen in Cologne. Many of them took the motto “green kitchen” literally.
by Thomas Edelmann | 2/1/2019

People tend to lay it on thick at the kitchen table when it comes to expectations. Sometimes, however, reality doesn’t match the forecasts. Living Kitchen is a successful format that secures Koelnmesse especially high visitor numbers every other year parallel to imm cologne. Only recently this trade fair appeared weakened, in fact it seemed to be in existential difficulties. Back in November 2017 the B/S/H group (Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau, Neff, Constructa, etc.) announced that it would in future only be exhibiting at trade fairs with an even larger reach. And as soon as one big fish goes, others start to rethink their position: AEG and Elektrolux, Häcker, Hansgrohe, Liebherr, Miele and others followed this year’s trend of kitchen absenteeism on the Rhine. For some time now, brands from the luxury segment have preferred to present themselves in the slipstream of the major fairs in their own showrooms away from the main halls. It is not comparison with others, but exclusivity that is the focus of the brand worlds, which consequently, and unintentionally, are falling ever more into step. In a showroom a brand has more scope to define its own rules and can respond to business partners more precisely than at a trade fair stand, however well designed. Yet there is no interaction, no spontaneous visits to neighboring stands outside the fair. In Cologne, the “Passages” program at least benefits from such trends. Those searching for new things in the world of kitchens rarely find them at a trade fair; after all, kitchen manufacturers present their latest products to trade specialists at in-house fairs at their headquarters long before the wider public has the opportunity to explore them at trade fairs or in flagship stores.

The cooking table is a characteristic design element in next125 kitchens. At Living Kitchen, the company presented it in combination with Smart Home applications.

The demise of Living Kitchen appeared inevitable – and yet did not materialize. Koelnmesse reported a total of 150,000 visitors to imm cologne and Living Kitchen. Exhibitors that remained loyal to Cologne were rewarded with undivided attention. The organizers used vacant spaces, for example, for the participants of the “Pure Talents Contest” for up-and-coming designers who work in the field of kitchens. In this context Maxime Augay, a graduate of ECAL in Lausanne, won a prize for his handy mobile extractor fan for small kitchens. Formally, the object resembles a combination of a Dyson hairdryer and a bedside lamp; air flows through removable filters made of stainless steel and activated carbon.

With his presentation of a “Future Kitchen,” Alfredo Häberli created an abstract sequence of rooms that indicated how design practices as well as kitchen outfitting could change in the next few years. Visitors were shown digitally which design alternatives were or should be available. As visionary as all this appears in the trade-fair context – the floating kitchen appliances visualized via app, transparent refrigerators, water collectors and new methods of waste recycling and urban farming, the future scenario is likely to soon become reality in one way or another. The question that arises is, whether this will involve increased freedom or rather restriction to a brand’s individual, and closed, digital world.

The solid three-layer panel, which Team 7 presented as a trade fair innovation at Living Kitchen 2019, can be used in many ways - here as a cantilevered kitchen counter, for example.

By comparison, the current products almost seem overly well-behaved. As has been the case in the furniture sector for a long time now, at Living Kitchen too you have to take a closer look if you want to discover something new. The kitchen sector is changing the positioning of its products to remain competitive, aiming “higher, further, more attractive.” Traditional standard products are consistently giving way to components, surfaces and finishing elements shaped by stylistic concepts. Humans as a disruptive force are more or less out of the picture as far as the smooth surfaces of their XXL unit fronts and worktops in high-end stone look are concerned. Composites like Fenix take their satin-matt effect without the risk of ugly fingerprints left by greasy hands.

With its trade-fair stand, kitchen manufacturer Leicht consistently addresses well-heeled customers with a discerning sense of style and penchant for architecture. As such, it is not individual model series that form the heart of the stand, but interior design presentations, conceived by Angelika Ertl (Studio Raumweise Innenarchitektur, Stuttgart). Leicht highlights its own expertise in planning, with its furniture ranges, not only the kitchen as the hub of home life, but also the interior design of the living areas. This ranges from the “Werkbank” with adjoining bar counter to the room-defining island, presented as “Barrique” and designed with dark-wood fronts and the color “Umbra” from the collection Les Coloures Le Corbusier. An impressive feature, if not particularly functional, is the granite sink with shiny gold-colored fittings at the head of the block.

