Norwegian furniture is famous for its good ergonomics and functionality. Function remains key in the motivation of design, in succinct dialog with aesthetic concerns.
In 2002, however, furniture manufacturers and designers in Norway are taking the concept of user-friendliness into new territory - in the exploration of new production and industry technologies, and through a variety of innovative design features. The industry is hereby demonstrating an inherent adaptability, as it addresses the needs of a global society increasingly on the move at a number of levels. Although 2001 was a year of unprecedented challenges for international trade in general, the Norwegian furniture industry has on the whole maintained good export figures in a number of markets. Danish, German and French imports of Norwegian furnishings continued to rise by roughly 10 per cent; exports to the UK increased by 3.9 per cent, to Japan by 1.6 per cent.
Integrated Functions - for Home and Office
Movement and adaptability signify important trends in Norwegian furniture manufacture and design in general in 2002. Examples include the kaleidoscope of user options available, offering flexible seating positions and additional product functions and applications; the multiplicity of design options facilitated by advances in customisation; or more generally in terms of accommodating personal mobility. Norwegian furniture designers cater to the needs of contemporary executives who, equipped with laptop and cell phone, alternate between working from their home and in the office. Office furniture is moving into the home, and vice versa, as the two, once separate, spheres overlap and converge.
H&G ASA, the largest manufacturer of office furniture in the country, exports about 80 per cent of a production based on the design philosophy that the human body was made for movement and variation. Comfort is combined with functionality. H&G's office chairs allow the feet to determine the chair's movements - guiding the entire body's seating position. This unique FootControlledMovementTM design inspires constant seating variation, thereby stimulating blood circulation. The user feels better physically and mentally, enhancing concentration. Ergonomics not only make good sense for the body, they also improve worker effectiveness.
Stokke Gruppen addresses similar concerns - for leisure rather than industry. Famous for its Tripp Trapp chair - which "grows" with the child -, the company continues to break new ground in furniture design. It created a sensation at the 2002 trade fair in Cologne with its new chair, "Peel". The name accurately describes the chair's unique look: shaped like a suspended orange peel, the chair is part of Stokke's Movement Collection, and is designed to protect and care for the body - just as the orange peel does for its contents. The highly original Peel chair concept has become a huge success, in Stokke's own unique twist on the comfort/functionality fusion, here with a focus on nurturing the individual user. Although the chair is not created as an office chair, but intended for rest and relaxation, the Stokke catch phrase "support for the body, support for the mind" underlines the importance of sitting well as a means of rejuvenating mental productivity.
Beds and mattresses are also succumbing to the new trend towards movement and adaptability: moveable beds provide the bedroom with user functions far beyond that of a good night's sleep. Entertainment and work are now being brought into what has formerly been the most private of domains. In many homes the television has been moved to the foot of the bed. Mobile workers not only bring their work home with them - they are also taking their laptops to bed with them. With state-of-the-art bedroom technology users can adjust beds so that they can enjoy a comfortable sitting position during the day and the more familiar sleeping position at night. Such features are offered by the M¯belringen furniture chain, and Jensen M¯bler AS - though the latter company has had adjustable beds on its product list since as early as 1995. It comes as no surprise then that this mattress and bedroom furnishings manufacturer has taken multi-functionality a step further, with its pioneering "Zone system" mattress providing built-in customisation, designed to adapt to individual body requirements.
Domestic mattress sales in Norway have shown steady growth. Both large and small actors among Norwegian manufacturers dominate the Norwegian mattress market representing about 90 per cent of total domestic sales. Mattresses are set to become an important export item for Porolon AS who began export to Denmark in the autumn of 2001 and will begin exporting to Sweden in the autumn of 2002. Ekornes ASA is currently focusing on the export market within the Nordic region: More than 50 per cent of the company's turnover in Finland is from mattress sales, with high percentages also in Sweden, and exports to Denmark following closely behind.
Automation on the Move
Driven by the need to keep costs down, furniture producers have invested heavily in automation. The demand to meet customer specifications while at the same time offering unique, innovative design features, while relying on production processes delivering maximized standardization calls for creative solutions. Ekornes has pioneered automated production of recliners, with each Ekornes Stressless chair being produced in only 3.5 man-hours. Today, most Ekornes chairs and sofas are tailor-made to customer specifications, with customers determining features such as skin colour and wood type. Technological advances hereby serve to better address a variety of individual customer specifications.
