#073 / 2006

Manufacturer + designer = 2006 SIDIM success

This May, Montréal's interior design show SIDIM featured the third consecutive year of its innovative program Mobilier d'ici à demain (Furniture for Today and Tomorrow). As furniturelink described in issue #064, the project pairs a Québec manufacturer with a Québec designer and challenges them to produce a contemporary furniture prototype. Both parties work for "free," with the brief that the designer has the freedom to develop a non-traditional solution within the capacity of the manufacturer's production facilities.

Mobilier d'ici à demain this year showcased four items of furniture. furniturelink talked to the manufacturers and designers who developed a platform bed and a sectional sofa. One common denominator in all discussions centred on the adjustments they were making for the "elephant in the room" - low-cost imports from China.

Established 18 years ago, Mobican Furniture Inc. is located 20 km south of Montréal in historic Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Mobican president and CEO Patrick Selmay oversees 30 employees who produce medium-priced bedroom sets aimed at "Scandinavian-style" retailers across Canada and the United States.


Platform bed designed by Sebastian Miuccio for Mobican

Sebastian Miuccio, an associate in the Montréal interior design studio Innova Design, presented his first freehand design sketches to Selmay in March. Miuccio described the drawings as projecting "very simple lines, low and minimal and squarish," which reflected his interior design background. He had also planned to incorporate a custom-designed lamp fixture into the headboard (unrealized because of time constraints).

Selmay explained that the project was "crunched for time," because two previously assigned designers brought the wrong "chemistry" to the project (one even refused to visit the factory). Despite the lost project time, he and Miuccio were able to work together, and Selmay was happy with Miuccio's simple rectangular design concept.

furniturelink toured the plant with Selmay to learn first-hand the strategies he was using to counter low-cost Asian products. This year Selmay attended furniture fairs in Dongguan and Guangzhou, China, with his main sales rep. "If you go out there with the mind of a businessman, there are lots of opportunities. If you go out there with the mind of a designer, [you'll find] they are not very creative," the CEO observed.


(left) Mobican CNC router and (right) Patrick Selmay with prototype before shipping to SIDIM

A few years ago, Mobican was consolidating orders before shipping, which resulted in delivery dates as long as 16 weeks. Today, because of the speed and flexibility of his CNC technology (a Format 90 Router from Italian manufacturer V. Alberti), his assembly department pulls 32 mm module components from a central storage facility (nicknamed "the fridge") and ships in as short a time as two weeks. For example, Selmay recounted when a headboard was damaged in shipment to a customer in Florida and within five working days, the customer had received the replacement item. "That, the Chinese will never do," Selmay concluded with finality.

Twelve years ago, Biltmore Furniture Inc. established its manufacturing facility in northeast Montréal. Employing about 20 workers, it makes custom sofas in various price ranges and markets through its own retail outlets in Canada and the United States. Biltmore's president Helen Shwarzer commented on the sofa designed by Patrick Messier and prototyped for SIDIM, saying, "It's very different; it's not something everyone is looking for. At the same time, apart from the fact it's Patrick's design, it shows our capacity to do just about anything [in custom sofa manufacturing]."

When she visited the Mobilier d'ici à demain booth at SIDIM and saw the sofa in use for the first time, she noted, "All these people, one after another, lying on it, and the first thing I thought, it was like they were watching a movie but without a screen in front of them." She agreed that the sofa could have a niche market "ideal for that type of (home theatre) environment."


(left) Patrick Messier with Sedo love seat and (right) sectional sofa for Biltmore

Industrial designer Patrick Messier is president of Messier Designers Inc., an industrial design studio in Montréal. The design of his Sedo sectional sofa and love seat for Biltmore received first prize in the Mobilier d'ici à demain booth category.

He presented his design proposal to Biltmore in January, having used Pro/Engineer CAD software to generate 2D drawings and line perspectives. He explained that he gave Biltmore only one design concept. "You have to stand up and make your point. You can't have the manufacturer interfere in [this type of] project - that is the main objective, to do something that the manufacturer doesn't normally do."

Messier's design concept evolved from his personal habit of sitting sideways on sofas, with his back to the armrest. The depth (132 cm) of his sofa allows the user to "work on it, read magazines, [have] space for a lap top, watch a film, play with your kids or enough space to do whatever you want."

In terms of the niche market potential of his design, Messier's comments support those of Shwarzer. "The purpose of design is to find a particular niche . . . to find manufacturing [ideas] that are not possible for the Chinese [competitors]."

Innovation + creativity = solution

As products arrive daily from countries with dramatically lower wage costs and environmental standards, Selmay, Miuccio, Shwarzer and Messier echo similar concerns about Canada's future in furniture design and manufacturing. SIDIM's manufacturer-designer team approach is one viable solution to this economic challenge. By encouraging innovative design in conjunction with new manufacturing technology and marketing strategies, Mobilier d'ici à demain has proven to be a simple concept that works. It should be emulated nationwide.

Two other furniture items produced for this year's Mobilier d'ici à demain


(left) Sectional sofa designed by Jean-Michel Gauvreau for Via Meubles
(right) Home-office desk designed by Luc-Etienne Gagnon for Bestar


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