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Orgatec 2022- the view from Europe

It was a mad dash traversing Germany via train (fast!), bus (Mercedes, of course) and car (VW, not Porsche, sigh…). Everyone’s flights were on time, from Boston, DC, Chicago, and San Francisco. Jet lagged? Yes. Cranky? Absolutely not. This crew of brilliant designers from the International Interior Design Association were on a mission! It was an honor to travel with them and an inspiration to learn from their interactions.

Above, left to right- Mike Skaar, Knak, Cheryl Durst, IIDA CEO, Sascha Wagner, Huntsman, and Past Board President, IIDA, Angie Lee, Current IIDA Board President, Pembrooke, Mike Johnson, Hickok Cole, IIDA Board Member.

Orgatec 2022 was defined as much by those who weren’t exhibiting as those who were. Several of the major design leaders pulled out of the show completely. During Orgatec 2018, Vitra had an enormous exhibit of progressive design, but they had no presence at Orgatec 2022.

Another design leader, Wilkhahn, had products placed strategically in multiple complimentary exhibit spaces, but rather than a static convention center display, they opted to bring groups to their stunning factory and headquarters (see pic below) before the show opened, cementing relationships with tours documenting their leadership in sustainable manufacturing.

During Orgatec, they hosted daily private events at the exclusive Qvest hotel in the heart of Cologne, where their artistry in seating filled every nook.

The Qvest exhibit was a true European celebration of great design and multi-generational quality in a setting that reminded us all that good design can inspire us for centuries. Wilkhahn’s laser focus on leaders in the global design community versus a convention center display is a strategy that may indicate future marketing trends.

Left to right- Michael Skaar, Knak Group, Michael Lakner, President, Wilkhahn USA, Anne Wagner, VP, Inside Source, Sascha Wagner, President, Huntsman Architectural Group, Thomas Knolbloch, President, Wilkhahn Worldwide

Wilkhahn’s Graph Iconic chair

The highlight of Orgatec occurred when Cheryl Durst, CEO of the International Interior Design Association, and select IIDA Board members Angie Lee, Sascha Wagner, and Mike Johnson held the main stage in Europe for a 90 minute discussion and deep dive on urgent issues challenging not only the future of work, but the future of our planet. They brought four unique and different perspectives that intersect in important ways, highlighting synergies that chart a path forward at this very uncertain moment in history. IIDA gave me permission to record the entire presentation; for those wondering what insights are forthcoming from some of the brightest thought leaders in our industry, we’re posting this talk on our website.

IIDA CEO Cheryl Durst and board members Sascha Wagner, Angie Lee, and Mike Johnson

Despite the scarcity of new commercially available product concepts, the future products/prototype section displayed many new sustainable solutions and breakthroughs for the first time.

A few observations on the Orgatec exhibits.

If you own stock in Framery, sell it, now! Just about EVERYONE was showing phone booths. The race to the bottom in pricing can’t be far behind, (think height adjustable tables, circa 2005) but Framery deserves kudos for pioneering this segment with a quality product.

Much the same could be said for acoustic products, which were found on every corner. A few companies will emerge with unique hybrid solutions like integrated sound masking, but look for attrition in an industry with low barriers to entry and hundreds of competitors chasing the same projects with similar products.

Russian exhibitors were understandably missing, and firms I chatted with had already severed any supply relationships they previously had with Russian sources. Taiwan had a large footprint at Orgatec, but China was noticeably miniscule in comparison.

Finally, the multi-purpose space was shown in it’s ultimate, mobile evolution- Van Life. Kudos to those who put wheels on phone booths. Sadly, with today’s technology, this isn’t yet a viable solution for practicing architects and designers, or anyone who has ever tried to upload cad files from hijacked wifi or a cell phone hotspot. Perhaps 10G service will allow this, but as several design principals have shared, it doesn’t work today.

As a closing observation, despite having beach weather during Orgatec, (balmy, in the 70’s!) there were colorful-yet-sobering reminders everywhere for those living in the EU: winter is coming. In all of Europe, nearby conflicts at this moment in history are not being taken lightly. Heavy parkas, wool scarves, and thick blankets fill the windows of almost every retailer, as residents prepare for the uncertainty of fuel availability to heat their homes and offices and factories. Some solutions for preserving the planet and for our future are found in the common ground that was revealed by the IIDA leadership in their panel discussion at Orgatec. Hopefully, the world is listening. The full panel discussion can be found in the link below.

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