Blurring Boundaries: Furniture for the longing for freedom

The growing desire for boundary-free living is leading to overlapping realities and styles that blur the lines between indoors and outdoors, (semi-)public and private, living and cooking, living and eating, living and working, living space and bathroom. In the Blurring Boundaries trend, furniture and furnishings take on an important function. The furniture industry is in the process of reinventing itself: there will be a big increase in demand for furniture that structures spaces and can be used flexibly.

Feb 24 2021

© Illustration: Björn Steinmetzler, Koelnmesse

Specialised products for areas with a specific function – like the outdoor space, bathroom or kitchen – are adapting their materials and aesthetic to the classic furniture and design canon; interiors are evoking a natural ambience, furniture designs are taking the form of freestanding solitaires or space-structuring systems, acting as standalone elements that designate a function zone, replacing rigidly allocated spaces or taking on the functions of rooms.

A more seamless approach 

People’s expectations of their homes are changing rapidly. More sophisticated apartments for singles despite the housing shortage and a lifestyle that seeks freedom from conventions even when it comes to furnishings are strengthening the trend towards one or two-room apartments with the spacious feel of a loft. There’s also a need for options with one or two additional bedrooms or home offices, depending on the occupants’ family situation.

Because even with a big, open-plan layout, families tend to need a separate entrance area and separate spaces – things that aren’t usually found in e.g. a large single apartment in an urban setting. But some things are always popular: light, bright rooms and a big kitchen with an open transition to the living area – in which case the dining table becomes the focal point not just of family life but of the apartment’s layout too. 

The merging of spaces is leading to a need for multifunctional furniture that either marks out certain areas or differentiates them from one another. The kitchen and living area are melting into one space, whereas the bathroom tends to stay separate – even though, at least in the high-end segment, there’s growing demand for en suite layouts and a bit more floor space.

Rather than separate rooms, modern apartments are more likely to have an open arrangement of spaces, and in older buildings with a patchwork layout, walls are being removed to create “room to breathe”. Conservatories and attic conversions create light-flooded spaces, and big window fronts – ideally with a seamless transition to the outside space – create a visual and physical connection with the outdoors. 

But there’s no trend without a counter-trend: as a result of the corona pandemic and the large amount of time people are spending at home, separate rooms are becoming more important again too. That’s an experience being shared by many people – not just two-person households but a lot of families as well. A separate home office or private spa provides an opportunity to retreat when you need to work or relax. Which is why, in future, architects will increasingly be planning homes with a flexible layout and usage possibilities so that, in a perfect world, a spacious ambience can be combined with the option of splitting the floor space into smaller units. 


A new job requirement for furniture: structure the space 

Besides built-in cabinets, standalone furniture is playing a leading role – all-encompassing collections and wall units in the living room restrict the sense of freedom too much; a mix-and-match approach is better. But that means the standalone pieces have to be combinable: furniture designs that have what it takes to become classics master the art of finding the right balance – original but not extroverted, agreeable but not boring.

Multifunctional furniture is the hero in any interior that successfully blurs boundaries: tables that are equally convincing as a dining table or desk, freestanding sofas, cabinets that serve as both storage space and wall, room dividers with functions that can be accessed from both sides (like an integrated swivel screen), mobile furniture that’s suitable for indoor and outdoor use.

Nowadays, for instance, an open-plan lifestyle kitchen is a highly sought-after feature that combines a host of different feel-good factors. As a result, kitchen furnishings are becoming increasingly cosy and are almost indistinguishable from living room cabinets and shelves – the transitions are becoming increasingly fluid. 

Furniture for zoning spaces 

When walls come down and the impressive panoramic window commands an uninterrupted view of the city, when there’s a desk next to the bed or the kitchen transitions seamlessly into the living area, it’s up to the interior design to suggest limits so as to give the eye something to focus on and allocate a suitable function to the space depending on the mood and needs at any given time. Areas with a specific function and purpose can be zoned accordingly, for instance with (movable) partitions or permanent built-ins.

Furniture and fixtures are increasingly being used to designate zones within large spaces: the modular sofa signifies the quiet zone, the dining table stands for the working zone, shelving units double as room dividers. And rugs don’t just add a touch of colour and cosiness, they mark out important zones and structure the interior design. Different colours and materials – like wooden flooring, tiles or curtains – can also be used to define areas with a designated use. 

A new generation of furniture made for flexibility 

When it comes to the Blurring Boundaries trend, modern furniture has to be flexible. The growing desire to rearrange the interior and the many and varied possibilities for creating seamless spaces call for furniture that can be used in different situations. A stool that looks just as much at home in the bathroom, living area and home office as it does on the patio, as well as shelving, coat racks, console tables and cabinets, are good examples of standalone, mobile elements that are suitable for use in various rooms or spaces. 

When there are fewer walls, furniture has to be able to stand, make an impact and work all by itself. That’s why today’s standalone pieces don’t just have a “good side” any more but look equally attractive from any angle. There are plenty of side tables that double as seating and plenty of poufs that can be used as side tables – and effortlessly convertible modular sofas are no longer the exception either.

And there’s bathroom furniture that looks just as much at home in the hallway or kitchen as it does in the bathroom too. This kind of versatile furniture is often inspired by the outdoor segment, which translates the open feel of being in the fresh air into light and airy furnishings – an aesthetic that works equally well in modern, loft-inspired layouts. It’s no coincidence that mobile furniture on wheels – first and foremost classic serving trolleys that can switch effortlessly between the kitchen and living area or indoors and outdoors – is particularly popular right now, and always the first thing to sell out on sales platforms and in shopping clubs. 

Outdoor living – connecting with nature 

However you look at it, the outdoor living trend has changed the furniture market. The “second living room” has been gaining importance for some years now. Regardless of whether they have a big garden or a small rented apartment: people are kitting out their balconies, patios and gardens and upgrading outdoor areas into fully fledged living space with quality outdoor furniture, clever furniture concepts, water-repellent fabrics and lighting.

“Is that for indoors or outside?” you can’t help asking when you see the new garden and patio furniture. Wood, metal, wicker and plastic, cotton or PVC, stone, concrete or composite – whether it’s the surfaces or the aesthetic of the workmanship, the differences are almost impossible to spot. Because not even the design is guided by classic patio furniture any more, but by what’s in the living room. The main thing is that it’s stylish.

Conversely, the aesthetic of many a living room sofa seems to have been influenced by the simplicity of outdoor lounge furniture, bringing a breath of sunshine indoors as a result. The two types of living room are influencing one another and sometimes even swapping furniture with each other. As a result of the corona crisis, the desire for a garden, a (roof) terrace, a balcony or a communal back garden is growing even stronger. Properties are increasingly being chosen for their “green” connections with nature and command a noticeably higher price when they come with a garden or roof terrace. 

Interiors are echoing the overlap between different areas of life 

The desire for boundary-free living is leading to overlapping realities and styles that blur the lines between indoors and outdoors, (semi-) public and private, living and cooking, living and eating, living and working, living space and bathroom. Standalone furniture and systems are being used to define functions within the home.

On the whole, modern living will in future be characterised by an open layout, transparency between indoors and outdoors and awareness of the social relevance of interior aesthetics: we will observe trends, look for our own style and swap views on social media. An interior stands for a way of life, community, the expression of individuality and social exchange. 

Author: Frank A. Reinhardt

Read more about the other trends in the imm Trend.Briefing 2020/2021 here

Find more inspiration on the trend "Blurring Boundaries" at magazine by imm cologne

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