The Norwegian manufacturer H&G ASA is in the process of modernizing the production process for its H05 office chair. The result of a developmental project carried out in collaboration with inter-disciplinary research institution SINTEF and funded by the Norwegian Research Council, the company is implementing an entirely new approach to production. Previously the company's chair production was a cumbersome affair with chairs-in-progress transported from department to department, put on hold when parts were lacking and time lost in the transport and sorting of pieces and sundry. The company has now streamlined this process with a start-to-finish chair-by-chair production. When a customer orders a chair, all the necessary parts and elements are gathered into one batch and production is then implemented - straight through to the finished product. At the same time as improving efficiency, H&G is combining standardization with customisation - the customer is permitted to take part in the design of the chair itself, and can select fabric colours, chair back height, etc. In 2001 this resulted in a total of 11,726 variations on the office chair.
The furniture industry is devoting more attention to the testing of furniture and development of quality assurance. Quality assurance is clearly important in terms of marketing concerns, though up to now in Norway this has primarily been the case for the contract market. This is now changing; the furniture chain M¯belringen along with companies such as Ekornes, Hjellegjerde, Fora Form, Hov Dokka have now begun stipulating requirements for documented quality assurance and product certification also in the private market.
The M¯belfakta quality standard is a voluntary, neutral testing and labelling system for furniture in Norway. The Norwegian Furniture and Interiors Control Agency (Norsk M¯bel og InnredningsKontroll - NMIK) is responsible for the administration, development and monitoring of the M¯belfakta system, to ensure quality furniture in accordance with consumer standards. A M¯belfakta-approved piece of furniture is approved with regard to strength and durability, stability, flammability, surfaces, and textiles through testing that simulates 10 years of use. M¯belfakta product certification also includes an assessment concerning professional construction and design.
Testing of furniture in Norway is carried out at the laboratories of the Norwegian Technological Institute, the only accredited laboratory for such testing in the country. The Norwegian standards are based on the EN (European) standards. As such, Norwegian manufacturers usually qualify for the same standard other places in Europe though it is of course more natural for them to seek such certification at home. The development of standards is an ongoing, and painstaking process, where the completion of a single standard can take from five to ten years. The standards are developed based on the need for updates with regard to new product types, and - more importantly - for relevant, well-developed testing methods and requirements.
The IT-M¯belhandel project also represents exciting developments within the context of internationalisation and forward-looking measures within the Norwegian furniture industry. This project involves collaboration between Norwegian retailers and manufacturers for the establishment of an electronic ordering system. One of the objectives of the IT-M¯belhandel project has been to introduce efficient IT-based solutions for presentation, ordering and invoicing in the furniture industry designed also to serve an international market. The project is a joint initiative between the Confederation of Norwegian Commercial and Service Enterprises (HSH) and The Federation of Norwegian Manufacturing Industries (TBL) with an initial pilot project to be launched in 2002. During 2003, the project's third year, the systems and experiences will be made accessible to other actors from all sectors of Norwegian furniture trade and industry. In addition to providing global accessibility to the Norwegian manufacturers, the IT-M¯belhandel system will mean significant annual savings for the furniture industry as a whole - ultimately benefiting customers worldwide.
Norwegian Furnishings to Egypt
The Norwegian contribution to the construction of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which opened in April of this year, exemplifies Norwegian adaptability. Norwegian contemporary design, manufacture and export have in this case been situated in the context of a historical starting point. The Norwegian multidisciplinary design firm Sn¯hetta, in partnership with Egypt's Hamza Associates, designed the new library, and went on to serve as consultant for the entire project. The Norwegian furniture manufacturer Emil Bossvik AS was contracted to furnish the interiors. The furnishings were envisioned as an integral dimension of the overall design; through a complex interaction of the library's interior with the furnishings, the designers and manufacturers involved succeeded in creating an expression implicitly reminiscent of ancient Egyptian design. The manufacturing process involved several prototypes for design testing, the subsequent production of a number of elements done in Norway and finally transport to Egypt for final assembly in Alexandria.
The significance of movement and adaptability is hereby further enhanced. Within the context of an increasingly tougher market situation informed by an emphasis on globalisation, the Norwegian furniture industry in 2002 proves to be forward-looking, with a heightened awareness of consumer needs and quality standards, and not least an innovative spirit well prepared to interface with history as well as the demands of the international market of the future.