For all the fun of the galleries, warehouse exhibitions and street parties elsewhere in Milan, the vast Rho fairground on the city’s outskirts is where the real business of Salone takes place. Across 24 halls, each one the size of a couple of aircraft hangars, the world’s leading furniture companies show their new collections to buyers and press, to architects, and to each other. It’s an unrivalled spectacle – a lot of pleasure and, after a few hours, a fair bit of pain too.
In the last couple of years the big brands have played it safe, promoting archive products with a proven track record of success while launching a few interesting new products to keep the media happy.
This year it’s a different story and there are two noticeable sectors on the rise: outdoor and contract.
As European manufacturers are taking advantage of hungry Middle Eastern and Asian markets blessed with better weather and a healthier outdoor culture, the outdoor furniture sector is booming. For contract design the gap in the market to furnish hotels, restaurants, offices and airports with well-designed, high-quality furniture is one many manufacturers are seeking to fill.
Brands exploring furniture that can be both indoor and outdoor included Roda, Zanotta, Magis and Vitra. The latter is for the first time venturing into outdoor furniture with Konstantin Grcic’s Waver chair, which has been three years in the making. “It’s a new direction and a fresh way of looking at the crossover between indoor and outdoor furniture and what it might be for a new market,” Grcic said of his design.
Thonet, Arper, Las Palmas, Alias and Porro are just a few of the bigger brands blurring the boundaries between furniture that sits as well in a home as a restaurant, office or even airport. “As people spend more time in these places, it’s important that they are furnished beautifully, and with the market getting more competitive it’s important to offer good quality not just a good price,” explained Lorenzo Porro, the brand’s CEO.
Elsewhere – the biannual Euroluce lighting event took up four halls and unsurprisingly LED was the hot topic. While Foscarini stood out for their impressive range of beautiful new designs, Philips appeared to be the only brand that understood the need to translate what LED really is (and can be) to the fair’s attendees. In place of big-name designers and beautifully designed objects, Philips opted for a series of small houses, each one a different environment that showed how LED can improve all aspects of domestic life.
The drama and statement designs of recent years were lacking at this Fiera. And while that might sound dull it’s definitely a good indication that the industry is picking up once more. In place of frills and fancy finishes it seems the big brands are back to business.