Luxury look is all the rage amid current economic woes
The luxury look is in trend this year and is likely to continue with one possible reason being that the rich want to display their wealth amid the current global economic turmoil, says Niwat Aunprueng, senior partner of P Interior and Associates Company (PIA).
"This style is about creating the ambience of a five-star hotel. Just close your eyes and imagine sitting at the Four Seasons with soft and comfortable seats and pieces imported from the US that look very expensive. That is considered luxury," said Niwat.
The modern look has come down a notch or two, but there is an overlap Niwat points out - a modern style can also be luxurious. An example of this is a very big sofa that is simple, clean and comfortable.
"This is an Italian trend that focuses on modernity. In Europe and the US the situation differs a little bit, as Italians focus on simple furniture lines with comfort. American and European furniture tend to have a lot of details, such as stitching work, but the price level is about the same."
Italian furniture designs dominate the Thai market with around 60 to 70 per cent of the importers selling pieces produced there. The remainder of the market is dominated by US-made products.
Those splurging on decorating their inner-city condominiums to create this plush look are mostly the older set who own around 200 to 400m2.
Another group is those buying pricey villas and condominiums in Phuket and Samui with both groups demanding expensive imported brand-name pieces. Sometimes they fill their whole residence with these costly imports.
"Many of them have children who completed their education abroad and they want to use big brands," said Niwat.
He has noticed that the Thai market for imported furniture is getting bigger because more showrooms have opened up in the Thong Lo and Langsuan areas this year.
"Thais have this habit: 'Let me try sitting on it first, touch it first, if I like it I'll buy it.' Around 90 per cent of the people I have worked with have this habit."
While Thai furniture makers do produce and export a sizable amount, Niwat noted that some companies only manufacture for export. Many of the people involved are young designers focusing on tropical styles and the use of wood and rattan. "We are very good at this, Thais are famous for this, foreigners acknowledge this, and this is our strong point."
Some companies produce pieces that look very similar to the costly imports but Niwat pointed out that the difference is in the interior with the wooden frame and springs not being the same as what is produced overseas and this makes them less flexible.
Tan and earth tones seem to be all the rage right now, said Niwat.
Tastes have also changed when it comes to the material with folks preferring sofa sets made of real leather rather than upholstered in various kinds of fabric. "If you go back three to four years, fabric played a big role but the design trend has steadily switched to leather."
One reason for this switch is maintenance because leather is a lot easier to clean and keep in tip-top condition, whereas upholstered sofas not only tend to collect dust, the cleaning agents also tend to leave patches on the fabric.
"Some people are allergic to dust and if you hit the sofa once the dust spreads all over. So I recommend that my clients use leather."
Things have changed in the dining room too with Niwat noting that the upper class now favour dining tables topped with light-coloured marble with carrara being a big favourite.
The current preference is for the legs to be made of stainless chrome rather than wood as was previously the case. Chairs too are now mostly light-coloured with this being an about face from the popularity of their dark cousins just a few years ago.
The focus in the bedroom is on earth tones and the usage of embroidery work, mainly flowers and borders.
IA is also doing a lot of work overseas, mainly in India and Dubai, with hotel and serviced apartment operators there preferring Thai designers' styles.
"They like our styles because they are contemporary yet luxurious, we focus on using materials simply. India and Dubai now want to upgrade to the international level and don't want anything that has a lot of their own culture in it, they want modern styles."
As much as 60 to 70 per cent of PIA's revenue is currently from India and this work has been steady for four to five years. Other Thai design companies have benefited from the Indian boom as well.
However, this work is only for business operations with their executives now realising that it is essential to become a bit more international. When it comes to private residences, Indians still prefer their own styles.