There is perhaps no other design festival, anywhere, that is on par with Milan Design Week. It is not this writer’s intention to suggest that Milan Design Week is better than its contemporaries, but simply to observe that it is in a league of its own. For several days every April, the design world quite literally seizes control of the city of Milan: the streets are paved with a creative gold, where the design cognoscenti walk–strut–run on hallowed ground. For the uninitiated—and even those hardened veterans—it is a sight to behold.
In essence, Milan Design Week is split between the Salone del Mobile (housed at the vast FieraMilano convention centre on the outskirts of Milan) and the Fuorisalone (with many events taking place in design districts across the city). Given its sheer scale, it is practically impossible to see and experience the entire Milan design affair. Any well-planned design itinerary can be thwarted by the endless throng of design seekers, the inevitable queues for ‘must-see’ events and the need to navigate the tumultuous city of Milan. In this writer’s experience it is best to take a deep breath, throw caution to the wind and see where Milan Design Week takes you.
Established design trends
In many ways, trends are subjective facets of design. Those with little substance or depth will come and go, while trends that are constantly advancing and developing will enjoy longevity, their presence established and respected. Throughout Milan Design Week, there was much evidence of established design trends, including: innovations in lighting, the considered use of natural materials, design as a journey, dual-purpose indoor–outdoor furniture, the relaunching of design classics and creative approaches to reusing plastic.
Innovations in lighting
At this year’s Salone del Mobile, Euroluce, the biennial International Lighting Exhibition, was once again in residence. A foremost lighting event, Vibia enjoyed a large presence at the fair, showcasing an inspirational range of newly developed, innovative lights. Displayed across a number of expertly curated rooms and settings, Vibia’s lights attracted the attention of a great many design aficionados. With a focus on ambience, minimal design and emotional well-being, Vibia doubtless captured the imagination of a great deal of visitors to its stand. Unable to choose just one standout design from Vibia’s new collection, this writer instead settled on two:
Plusminus is in the vanguard of technical lighting development. Designed by German industrial designer Stefan Diez, it is a radical evolution of the typical light rail, making use of a conductive, flexible textile belt or ribbon. Lights in varied shapes and sizes are freely placed anywhere on the belt, allowing for an extensive arrangement of lighting compositions. Fully extendable, the textile belt will run vertically, horizontally, diagonally or in a combination of placements and positions.
Plusminus by German industrial designer Stefan Diez
Arik Levy, an Israeli artist and industrial designer, created Sticks, a collection of extended, graphic-style light rods. Entirely versatile, Levy’s Sticks can be suspended from a wall to the ceiling, propped vertically on the floor against a wall, or arranged in numerous artistic formations. Clean and uncluttered, Sticks have a wonderfully contemporary neon bent.
Sticks by Arik Levy
The considered use of natural materials
The considered use of natural materials in contemporary design continues to provide exceptional examples of fine craftsmanship. Materials such as marble, leather and wood are treated with care and respect by conscientious artisans and designers.
Marsotto, the venerable Italian stone carving firm, presented items from its Marsotto edizioni, a truly exceptional collection of objects and furniture cut from marble. In an exhibition titled ‘one two three Marble’ (reflecting the three brands that make up the Marsotto business), items created by a number of today’s most celebrated designers were on display. As a precious raw material, the marble used in each design emphasises the material’s sense of formality, harmony and perfection.
The Place Wardrobe by Philippe Malouin. Image via Architonic
The Ballerina 72 dining table by Oki Sato of Nendo. Image via Architonic
Italian leather interiors brand Studioart showcased its distinctive California Dreaming Collection of leather wall coverings, created by Los Angeles-based designer Adam Hunter. The collection combines elegant, handcrafted made in Italy leather with modern flair.
Bel Air, part of the California Dreaming Collection, is a deconstructed ombré (where tones of colour shade into each other).
Image ©Studioart Leather Interiors SRL
Very Wood is an Italian company that specialises in the design and creation of wooden seats. Making its debut at the Salone del Mobile, Very Wood presented a collection of chairs, sofas, benches and stools made with a passion and admiration for wood—that most natural of materials.
ODEON barstool by Swiss designer This Weber. Image via This Weber
Design as a journey
Design is part of a continually developing narrative, a wondrous journey that marks countless moments of invention, innovation and inspiration. Capturing the notion of design as a journey, Herman Miller presented ‘All Together Now’ during Milan Design Week. This exhibition explored the growing, almost endless, design possibilities offered by the Herman Miller Group’s sizeable global family of brands, including Design Within Reach, Maharam and Hay.
Herman Miller ‘All Together Now’. Image by NicholasCalcott© Herman Miller, Inc
Dual-purpose indoor–outdoor furniture
Indoor–outdoor furniture is growing in popularity, as the design boundaries between inside and outside spaces are frequently blurred. Whether it’s about space-saving solutions or budgetary constraints, dual-purpose furniture is both practical and desirable.
Jasper Morrison’s Plato chair for iconic Italian brand Magis is rigorous and minimal, versatile and sturdy. Suited to both indoor and outdoor spaces, this utilitarian chair draws on neoclassical inspiration, hence its name. Balancing form and function with an aesthetic quality, the Plato chairis an expression of good design.
The colourful Plato chair by Jasper Morrison. Image © Magis Spa
Design classics: relaunched
Many of the world’s heritage brands, particularly those hailing from the Nordic regions, have a wealth of undiscovered and rare classic designs in their archives. As a way of maintaining the legacy of some of history’s greatest furniture designers, these brands—Artek, Carl Hansen & Søn, Fritz Hansen and House of Finn Juhl to name but a few—are relaunching designs on an almost yearly basis.
At the Salone del Mobile, House of Finn Juhl presented the Danish master cabinetmaker’s Grasshopper chair. Originally designed in 1938, only two pieces were produced. The Grasshopper was one of Finn Juhl’s first attempts at expressing his artistic freedom in the form of furniture.
The Grasshopper chair by Finn Juhl. Image via Dezeen
Creative approaches to reusing plastic
A fundamental question of our time: What can we do about the likely catastrophic consequences faced by the environment because of our addiction to single-use plastics? It is a question that occupies the minds of many in the design world. With so much plastic waste, how can this throwaway material be utilised in design?
In December 2018, the Milanese design galleristRossana Orlandilaunched the inaugural ‘Ro Plastic Prize’, challenging designers with the task of developing new ways to recycle and reuse plastic. A part of Orlandi’s ‘Guiltless Plastic’ initiative, the best projects were presented at the Rossana Orlandi Gallery during the Fuorisalone. One project winner was ‘Plastex’ by the Cairo-based Reform Studio. An eco-friendly material, Plastex—a plastic textile—is made by weaving discarded plastic bags.
Plastex by Reform Studio. Image © Reform Studio
Gerard McGuickin of Walnut Grey Design
is a freelance design writer based in Belfast.