Lessons in style

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Steve Murphy, managing director of Europa International, looks back over five decades, gives a brief lesson in furniture history and remembers the grey days…

As with everything, a lot of fashions have come and gone in the furniture hire business over the past four decades, since I first joined the family business back in the 1970s. Looking back, at certain points throughout the years you could be forgiven for thinking that the word “style” had escaped the industry. A quick look back at the, shall we say, “distinctive” stripes of the 1980s confirms that. As the 1990s dawned, colour choice in furniture still wasn’t great. I remember it well – you could have any colour you liked, as long as it was… brown-grey! Changes had to be made and I was determined to add a splash of colour to our ranges.

As the 1990s moved on, there was an advent of Perspex, glass and chrome. It became possible to create a really light and airy feel, enabling clients to see that the production guys could put on a show beyond their remit. Over the past 10 years, I’ve definitely noticed a swing towards tall tables and bar stools, which can accommodate far more visitors and delegates than traditional tables and chairs within the same space – a growing necessity given the increasing cost of floor space in today’s market, and especially useful when events do not require full blown catering. In terms of colour, black and white furniture is prevalent again at the moment, just as it was in the 1970s. It’s a combination that delivers a classic yet contemporary look that never fails to bring class to any event, and today there is a wide range of styles available – from chairs and tables, to stools and benches for those seeking a more informal feel.

That said probably the most timeless piece of kit I’ve seen is the Arkana style chair. You can find versions of this chair in the movies Scandal, based on the Profumo affair of the 1960s, and again in Men in Black, set somewhere in the future, apparently.

While styles may have changed, I think the biggest change is now here to stay – the realisation that furniture hire can be fun as well as functional, and really help to bring events to life. It’s hard to find clients now who believe that hiring furniture is just about getting the right price. Clients today want furniture that is easy on the eye, as well as on budgets. And that, I think, is something that is set to stay with us throughout the decades ahead, whatever new styles and fashions may come along.