Multifunctional – Smaller, reduced, more inside

Urbanisation and rising housing prices call for small-footprint solutions for singles and families with multifunctional features: the furniture industry’s response to the challenge of creating maximum comfort in a small space must take the form of home office systems, small furniture, smart solutions with connected living features, and intelligent designs made possible by innovative fittings and modern storage space solutions. 

Mar 03 2021

© Illustration: Björn Steinmetzler, Koelnmesse

Faced with all the changes in the home environment as a result of the corona pandemic, people’s demands of their own four walls are growing. They’re looking for innovative furniture and furnishings that can be adapted, added to and modified to suit their changed needs – a challenge for the furniture industry. 

There are two main drivers behind the trend towards multifunctional furniture:

  • firstly the reduced space available, which goes in hand in hand with the desire for a perfect, uncluttered look; and
  • secondly, increased demands in terms of functionality as a result of changes in use patterns.

Because it’s innovative and delivers added value, multifunctional furniture is both sustainable and space-saving; it structures, separates and serves multiple purposes. 

When it comes to homes with a small floor area, “less is more” is the order of the day. Especially in expensive urban locations, the need for furniture that’s suitable for small apartments is growing. There’s a demand for furniture with a modular, flexible and functional design that makes the best possible use of the space available. At the same time, it often performs several functions and creates space where you wouldn’t expect it – thanks to clever concepts and innovative fittings. 

In addition, the issue of floor area is taking on new-found relevance as a result of the corona crisis and the increased amount of time people are spending at home. Setting up a home office, making sure there’s room for the kids to play and new requirements are changing the way we use our own four walls. Now it’s flexibility that’s called for, and furniture systems are being judged according to whether they can handle the changes or have to be replaced. 

But there’s another aspect that should be viewed independently of a home’s size: when it’s used in open-plan layouts furniture takes on additional functions – it designates certain areas or separates them from one another. Depending on the user’s mood or motivation, it serves different purposes: the table can be a dining area, home office or craft workshop; the sofa is a room divider, lounge and guest bed – and therefore not only needs to be attractive from the back but also adjustable and preferably mobile so that it can be rolled aside if necessary. The kitchen counter is a worktop, bar and home office all rolled into one, and the pouf can take on the role of coffee table if required.  


A more efficient way to live 

Rising rents and smaller apartments will continue to drive the need for space-saving furniture. The first trend waves of the tidy-up-and-manage-without aesthetic came to us from Asia and the US, as well as in the form of the death cleaning philosophy from Sweden – non-consumption and focusing on the essential things in life are strategies for creating order in the home.

And a growing number of people are finding that extremely therapeutic. Tidiness is hip – and therefore anything but “uncool”. As a result, quality rather than quantity could well be the right furnishing philosophy for many people – especially as it’s compatible with the desire for a natural interior.  

In keeping with the multifunctional trend, small and compact sofas and armchairs are a popular choice and often have a design that echoes classic typologies. In future, there will be even greater demand for affordable modular systems and compact standalone solutions that are scalable (allowing them to be adapted to different room sizes), variable (thanks to extension mechanisms etc.) and flexible. 

And living on two levels is becoming trendy too: loft beds are making a comeback. However, in view of the broad range of applications for such furniture systems – from tiny apartments all the way to spacious lofts – manufacturers attach great importance to a modern aesthetic that’s compatible with an urban living style and not the slightest bit evocative of a teenage bedsit. 

A more flexible way to live 

In corona times, a piece of furniture can become a hero: although the dining table has long been the focal point and communication centre of family life, extension options are now making it the No. 1 star of the multifunctional stage. When floor space is limited, a convertible table that can adapt to changing requirements over the course of the day and week is an ideal solution. 

And the sofa has long ceased to be merely a sofa: today it’s a flexible, adjustable and multifunctional piece of furniture based on the platform principle. Shelving systems are being given doors so that they can keep the home office in order and bits and pieces out of sight. 

Furniture is very literally a movable asset, and users are increasingly demanding genuine mobility from it. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for functional units like the desk to be designed as a self-contained, self-sufficient system that integrates everything you could possibly need: a writing surface, cable management, drawers, room for the printer, utensil organisers, lighting, wheeled containers and a chair, all of which can be pushed together or folded up into a compact entity that can be moved to wherever it’s required. Whether it’s an office on wheels, a compact kitchen, a storage bed or a multimedia chair – mobility is a genuine bonus. 

A more comfortable way to live 

In addition to furniture that can be produced in a variety of sizes thanks to its modular design, we’re also seeing an increase in products that can adapt to the ergonomic needs of their users with increasing precision. Lifting mechanisms that turn the home office table into a stand-up desk, an extra worktop that can be extracted from the kitchen cabinet as if by magic, a sofa that reveals a previously hidden neck support or footrest at the push of a button: adjustability is a highly attractive feature that’s in great demand even when there’s no shortage of space – a luxury that comes as standard in the case of this trend. The desire for multifunctionality is rooted in the need to get the maximum out of the minimum – and make it look like less. An uncluttered look is the main thing. 

Don’t forget the instruction leaflet 

It’s often the case that multifunctional furniture isn’t self-explanatory and requires explanation at the point of sale. The multifunctional sofa might be equipped with lots of different functions, but the designer has done a good job of hiding the trick or tab for extending the footrest. And that calls for intense input from the sales consultant. In corona times, videos provide support for explaining the usage options – not just to users but to planners and interior designers as well. 

In the case of complex modular systems with a wide range of variants, an individual planning tool is the key to a successful sale. More than any other current furnishing trend, the Multifunctional trend requires industry and trades to work hand in hand with one another. Coordination and cooperation are the only way to create an individual solution with the required value-add.

Author: Frank A. Reinhardt

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

For more inspiration on the trend "Multifunctional" go to magazine by imm cologne

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