Shanghai: China and Furniture Design

Shanghai is unquestionably the epicentre of the furniture and design fairs held in China. So, it is time for a review and a brief analysis to see what is the state of the art of design in China.

We discover that the city, with its 23 million inhabitants and a per capita GDP of over 7,000 euros, hosts 48 of the 400 richest people in China, and has become a destination of great interest for manufacturers of furniture and materials in the high-end design segment, especially for the “made in Italy”.

The exports of furniture and lighting products recorded an increase of 13.6% also in the first quarter of 2018, thus confirming a growth trend that has been going on for 3 years, and that has led Italy to become the leader in the export of furniture to China, with a 2018 share of 21.9%.

Surely a great contribution to the increase in exports and the spread of Italian design culture came from the Salone del Mobile.Shanghai exhibit, which in just two years can already count on a consolidated audience of over 20 thousand high-profile visitors.

But design in Shanghai is not only made in Italy, and the furniture fairs are much more than those organized by Italy. Even the two main fairs – one organized by a trade fair company specialized in international events, and the other organized by the Chinese government and institutions can see now a consolidated participation of increasingly design-oriented companies, from Italy, the rest of the world, and even from China itself.

Maison Shanghai Made Bamboo
Furniture China Treca Paris

Shanghai design trade shows
Let’s go in order, and check one by one the fairs that follow one another during the year, in chronological order.

Design Shanghai, curated by Media 10, the same company that organizes 100% Design, in London, is characterized, like the London exhibition, by a wide range of product sectors. However, compared to its European counterpart, the taste is much more heterogeneous, mixing Italian and European brands with Chinese brands, and contemporary design products with products with a more classic taste – with the addition of a section dedicated to collectible design.

CIFF Shanghai East Design Show
Salone del Mobile.Milano Red Night 2018
Salone del Mobile.Milano Shanghai Entrance
Design Shanghai Entrance

The 2018 edition, the fifth, saw the participation of more than 400 exhibitors, with over 50,000 visitors from over 70 countries. The public is mostly made up of architects and designers, mainly looking for trends and products for contract projects; it is a small-ish exhibition, with few very selected exhibitors, operating only in the premium segment, or high-end design.

In September, instead, there are two biggest fairs dedicated to furniture in Shanghai, both large in size.

Furniture China, which celebrates its 25th edition in 2019, occupies all the pavilions of the Shanghai New International Exhibition Center (SNIEC) complex and part of the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center (SWEEC), where Maison Shanghai has its headquarters, and is organized by UBM Sinoexpo, the Chinese subsidiary of a giant of exhibition centers, in collaboration with the China National Furniture Association.

At the SWEEC, the centre built in 2010 for the Expo, design reigns supreme, with small emerging brands, self-producing designers and exhibitions curated by AD China. In reality, even at SNIEC, in the pavilions of contemporary furniture, the presence of international brands of medium and medium-high range, as well as Chinese brands that invest in design, is now quite conspicuous; Italian companies occupy all the space available to them.

Salone del Mobile.Milano Shanghai.
Design Shanghai Gufram booth

To get an idea of the size, at the 2018 edition the area dedicated to contemporary design was of 70,000 square meters, out of a total of 350,000 of the entire exhibition area of Furniture China.

CIFF – China International Furniture Fair is the furniture fair that has the longest and most important history among the furniture fairs in China. Now in its 40th edition, it is organized twice a year by the China Trading Group, and is the main fair in Guangdong, in the March edition.

Design Shanghai Qeeboo

Since 2015, it is organized in Shanghai in September, in the new exhibition complex National Exhibition Convention Center (NECC). After a couple of years of running in, CIFF has signed an agreement with Red Star Macalline, one of the most important high-end furniture distributors in China, and the quality of the distributors has begun to rise gradually. The fair has an exhibition area of over 400,000 square meters, and sees two pavilions out of a total of 8 dedicated to design. In the pavilions dedicated to design, we find that authentic Made in Italy brands, such as Medea or Tonin, and Danish brands, such as Muuto, are beginning to appear – and attract attention from the public. An interesting element is that in the last edition, in September 2018, a large area of pavilions 3 and 4 was dedicated to themed exhibitions, Design Dream, organized by Red Star Macalline, a journey into the dimension of setting up with “special effects”, and East Design Show, with an excellent selection of young designers and small European and Chinese themed brands.

Design Shanghai Staircase

In addition to trade fairs, which have however very strong seminar programs, demonstrating that the investment in research and culture of the project is substantial, in March the archistar firm Neri & Hu organizes the “Festival of Design”: a week of meetings, seminars and film screenings, which bring in the second city of China designers, architects, researchers of world renown, to meet a Chinese audience eager for innovation and culture.

The substrate of Shanghai seems to be already sown and ready to welcome both products from abroad and Chinese brands; the middle class which is rapidly developing in a few years will have enough buying power and culture to appreciate the best. Companies interested in expanding into a market that becomes more interesting every day should perhaps consider starting to explore a very rich territory, that is becoming more and more crowded every day.

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