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Alno AG is one of Germany's leading kitchen manufacturers. Alno serves the German and international markets with a full range of kitchens, from four production sites within Germany and one in Dubai. The Alno Group includes not only the core Alno brand, but also Wellmann (classic/modern), Impuls (minimalist) and Pino (budget sector). Alno AG is active in over 64 countries around the world, with around 7000 sales partners. In 2008, around 1900 employees achieved a turnover of approximately €511 million and an operating income (EBITDA) of about €19 million. The share of turnover generated abroad was 33.7%.

Glass – a material as old as the human race. Although strictly speaking, it is even older than that. It is formed naturally at high temperatures during volcanic eruptions or lightning strikes, for example. Researchers have even discovered glass on the moon. Natural glass was used right back in the Neolithic period, but it wasn’t until 3500 BC that it began to develop into a professional trade. Since then glass has accompanied cultures in thousands of different ways, from functional objects to windows, jewellery and purely decorative items.

The objects made of glass have changed with the times and styles, but the material itself has never gone out of fashion. Glass is particularly important in the kitchen, not only used as it is for bowls, glasses and cookware, but also as a material for ceramic-glass hobs, shelves in fridges or extractor hoods. Recently, however, glass has conquered the kitchen in a whole new form: as an elegant cabinet front panel.

Alno AG is a real trendsetter when it comes to using glass in kitchen furniture. In 2007, Alno introduced the Alnoart Woodglas high-gloss front panel, where a special multi-coloured wood grain print is applied to a glass surface. A profiled aluminium frame rounds off the look, giving the kitchen a feel that is at once cosy and exclusive. And together with Schott and Bosch, Alno developed the Trendstudie 2011, a futuristic kitchen with satin-finish matt glass front panels throughout. This uniformity, which blurs the boundaries between cabinet and appliance front panels, gives a uniquely elegant kitchen which recently won the two coveted awards “iF product design award 2010” and “red dot design award”. Alno is constantly working on new ideas and concepts, because the company is certain that in future glass is going to become an even more significant part of the kitchen landscape than it is now.

An interview with Alno product manager Berthold Müller about the background, potential and trends associated with using glass in the kitchen.

Mr Müller, glass has been used for decorative and purely functional purposes for thousands of years. What values do we attribute to glass today?

“Glass has always fascinated people – primarily because of its transparent strength, which lets light shine through but still offers protection. But also because of its diverse range of possibilities: the fact that it can always be reshaped and redesigned in new forms makes it the perfect way to give expression to the times, today more than ever. Increasingly, modern living means open-plan living – and glass symbolises this openness like hardly any other material.”

In your opinion, what general trends in the use of glass stand out?

“Everyone craves openness, freedom and lots of light in their own living space, including the kitchen. Glass is becoming ever more popular as a building material in modern architecture, because it brings precisely this openness into the home, without neglecting technical requirements such as heat insulation in the case of large windows, for instance. An example of the harmonious marriage of glass and modern technology is the Reichstag in Berlin. Particularly in the field of architecture, glass is building a bridge between the traditional and the modern.”

Do you think that glass will displace other materials in the future?

“Glass is booming, there is no question about that. Basically you can use it almost anywhere, from floors and stairs to cabinet front panels and even furniture made entirely of glass, right through to walls and ceilings. Today's special-purpose glass is so robust that it can be used in a vast range of applications, many more than ever before. Glass is an option with very special, exclusive characteristics. It supplements other materials, without directly replacing them.”


But glass has to fight a range of prejudices too. One of these is related to its fragility. Many people ask themselves, “Is glass really robust enough to make sense in furniture or even floors?” How safe is it in kitchens, for example?

“We use special safety glass in all applications associated with high loads or stringent safety requirements, including our Alnoart glass kitchen. It has different tension zones, which really increases the resilience of the glass against blows and impact, for instance. If the glass does break, however, it shatters into tiny pieces, like a car windscreen. And if a larder or wall unit becomes damaged, no shards can fall to the ground and cause injury.”

The basic principles of glass manufacture have hardly changed at all over the years, but the details of production have, particularly when it comes to surface treatments. In what direction are these developments heading? Are there any limits on feasibility?

“Alno is not a glass manufacturer, but it does use the end product. As such, we are always interested in the latest developments in materials research. Apart from the application of safety glass or satin-finish, sandblasted glass, such as that used in the Trendstudie 2011, there is one other aspect that is relevant to us: digital printing onto the back of glass panels. This technique is employed for our Woodglas kitchen front panels. A four-coloured print is applied to the pane, sealed with a layer of white varnish and then joined to a wooden panel. This not only results in a look that is really special, but also a high degree of stability. We are now in a position to use this technology to reproduce even costly, exotic woods at a comparatively low cost – but at the end of the day, any style or type of print could be created. Matt glass is coming up for surfaces, but at the moment high-shine, reverse-printed or varnished glass front panels are still the in thing, along with the popular varnished front panels not made of glass. And one thing’s for certain: No other material produces such a sophisticated high shine with such a great depth effect as glass.”

Do glass front panels fit in with an open-plan, cosy kitchen feel and with different styles of living?

“Thanks to its transparency, glass fits in with various different styles, from a country kitchen to a minimalist designer one. Glass doors give an unobstructed view of the inside of the cupboard, an idea which crosses over into the room’s interior design. Modern lighting concepts, whereby the cupboards are illuminated in a way that emphasises the warm and cosy character of the kitchen, reinforce the effect. Ornamented or satin-finish glass surfaces increase the feeling of cosiness too. But in general, glass front panels provide a “smooth” transition between living area and kitchen, comfort and functionality. That is why they are ideal for the trend towards open-plan living.”

But how practical is glass in the kitchen really? Won’t you see every single finger mark?

“Contrary to popular opinion, glass actually has numerous practical benefits. It is one of the easiest materials there is to clean: there is hardly any other surface from which dirt can be removed so easily. Also, a vast range of glass cleaning products is available on the market – every home has one. And finally, glass is extremely hygienic – barely any residue or germs can accumulate on its smooth surface. This makes the material of interest when it comes to making handles and the insides of cupboards: glass is now the fourth most important material for handles, after aluminium, chrome and stainless steel. And we are probably just at the start of that particular development.”


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