The lady in the orange jumpsuit

Installer Kitchens & Bathrooms’ Andy Bishop recently caught up for a chat with Amanda Hughes, Blum’s Aging and Ergonomics Specialist.

Hello, Amanda, first of all, can you tell me a little about Blum’s history?

Operating since 1952, Blum is an Austrian family-owned business with a turnover of approx. 2.4 billion Euros. We export across 120 countries and manufacture in 5, with 33 subsidiary offices globally. At our core, we manufacture a large proportion of the world’s furniture fittings, that’s what we are best known for, but alongside this we also invest 8 to 10% of turnover into global research. We are passionate about everything from small living spaces, hydroponics, urban farming, food waste and everything connected with improving the quality of our living spaces.

And what’s the philosophy behind the brand?

Blum stays close to, and studies people and their relationships to the built environment, we watch and monitor emerging trends, and this helps us to move ideas forward and create innovative products and inspiring services. One such growing sector is the aging and accessibility needs of homeowners, today and in the future. Working alongside Ergonomists and Cognitive Decline Experts, we advocate for making inclusive, universal design part of your design portfolio.

Creating furniture fittings for a better quality of living is very important to us. We manufacture lift, hinge, pull-out and pocket systems for furniture and provide appropriate services and assembly devices for them.

Can you tell me a little about how you reached your position?

Having previously worked in commercial kitchens as a trained chef, I now develop products and solutions with the wider Blum team to make people’s lives easier and more efficient. I’m passionate about universal design and have lectured at several universities across the UK in Gerontology (more later). With an aging population, we need to consider how best to design products that meet everyone’s needs.Studies by the Global Coalition on Aging all point to the facts. We are living longer; we are living better quality independent lives with disability and accessibility needs.

According to the office for National Statistics the UK population is changing in both size and structure. By 2050, it is projected that one in four people in the UK will be aged 65 years and over – an increase from almost one in five in 2018. Most of us want to age at home for as long as possible and not in institutional care, so how can we as designers support this desire and ensure the quality of our living spaces?  Surprisingly though, very few businesses have an aging strategy and unless they seek out and appeal to the needs of this sector, they will fall behind.

Amanda, you’ve been seen at various KBB events in an orange jumpsuit and a silver welder’s mask – is this a fashion choice?

“A fashion choice? No, but it certainly gets attention whenever I wear it and creates a great conversation starter around the topic of Gerontology, the study of aging and older adults, a topic everyone is talking about. The science of Gerontology has evolved as longevity has improved. Researchers in this field are diverse and are trained in areas such as physiology, social science, psychology, public health, and policy.

Amanda wearing the the Age Explorer® suit

The suit you are referring to is designed by the Meyer-Hentschel Institute and called the Age Explorer®. It was originally conceived to help the automotive industry study the effects of aging on car designs. Blum now uses this suit as a research tool to check that all products meet the demands of aging and assist with the “Aging at Home model”. The Suit enables the wearer to experience first-hand what aging feels like and allows us to talk to Architects, Retailers and Designers and put them directly in the shoes of someone with arthritic hands, reduced mobility, decline in strength and dexterity – the helmet also allows wearers to experience declining eyesight and other effects. It really does elevate empathy when designing and gets participants to think not only about today’s needs but future ones.

Blum is well known for its constant innovation; how does this take place?

Blum understands the full theatre in which we work to develop new products, so globally we carry out studies in aging, population growth, smart technologies, urban farming and food waste, hydroponics to stay close to customers’ needs both now and in the future. We also embrace any new technologies that enable us to produce more sustainable products in a more sustainable way.

What new products can we expect to see from Blum in 2024?

Blum’s most recent innovations tap directly into this desire for a more organised, ergonomic, accessible, and inclusive design ethos.

The PLINTH STEP – As we shrink from about the age of 40, this enables more of our kitchen to be accessible for longer. This product is an integrated step solution, which makes reaching high cupboards easier for those who struggle and makes it easier for children to gain a few extra inches to reach worktops etc. With some innovative design a plinth seat can also be achieved, somewhere to rest and sit down if you are easily fatigued.

Blum’s new Pull-out Lock Shelf

The Pull-out Lock Shelf and it’s also possible to create a pull-out lockable surface, great for creating different height inclusive workstations.

Also, we have recently introduced a pocket door system called REVEGO, which taps into the desire for open plan into broken plan flexibility. Zoning your home environments at will, changing the focus of your spaces dependent on tasks, as you can go from kitchen, to home office, to entertaining spaces. With people spending more time working from home for example, we believe it’s a very interesting new product development.

How does Blum help the installer sector? Do you offer specific training on your products?

We do, at Blum the philosophy is to support everyone in the entire supply chain, and Installers are no exception. we understand the onsite and fitting challenges they face.  We design the products with the installer in mind and build in as many flexible adjustments as possible, but we don’t stop there! We have an exciting range of Jigs and tooling available to aid accuracy and save the installer time. This compliments our digital support services such as the “Easy Assembly App” and “The Cabinet Configurator”.

The latest development for this sector is the Jig Box. A specially curated selection of our most popular Jigs. It compliments existing Systainer systems on the market, so sits comfortably alongside other installation tools.  We also have a Technical Training centre in the UK and offer free Installer days for those wishing to keep up to date with the latest products and continue their professional development.

Thank you, Amanda, we hope to see you in your orange jumpsuit very soon.

More at Blum.com

Installer Kitchens & Bathrooms will take place at NEC Birmingham, June 25th – 27th, 2024 www.installershow.com

To find out more about Installer Kitchens & Bathrooms, contact David Ventris-Field on: dventris-field@lyricalcomms.com

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