Whereas Leicht designs the living area starting from the kitchen, in the furniture halls Italian manufacturers such as B&B Italia, Molteni and Poliform demonstrate how well their kitchen brands Arclinea and Dada fit into stylish living environments. In its city showroom, Boffi is presenting the latest kitchen by Norbert Wangen, model K6.

Do you still cook, or do you live in your kitchen? Given the fusion of living area and kitchen that dominated the fair, the question arises as to how we should read the statistics published by the market researchers at GfK, according to which Germans spend on average 5.5 hours a week in the kitchen, a good hour less than the global average. Either the statistics are wrong, or the furnishing trend is indeed more eye candy than kitchen reality for the clientele surveyed.

In their "Haus" at the imm cologne, Kate and Joel Booy designed the kitchen with elements from Alpes Knox and armatures from Grohe as the centre of a large all-encompassing space.

The field of kitchen technology too, which at Living Kitchen 2019 lost the most traditional exhibitors, offered remarkable innovations. Bora, for example, presented a new, lower-cost fourth line of the extractor fan fit flush with the stovetop. “Pure” is the name of the new model series and is intended to make cooking without hitting your head on the extractor fan more affordable for many people – “for every kitchen,” as Bora self-confidently claims. “Pure” has an automatic extractor control system with the usual quiet volume and a comparatively easily replaceable activated carbon filter, and is easy to clean. Moreover, the color of the cover for the inlet opening can be matched to your tableware. Thus it was not solely the sporting spirit and hospitality of the founder and MD Willi Bruckbauer that made the Bora stand a pleasant port of call at this year’s trade fair.

The firm Blanco, once known primarily as a supplier of stainless-steel sinks, presented a wide range of materials for all kinds of sinks, for instance in “concrete style,” bowls with different functional levels and accessories from chopping boards to sink storage options and rails. The range also includes new “smart,” meaning sensor-controlled, fittings. While their purist forms are long since familiar, what is new are the control elements for precise dosing. With “Blanco Evol-S,” for instance, the user can preselect a certain volume of water using a rotary knob, which can then be called up by touching another control element as the “exact volume of water requested.” Technology has replaced what a glance at the measuring jug used to do. At least it doesn’t need to connect to the Internet to do the job.

At Team 7 (the Austrian solid wood brand is celebrating its 60thanniversary this year) it was not the entirely new kitchen models, but innovative details that demanded attention. There are new insert dividers for drawers for all kinds of utensils. And after calls in recent years for ever thinner walls, the three-layer or G3 panel boasts material thicknesses of up to 7.9 cm in all types of wood that the company processes. They can be used to make projecting shelves, extension tables, illuminated storage options suspended from the ceiling or bar counters, as impressively and variously demonstrated at the trade-fair stand.

Bora's new "Pure" hob is a trade fair innovation from the industry leader in the field of integrated extractor hoods.

Outside of the “Living Kitchen”, kitchens are definitely becoming part of the interior design discussion. In “Das Haus” by the Studio Truly Truly (the eighth “Das Haus” so far), the steel kitchen supported by tiled columns, together with neighboring zones for eating and relaxing, constitutes a hub of the fluid sequence of rooms. The designers Kate and Joey Booy from Australia, who have been living and working in Rotterdam since 2015, opted for a freestanding kitchen matching their design by Alpes Inox. The fittings in their narrow work area are by Grohe.

A place for retreat surrounded by densely growing plants forms a counterpoint to this zone of activity. Indoor plants sometimes made an appearance at this fair – usually at the edge of the kitchen. For example, Lasfera from Cologne’s Ehrenfeld district had “Cube Planted” on offer, flexible aluminum or Corten steel frames together with plants for illuminated indoor greenery and improving acoustics and the microclimate. Green everywhere: Automated racks in refrigerator format for “personal vertical farming” by the start-up “Agrilution,” founded by students at the Technical University of Munich, were likewise presented at Living Kitchen. Top chefs and private individuals can use the app-monitored refrigerator to grow tasty herbs for their own use to lend their food unusual and fresh flavors.

The erstwhile kitchen table is transforming, becoming a counter, an agile place in the middle of a home environment, if you ask the exhibitors at Living Kitchen 2019. And all those who didn’t come this time can start thinking about preparing their return to Cologne in two years’ time.