It’s a Small World After All…

That annoying song from our childhood actually sums up the state of global design rather nicely. More evidence that the world is getting “smaller” was the amount of common themes and trends I noticed when attending Light+Building in Frankfurt last month.

When I first started reporting on lighting in the mid-1990s, it was widely thought that European trends were ahead of the U.S. by roughly five years, with Canada trailing America by two years. Back then, the Internet was more or less in its infancy when it came to the amount of users on a global scale, and there weren’t any social media networks.

That’s all changed — and with the greater accessibility to observe what people in other countries are wearing, eating, watching on TV, listening to in music, and how they are decorating their homes, comes a faster acceptance of it all everywhere. As I walked through this biennial European show, I noticed the emerging finishes are very similar to those distinguishing American lighting introductions this year:  soft gold, brushed brass, polished chrome. The same is true of materials such as concrete and wood plus organic shapes becoming pervasive. There is no more “lag” in trends reaching, or being accepted by, potential customers from another part of the world.

Need more proof that selling lighting has become a global business? Executives from mega e-tailers such as Wayfair and Amazon were present at the show, making appointments with various manufacturers and finalizing distribution agreements. And if you think the business only flows one way — such as Americans wanting to buy European goods – think again. I sat down with Jonathan Lucas, President of Elstead Lighting, to discuss the idea of global tastes. In addition to its own brand of British lighting, Elstead distributes the American brands Feiss, Flambeau, Hinkley, Kichler, Quoizel, and Stiffel throughout Europe, Asia, and the U.K., among other regions. He told me that interior designers and lighting showrooms overseas love the look of these brands.

From a global perspective, design taste is more similar than not. Sure, there are regional or cultural differences that may necessitate tweaking a product line for a particular market, but by and large, what’s considered good design in one country almost certainly appeals to the citizens of another.

This month is filled with trade shows, from the Hong Kong International Lighting Fair to the High Point Market and Lightfair. Just as product styles share common ground at these events, attendees such as interior designers, home décor retailers, and hospitality specifiers are finding themselves handling a cross-section of business. The world is getting smaller, and when it comes to design, it’s a good thing.