Orgatec: Why It Still Matters

Why does it matter? That question is at the heart of everything we write about at Business of Furniture. And as more and more try to decide how office furniture shows fit into a digital world where new products and ideas fly across the Internet ether as fast as we can refresh a webpage and e-mail, it is fair to ask why Orgatec matters.

It is hard to underestimate just how important this gathering is when it comes to shaping the office of the near future. Woods used on the furniture shown in Cologne, fabrics, colors and finishes begin at Orgatec and make their way to your workplace. Since it only happens every two years, Orgatec is a show that gives exhibits some time to reflect on how the office is changing. That deep thinking is found in the products shown in Cologne.

The companies creating the furniture and styles for your office are not household names, though what they do will profoundly change the way people work for years to come. Even the best known of these companies like Vitra, a darling of the interior design community, and Haworth, one of the largest and most international of the office furniture makers, are mostly unknown to the average office dweller. But at an event like Orgatec, they are rock stars to the interior designers, architects and office decision makers from around Europe and the world who gather every other year in this city best known for its massive gothic cathedral.

Orgatec is not only one of the most important events for shaping the future of the office, it is one of the largest. In 2014, there were 627 exhibitors, 211 from Germany and 416 from 41 other countries. More than 51,000 people attended Orgatec 2014, just under half from Germany and the rest from 123 other countries. Most were architects and interior designers, members of the trade, end users and facility managers. Orgatec polled those who attended and 90 percent said the event is one of the five most important shows for the contract furnishings industry.

This year's edition of Orgatec was just as large, if not larger. And it is an event known for setting trends. What you see on the massive trade show stands in Cologne literally defines how your office will be organized, outfitted and look, so it is important to watch the trends coming out of the fair.

The fair does a good job of getting people talking about work and the trends that affect it.

Europe has always led when it comes to health and wellness in the workplace, which is evident at Orgatec. Height adjustable desks and tables were everywhere. But instead of the industrial, stripped down look of a table top on mechanical legs, furniture makers continue to refine these healthful products. The legs are better integrated into the design of the products and are less clunky. Humantool was showing its Saddle product, a mesh saddle that sits on a ball designed to add movement to your existing chair. Thermofit is a new standing platform that literally shakes you into shape at the office. A rush of "seats on a stick" are also coming to the show, similar to Focal Upright Furniture's Mogo.

Orgatec also defines the colors that make their way into the office and this year, stand designers used a decidedly muted palette of creamy greens, blues and pinks. Stand designers used plywood and bare 2x4 boards, which means offices will continue to be casual and a bit rough-around-the-edges rather than stuffy and buttoned down.

Office furniture makers are mixing materials and finishes as well. It is common to find companies showing woods, metals, whites, chrome and bright colors all on the same stand (and sometimes in the same product).

Customization is an emerging trend too. A few companies in Europe are beginning to allow designers a lot more flexibility in colors, finishes and furniture details that go beyond a standard offering as technology improves and it becomes easier to give customers exactly what they want.

The fair does a good job of getting people talking about work and the trends that affect it. The Trend Forum, which was moderated by Hajo Schumacher, featured insightful talks and lively discussion round tables on office design and work culture with renowned speakers and international participants. The series focused on current trends in workspace design.

Orgatec is one of the few office furniture fairs in the world that is themed. This year, Orgatec's themes were “New Visions of Work” and “Creativity” — fitting topics as the world tries to prepare for what's next in the office. Like iSalone in Milan, the creativity that surrounds Orgatec is beginning to attract companies from outside the industry. Ricoh, Samsung, Mercedes Benz and Microsoft all participated in Orgatec 2016.

Orgatec Boulevard — the show's Main Street through the exhibition center — brought the motto “Creativity Works” to life with vignettes set up on different islands along the halls of Koelnmesse, the huge trade center that hosts the show. The show is serious about taking a look at the future of the office as well, from printed office furniture to robots in the office or holographic avatars in video conferences.

So when you arrive in your office and see a new creamy pink colored lounge chair or a wood desk that also mixes in chrome and white, you'll know that someone was inspired by that furniture show in Cologne. That's why it matters.

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