Interzum – said to be Europe’s premier show for “furniture production and interior design” – took place in Cologne over the May Labour Day holiday weekend. Total visitor numbers were 9% down on 2003 and it was noticeable how few Germans seemed to have attended.

Architectural visitor numbers have not been published, but the Interzum organisers made efforts to attract designers and architects to the show by initiating such events as design and innovation awards. These were strongly promoted although many of the success stories involved wood substitutes. This new emphasis was perhaps a saving grace given the layout of stands designed, perhaps, to fill out extra space.

The fact, however, that fewer wood industry exhibitors participated than in recent years may be due to other factors. The inauguration of Interzum Guangzhou has meant that this European biennial “must visit” show is no longer a must – at least for Asian manufacturers.

In addition, the reduction of furniture manufacturing in western Europe and particularly Germany, facing stiff competition from the east is also relevant. Last year the German furniture industry shed another 7% of its workforce and lost 7.5% of its companies; and the wood processing sector also suffered further losses.

The German economic climate is also not exactly helping to provide an air of confidence either. With 5.2 million currently unemployed and the economic growth forecast just reduced to 1% for 2005, German industry was also awaiting a forthcoming local election in the large industrial area of North Rhine Westphalia (population 15 million). The result there is expected to point the way to an end to the Socialist and Greens coalition in Berlin at the next election of the Federal government.

Interzum has not been a “German” show for many years, and it has certainly retained its international flavour. Seventy-three per cent of the 1,300 exhibitors and 75% of visitors were foreign, while German attendance was described as “light” by one show official. Several exhibitors, including one Italian hardwood panel and flooring manufacturer and also the representative for American Softwoods, said that they had seen precious few Germans over the weekend although more arrived after the May Day celebrations. This year exhibitors were drawn from 63 countries, of which 60% were European, 21% Asian and 11% American. Among the wood suppliers, German veneer companies and American solid wood suppliers were quite prominent.


At the opening press conference Dirk-Uwe Klaas, chief executive of the HDH (including the Wood Producing Industries), said: “Successful companies thrive on competition and strive to be the best in the international arena. They know that innovation keeps them alive.” This may be difficult for many primary wood converters such as sawmills and exporters who are finding increasing difficulty in justifying the cost of exhibiting at such huge shows rather than smaller specialised local events focused on wood.

The newly organised wood sector in the lower Hall 13.1 of Interzum combined solid wood suppliers with veneer producers, where before they had been separated in two halls. Both temperate and tropical wood producers were exhibiting but many expressed some reservations as to the value of this year’s show. Taking the five-day event as a whole it was the semi-finished product manufacturers, many of whom were not wood consumers, that took the real limelight. Of the big budget stands, companies such as Schorn & Groh promoting real veneer by providing “mood ambience”, were notable. Meanwhile exporter Rossi American Hardwoods offered eastern US hardwood lumber and the Italian company Marin Flaminio exhibited a range of flooring and worktop products as well as European hardwood. Missing from Interzum again this year was Danzer – although its independent Rhine boat party was the talk of the town and clearly worked for the company. Also missing were European wood distributors, most of whom now seem to feel the show is not for them.

At the US Pavilion there was a significant concentration of American hardwood exporters, including AHEC member companies mainly from Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, as well as several US hardwood associations such as NHLA and the HPVMA.

One innovation at Interzum this year was the FSC Marketplace stand at which producers and distributors from Germany, the US and Switzerland presented a wide range of FSC-certified wood products. Individual exhibitors, notably French companies, also offered PEFC products and the SFI Program from the US promoted its dedicated international website. However, although the Malaysian Timber Council did exhibit, in general, relatively few wood product companies throughout the exhibition halls seemed to make an effort to present their environmental credentials to their customers.

If there is any need for anyone to review the competition for wood, Interzum is one place to do it. Among the “Intelligent Material and Design” awards were the “Best in the Business” which included some of the hi-tech wood substitute surfaces singled out by the five judges. “Ever more like the natural original, ever more convenient, and now even easier to use” was one of their verdicts on one substitute product.

In Hall 13.3 the laminate exhibitors were obviously doing plenty of business from their extravagant display stands. In a special lounge intended as a meeting place to attract architects, the Hettich Design Award, in co-operation with several design organisations, presented the best of 1,150 entries submitted from 180 universities in 24 countries and judged by an international jury.

Another display piazza showed innovation in wood and veneer in which unusual furniture, interesting bags and cases, and various other objects that can be made in wood were intended to stimulate ideas for timber use.


According to Interzum’s organisers, discernable trends directly relevant to wood were:

  • Design is becoming increasingly important with technical innovation and optimal functionality.

  • Of the wide range on offer the trendsetter was the “used” look, such as old wood floors conveying an almost antique appearance.

  • Diversity of veneers is increasing, with exotic woods more popular in the furniture industry, in keeping with the trend towards a growing individualism.

  • Three-dimensional flexible real wood veneer is making inroads and enabling an unprecedented organic design approach in case furniture construction.

  • The anti-bacterial worktop has been invented. It now ensures that germs not only have “no chance” in the kitchen but also in public and medical sectors.
  • Interzum Cologne and Interzum Moscow (held from May 16-20) is followed by Interzum Guangzhou in China in March 2006 before returning to Cologne from May 16-20, 2007, when it will be interesting to see the level of support from many of this year’s wood product exhibitors who currently seem unsure of their intentions.