Furniture designers braving crisis at Milan fair

Fri Apr 24, 2009 10:52am EDT
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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Anxious consumers may be keeping a tight grip on their wallets but designers at Milan's furniture fair are hopeful their sleek creations will be welcomed into homes worldwide despite the downturn.

Showing pieces from the weird to the chic, the fair -- which calls itself "an antidote to the credit crunch" -- is hosting some 2,700 companies from around the world. Designers are parading decors like a fan that doubles as a small table, regal beds and wacky chairs.

"We are realists. We are not crying but we are responding to the crisis by working on production, offering high quality," said Manlio Armellini, chief executive of fair organizer Cosmit.

"2009 begun at quite a low level, there are signs of a small recovery ... Consumers are worried about the crisis but they more and more are wanting to redecorate parts of their home."

Sales of discretionary items such as furniture have been hit as spending slows. Italy's wood furnishings industry saw a steeper than expected 5.6 percent fall in sales last year to 37.5 billion euros ($49.43 billion), according to Cosmit.

Armellini said he could not give a forecast for the year but said the sector needed to work on exports, which fell 1.7 percent last year to just under 12 billion euros.

Milan, Italy's business capital, has been transformed during the fair as thousands of exhibitors, retailers, designers and reporters descend to see the latest in design. Organizers expect more than 300,000 people to visit the April 22-27 event.

Hopeful that contacts with interested viewers will transform into business, those exhibiting say the key to succeeding in the recession is creativity. "Innovation is right," said Luca Carlo Radice of sleek furniture designer Radice.   Continued...

<p>The new Armani Casa collection furniture line is displayed at the Armani store in downtown Milan, April 21, 2009. The International Furnishing and Design exhibition will start on Wednesday and run until April 27. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>