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The European Furniture Industry - What's Made Where & Why?

robot in a furniture factory painting a wooden chair white

Furniture for the UK contract market is generally made to order rather than supplied from limited stocked ranges as in retail. This is because customers require wide choices of design and finish, too much for suppliers to stock. As a result, furniture is largely manufactured in Europe, where lead times can be kept manageable.

The European furniture industry is a labour-intensive sector dominated by small and medium-sized companies. EU furniture manufacturers have a worldwide reputation for quality and innovation.

Why isn't hospitality furniture made in the Far East?

Contract furniture tends not to be manufactured in the Far East, largely due to the difficulties of managing a long supply chain and the lengthy lead-time which is typically 10-12 weeks. Much Far Eastern furniture is, in addition, KnockDown (assembled on arrival), which is unsuitable for contract use.

The Italian job

Furniture is manufactured in most European countries, with the biggest concentration of factories in Northeast Italy. In the second half of the 20th Century, Italy manufactured one quarter of the world’s dining chairs, based on extensive beech forests.

Differing characteristics of furniture have led to clusters of similar factories across the continent.

From budget furniture to bespoke

Budget furniture is largely manufactured in countries with low labour costs–Portugal, the Baltic countries, the eastern fringes such as Bulgaria and Romania.

Countries with higher labour costs sell furniture of better quality and better design, differentiating away from low-cost competition.

Plastic chairs, which require expensive moulds to create, are made in wealthier countries, particularly Italy.

Bespoke wooden furniture, which requires significant amounts of labour, is also largely made in countries with low labour costs.

What furniture is made in the UK?

Larger upholstered furniture is relatively more expensive to transport, so has been manufactured closer to its marketplace. A core of upholstered-furniture makers, serving the UK market, remains in Wales. Eastern European factories are now competitive with them.

Bespoke metal furniture (or parts of furniture) is made in the UK, partly as a result of metalworking skills learnt when we had a more substantial manufacturing sector.

Wooden table tops, fairly simple, but heavy and so expensive to make, are also manufactured in the UK.

A small ‘rump’ of UK manufacturing remains, some around the once-dominant area of High Wycombe which had large beech forests. This mainly serves the domestic market.

Map Showing Distribution of Europe's Major Furniture Factories

rough map of major factories in the European furniture industry

As one of the UK’s leading providers in the contract market, we choose our suppliers both by our own research (mainly through the many shows we visit) and by reacting to customer requirements. At The Contract Chair Company we aim to assist in providing knowledge and using that knowledge to assist designers, architects and end users in making the best possible choice in furniture.

Topics: Contract furniture, Furniture knowledge

By Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth on 07/08/17 12:01
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