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Making home your haven

Stressed urbanites seek comfort, consolation in massage chairs, lighting systems at Seoul Living Design Fair

March 6, 2024 - 14:49 By Choi Si-young
Lighting systems on display at the 2024 Seoul Living Design Fair at Coex in southern Seoul on Sunday. (Choi Si-young/The Korea Herald)

Finding relief from the stress and anxieties of city living within the comfort of your home was the palpable trend at the annual Seoul Living Design Fair, which ended its five-day run at Coex in southern Seoul on Sunday.

Massage chairs from Coway, a Korean company better known for its water purifiers, showed the kind of compromise sought by those who want to feel cocooned in a stylish chair, eschewing bulkier massage chairs that require more space to install.

“A 5- or 10-minute massage once I get home from work is really, really important to me,” said Shin Hyun-soo, a 30-something office worker based in Seoul, after trying Coway’s Berex Pebble Chair at the Coway showroom.

“The chair looks totally like a piece of furniture and not some unpolished machine that kind of intrudes into the living room or just doesn’t go with the rest of the house,” Shin said before placing an order for the chair, a decision he had delayed because most massage chairs either required too much space or were not as “pretty” as he had hoped.

Shin represents a growing number of Koreans seeking stress relief at home. Coway’s revenue last year topped 3.9 trillion won ($2.9 billion), a record high the company says is owed to the Berex lineup that includes massage chairs, beds and mattresses.

Coway’s latest massage chairs at the 2024 Seoul Living Design Fair at Coex in southern Seoul on Thursday. (Coway)

“What separates Berex from others,” a Coway official said, “is that they are chairs and beds that work well in single-person households as well -- trendy and affordable.”

Hutech, another local health care company that makes massage chairs, also saw its booth brimming with people eager to try out the latest products. On Sunday, the last day of the fair, some models were already marked with huge bold letters: “Sold Out”

“I came out on the last day because I had heard I could get discounts,” said Park Young-cheol, who has been running an import business in downtown Seoul for the last 25 years. Park, 59, said he and his wife like to regularly spend time alone in a massage chair.

“I can afford massage shops or exclusive spa treatments,” Park said. “But we just prefer being on our own -- away and totally disconnected from everyone and everything. Having ‘someone’ massage you isn’t quite that.”

Lighting systems drew as many visitors.

At a booth set up by Globian, which imports lighting systems primarily from Italy as well as the UK and Denmark, Italian brand Martinelli Luce’s light fixtures were hung from a makeshift ceiling.

Lamps by French brand Lexon at the 2024 Seoul Living Design Fair at Coex in southern Seoul on Wednesday. (Dooresaem)

“Lighting tells you what kind of home you want to have,” one onlooker said.

“And lighting has that soothing effect -- one that’s totally different from all the fluorescent lighting you’re showered with at the office,” she said, recalling her office days when she suffered from chronic migraines.

Her doctors had not been able to establish the cause, but less exposure to fluorescent lighting following an early retirement has at least mitigated the symptoms, she said. “Lighting isn’t just about the mood or tone; it heals you and I have felt it.”

A salesperson at the Globian booth said demand for a variety of lighting has been clearly felt in the sector for some time, with more calls for high-end lamps that do more than just “light up the room.”

Chang Hyo-jin, a graduate student in Seoul in her 30s, said she came to check out Lexon’s latest, a French brand known for its everyday-use items. Its signature mushroom lamp, a bedside lamp, has spawned many copycats.

“I already have one,” she said. “There is modern, creative and nostalgic -- all in this one lamp when it lights up. That’s a rare combination at this price. And it’s an experience I badly need.”