The total number of companies active in the furniture industry is 33,140.
The Design Sector in Italy: Interior design and furniture
Italian manufacturers need UK creativity as much as UK designers need Italian craftsmanship
and manufacturers. For British furniture and design, Italy is perceived as a gateway to other
Italy has a population of 60.6 million and an average per-capita income of 22,000 Euros (the
Lombardy region has the highest, ie €23,930).
With a production turnover of €21.301 bn in 2010 (+1.8% over 2009) and exports worth €10.004
bn for the whole furniture industry, Italy is the number one manufacturer in Europe, the second
largest world manufacturer after the USA and the second largest exporter of furniture after
China, followed by Germany and Poland.
The total number of companies active in the furniture industry is 33,140 (updated December
2010) of which 86% employ less than 10 people. Imports are steadily rising, with an increase of
18% in 2010 over 2009 and a value of €3.11 bm.
Domestic consumption has increased by 2% over 2009 (€4 bn), showing a much better trend
compared to the past few years. Based on the Italian Retailers’ Association, in Italy purchases of
furniture and household appliances account for the highest consumption share in Europe – 7.5%
of total consumption, compared to 5.2% in the United Kingdom.
A strong local industry organised in production clusters, the predominance of SMEs which
ensure high flexibility and product differentiation, a strong design and quality culture which
supports the “made in Italy” brand, steady consumption rates of furniture, a strong concentration
of furniture/furnishing dealers and shops in the main cities, an increasing trend to include
furniture and design products within “lifestyle or concept stores” make of Italy an opportunity
country for British designers and a challenging market for furniture manufacturers.
The distribution of furniture in Italy is very fragmented compared to other European markets.
Out of 22,000 retailers of furniture (compared to 12,000 in the UK) 60% are traditional
independent shops (versus 32% in the UK). However also in Italy the number of furniture chain
stores and multiples is steadily increasing.
For British furniture and design products, Italy is often perceived as a gateway to sell to other
countries where demand for furniture is constantly growing such as Russia (+4%), Turkey
(+4%), China (+8%), the Arab countries (+4-5%).
The Interior Design market sector in Italy has shown a strong development over recent years.
The number of interior designers and architects in Italy is huge and steadily increasing, even if
AIPI (Italian Association of Interior Designers) counts 300 members only. In particular, the
Milan area in Lombardy has a long-standing tradition for being one of the world's leading
furniture and lighting manufacturing cluster. The Lombardy region hosts a myriad of SMEs that
are active in the design, prototyping, development, production, sub-contracting of furniture-
related products and complements. This local strength in terms of know-how, skilled workforce,
capability to supply even the smallest, ad-hoc developed components has increasingly attracted
international designers who work with local companies and exchange expertise. Especially
British designers have always found a particularly fertile ground in Italy to develop and
implement their creative ideas.
Interior design studios based in Italy, and especially in Lombardy, increasingly look at British
brands and designers for both contract and residential projects in Italy, Russia and the Arab
Milan is also the place where the most important furniture and furnishing fair in the world is
located and held every year. All trade journalists, furniture manufacturers, distributors, designers
and opinion leaders have a strong focus on Milan.
ξ The Italian furniture industry offers tremendous opportunities for talented British
designers. World-famous Italian brands of furniture, upholstered products, kitchen and
bathroom furniture and fittings, lighting, textile furnishings increasingly use international
designers in their search for innovative and functional solutions. Good design solutions are
those which combine an aesthetic value with a functional value. New materials, new
technology, energy-saving and environment-friendly solutions are increasingly demanded
by manufacturers to be competitive in the very challenging design environment.
ξ British designers have a very important occasion of showing their prototypes and products
to the world's industry during the annual International Furniture Fair (Salone
Internazionale del Mobile) which is held every April at the Milan fairground and at off-site
exhibition grounds and venues.
ξ Euroluce (International exhibition of lighting and lamps), Eurocucina (International
exhibition of kitchen and bathroom furniture) and SaloneUfficio (International exhibition
of office furniture) are biennial exhibitions held every other year during the Furniture Fair.
The Furniture Fair has a separate hall dedicated to young designers and colleges called
SaloneSatellite. British designers and schools are usually among the most represented in
this hall, an evidence of the wealth of talent and creativity supported by British colleges.
ξ British manufacturers of furniture and interiors solution exhibit in Milan to show their
products to international buyers and often to find agents or distributors.
ξ British exhibitors at the Furniture Show are usually split between two sections: classic
furniture on one side and contemporary furniture and lighting on the other. British
traditional furniture includes copies of original styles from classical periods, often hand-
crafted using the best wood essences, as well as traditional leather and upholstered sofas
and armchairs. This is a very niche market in Italy, as British companies have very strong
local competitors in regional manufacturing clusters.
ξ Contemporary furniture, lighting and interiors solutions can find an easier way to the
Italian market – both in the residential and contract markets – if distributed by qualified
and professional companies or agents. Contract furnishings solutions have good market
prospects in Italy mainly in the fashion and tourism sectors, due to the high number of
independent retailers and chains of shops, mainly of fashion, and to the distribution of
hotels, restaurants and spas all over the country.
Latest export opportunities –Italy
Latest export opportunities– Household goods, Furniture & Furnishings
Getting into the market
ξ Designers can offer their design solutions to local manufacturers under a licence
agreement on individual products or a range of products. Obtaining an introduction to local
manufacturers is very difficult and only the most innovative projects are accepted if and
when the company finds that the design solution proposed is in line with its own strategy
ξ Manufacturers or designers with their own manufacturing facility (in the UK or elsewhere)
need a professional distributor or agent to be able to sell to the appropriate retail market
and to local interior design firms. A few retailers of furniture have recently started also a
distribution activity at their showrooms which have therefore become reference venues
during the Milan Design Week. Usually these lifestyle showrooms sell and represent a mix
of brands of home and fashion product.
ξ Exhibiting at the local fairs, mainly the International Furniture Fair, can offer British
designers, design studios and companies the chance of meeting buyers/potential agents and
architects. Also alternative and parallel exhibitions held at off-site venues can be effective,
because during the Design Week many areas of Milan become "off-site targets" of
ξ Interior design and home magazines are very effective tools to promote new designers and
products. Visibility during the Milan Design Week is important in view of press coverage.
More about doing business inItaly
Market intelligence is critical when doing business overseas, and UKTI can provide bespoke
market research and support during overseas visits though our chargeable Overseas Market
Introduction Service (OMIS).
To commission research or for general advice about the market, get in touch with our specialists
in country - or contact your local international trade team.
ξ Marina Iremonger , Trade Adviser, Head of Fashion & Design Unit, British Consulate
General Milan. Tel: +39 02 72300257 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact your local international trade team
UKTI runs a range of events for exporters, including seminars in the UK, trade missions to
overseas markets and support for attendance at overseas trade shows.
Salone Internazionale del Mobile ,
International Furniture Fair , Milan
Date: 17-22 April 2012
Website address: www.cosmit.it
International Home Show,
Decoration/Textile Furnishings/Garden Furniture/Tableware/Silverware/Jewellery, Milan
Date: 26-29 January 2012
Website address: www.macef.it
International Architecture/Design/Construction Fair, Milan
Date: 17-20 October 2012
Website address: www.madeexpo.it
Latest events –Household goods, Furniture & Furnishings
More about OMIS and other UKTI services for exporters