Foreign travel is great for sparking a designer’s creative juices; however, mixing business with pleasure can be the ultimate reward. In that vein, I have made a point of attending kitchen and bath industry trade shows on a regular basis in North America and Europe. This year, I was selected by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) Global Connect team, along with 20 other certified members, to attend German Haus Fair. Global Connect is a program developed by the NKBA to forge relationships between foreign manufacturers of kitchen and bath products and its association members. German Haus Fair is a unique, seven-day trade convention that takes place in September in northern Germany, showcasing German designed and manufactured kitchen and bath products.
The fair attracts designers and architects from around the world to see the latest German trends and product innovations. Unlike most trade shows, German Haus Fair is not located in a single convention center building. Participants travel to the various manufacturing and showroom facilities in a 50-kilometer (about 31 miles) radius around the town of Bielefeld.
This year’s fair was comprised of 25 member manufacturers of the Kuchenmeile A30 eV Marketing Association. Collectively, the members of Kuchenmeile represent nearly two-thirds of total sales, domestic and international, for the German kitchen and bath industry and include well-known manufacturers such as Miele, nobilia, Bora, Hettich and SieMatic. Additionally, there were several allied product manufacturers (plumbing fixtures, appliances, work surfaces, etc.) displaying at several showrooms showcasing multiple companies.
Our tour began with a coach ride from Frankfurt, where we got acquainted with our “tour mates” while taking in the lush, green countryside and alternative-energy wind turbines. Our first destination was the Burg Hotel in Trendelburg, a 13th century castle that was a backdrop to Grimms’ fairytale Rapunzel. The castle has been exquisitely preserved and we were treated to an amazing presentation on the mythology and numerology of the Grimms fairytales and early German culture by a gentleman in full costume, along with a sumptuous German dinner and wine pairing.
Day two started with a tour of the newly opened Bora showroom, an architectural masterpiece in Herford. Founded in 2007, Bora is a manufacturer of innovative appliance products. The showroom is a unique concept whereby the main level, reached by a set of stairs from the ground-level parking, is divided into three distinct segments. In the center is a live exhibition cooking kitchen paired with two beverage bars and communal tables. The kitchen is not just the heart of the home; it is the heart of the showroom. To the right of the kitchen area is a well-laid-out showroom and training center kitchen, bathed in natural light, for the Bora products. To the left is a series of vignettes of multiple cabinet manufacturer displays that incorporate Bora appliances and lighting fixtures. It’s unusual to see “competitors” exhibiting in a single space such as this.
Our next stop was Verl to visit nobilia, the largest manufacturer of kitchen and bath cabinetry and furniture in the world. The company produces 785,000 kitchens per year, half of which are for the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) market such as Bellmont Cabinetry in Washington state. We had a private tour of the heavily automated (they have robots) and immaculate factory, along with the extensive, beautifully curated showroom. Of course, there was food and beverages, too.
Day three began at the 140-year-old, multinational manufacturer Hettich in Kirchlengern. Hettich specializes in making life easier, more efficient and accessible through the manufacturing of cabinet, furniture and appliance hardware such as hinges, glides and some truly mind-blowing products. One such product is a turntable for end open-shelf cabinets you can rotate from an open shelf position to a closed position, allowing you to display stemware for easy access, but conceal and protect it when the grandkids are visiting. Additionally, Hettich has developed a rechargeable, wireless lighting system for cabinet drawers, avoiding costly wiring and drywall charges. The company’s products facilitate “living big in small spaces” by allowing cabinetry and furnishings to “fold out when needed and fold into themselves when not.” And yes, they had lovely snacks and beverages for us, too.
Our next stop, including lunch, was a collective showroom of 98 manufacturers, including a “new product launch pad,” called Area 30, with live presentations. Located in Lohne, Area 30 included many well-known brands such as Grohe, Villeroy & Boch and Häcker Küchen. One of the standout products was Tielo, an interactive backsplash that allows you to read recipes, messages and weather forecasts; watch moves; etc. The screen is an easy-to-clean, solid piece of touch-sensitive glass that only requires an internet connection and a control box that easily fits on the top shelf of a wall cabinet.
Back on the bus, we were chauffeured to Architekture Werkstatt in Lohne. This is a beautiful, intimate collective showroom with 10 high-end manufacturers such as Gessi, Leicht and Liebherr. Gessi displayed the all-inclusive kitchen faucet with filtered, instant hot and sparkling water. The display on this fixture was very intuitive, unlike many other manufacturers offering a similar configuration. Gessi also had a gorgeous display of knurled, accented faucets in a variety of fashion-forward finishes. Our day ended with a delicious dinner at Glueck und Seligkeit in Bielefed in a converted church with members of the Kuchenmeile A30 eV Marketing Association.
Day four started with boarding the bus before breakfast. Little did we know that we were in for an unexpected treat. We were served a breakfast of raw oysters, caviar with blini and crème fraiche, croissants, smoked salmon tartare and champagne, prepared by a two-star Michelin chef courtesy of BauTeam. Located in Lohne, BauTeam is an innovative cabinet company providing highly customized mid- and high-end cabinetry. Examples of its “can do” design philosophy include an outdoor kitchen island that is not only texturally interesting, but has an end section that pops up with the push of a button, revealing a stainless-steel shelving unit — like what you would see in a restaurant kitchen — that has a sensor laser-heating element. When the laser detects items on the shelf, the heating element is activated. Other examples include cabinetry that’s completely faced in Dekton (sintered stone) and leather and a completely round cabinet with the world’s tallest lazy susan and interior lights. To see more innovations from BauTeam, you can book an appointment at bauformatseattle.com to visit its Seattle showroom.
The last stop of the day was at House 4 Kitchen in Lohne. This is a lovely, intimate collective showroom comprised of six manufacturers including U.S.-distributed Franke and Gaggenau. In an effort to create multipurpose spaces, Gaggenau has engineered an induction cooktop that allows you to cook directly on a countertop, thus making the countertop usable for additional everyday activities like remote work, crafts, folding laundry, etc. as well as meal preparation while reducing the number of cabinets and countertops in a standard kitchen. The storable black magnetic rings are placed on the countertop over the small, illuminated hole (the illumination indicates that the burner is on). The bottom of the base cabinet has a mirror mount to reflect the three cooktop modules mounted just under the countertop. Just think how easy cleanup is.
Our day concluded with another delicious dinner at the uniquely decorated Scarabaé Mediterranean restaurant in Bielefeld.
Day five was an opportunity to compare notes, relax and spend some quality time with the Global Connect Team, who had exceeded all of our expectations in making German Haus Tour 2023 the most memorable trade show experience of our collective careers.
Now for the finale. We were allowed to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast before boarding the bus back to Frankfurt. Then, we made a detour to the village of Hesserode, founded in 1123, to attend a private lunch at the Zum Rosenhof hotel and restaurant. The restaurant has an exquisite garden in the back with many varieties of roses, and one of the house specialties is rose syrup. Our hosts added it to our prelunch champagne, our rose sorbet intermezzo and our dessert tray. Our multicourse lunch with wine and “drinkable” vinegar pairings was exquisitely prepared, but best of all was the company — making it all the more difficult to say auf wiedersehen and tschüss.