The Milan Furniture Fair may be over but that’s really just the beginning. Manufacturers, buyers, designers and journalists the world over are now ruminating on what they’ve seen, whom they’ve met and, above all, what the future of design will look like. For our part, we’ve reduced the week’s contents and focused on 10 key products from Salone 2010, each of which sheds light on what’s happening in design right now and what the next year will look like.
From aeronautical to snowboard manufacturing, no industry was left unplundered by companies and designers seeking new ways to exploit materials. Patricia Urquiola’s Net-Box storage range for Molteni borrowed techniques normally used for roof panels in shops. The metal panels are stretched and laser-cut to assume an unusually light appearance, which changes when viewed from different angles. Carlo Molteni, president of the Molteni Group, explained the need for looking laterally: “It’s important not just to innovate but to explore how other industries have developed a way of creating an effect or solving a problem that we can use. It brings something new to our work and, if it exists already in another industry, helps us keep the cost down.”
After a brief flirtation with hi-tech fabrics and ethnic patterns, sofa design went back to basics this year, with no-nonsense feet, frames and block-coloured or leather upholstery. Sofas up and down the stands had a vintage gentlemen’s club feel to them. British designer Damian Williamson took this further than most with his creation for Zanotta. “William takes from tradition the close attention to comfort: three layers of cushions and pure goose-down stuffing,” says Martino Zanotta, the company’s CEO. “In design and style, though, it is a perfect contemporary sofa.” As such, it heralds a return to pure function, rather than experiment or statement as the key proponent in the sofa department.
Echoing the influx of Japanese design, many European designers followed suit with products that were so delicate and minimal in material and form that they were as much a feat of expert engineering as imaginative design. Monica Forster, working for the first time with De Padova, was behind one of the most ethereal creations – a wire-thin, steel-framed floor lamp with an aluminium shade draped over the bulb like cloth. “Its organic geometry is a tribute to forgotten nature,” says Luca De Padova, the company’s CEO. It signals a reaction against the opulence of extravagant design art pieces from the past two years, but also takes into consideration the wider market potential of those dwelling in smaller spaces.
Italy’s biggest design names from the 20th century were out in full force this year, proving they still carry clout in a contemporary market. In a time of turbulence and insecurity among manufacturers and buyers, it clearly pays to invest in designers with heritage and experience. AgapeCasa, a new company from the bathroom specialists focusing on furniture for every room, gave over its entire debut collection to the Milanese master Angelo Mangiarotti. Explaining why the firm chose Mangiarotti to launch its collection and not a “new” name, Agape’s CEO, Emanuele Benedini, explained, “He is an architect, a designer and an artist. We think many of the pieces he designed years ago are timeless and relevant for the market today.”
Companies that didn’t look back to either their own archives or the great names of design tended to look east for new collaborators, particularly to Japan. The mood for uncomplicated, clean design and simple use of materials fits perfectly with the Japanese design heritage and hence the Japanese featured heavily. Junya Ishigami’s “Family” chairs for Italian manufacturer Living Divani were particularly notable for their personality. A marriage of fluid forms and neat practicality, they achieve the balance the Japanese manage so perfectly – that of whimsical character and timeless appeal.
At the other end of the spectrum from extreme technological experiments in design is a surge in natural, raw materials, used in a rather monolithic, basic way that accentuates the purity of their natural state. Copper in particular is enjoying a revival. But solid chunks of marble, stone and woods of all descriptions were also in abundance – a fact that suggests designers are returning to a basic, honest approach to natural materials. “People are buying less but they are buying better,” says Michel Roset of Ligne Roset. “They want to feel connected to their investments and anything hi-tech or unnatural or complex isn’t comforting to be around.”
Many of the heritage European and American manufacturers are taking inspiration from their own archives – looking back to move forward. Poltrona Frau, blessed with almost a century of designs, has a richer archive than most and this year the firm reintroduced Guglielmo Ulrich’s “Willy” chair, originally from 1937. Reissuing classic pieces isn’t a new trend but it has gained considerable pace this year – a sign of cannier consumers recognising and wanting “classics”, and a sensible option for companies with a big archive who don’t feel the need to keep adding several new designs each year.
Kitchen design always caters for every desire but one element nobody wants to make too much of is the extractor hood. For the sake of aesthetics, and bumped heads, ideally it would be hidden away and thankfully designers have taken this to heart. Norbert Wangen has designed a stainless steel down draft hood, which is motorised, rising and vanishing at the push of a button or remote control. Nifty electronics don’t interfere with the function, though, which gets rid of moisture, smell and cooking fat with efficiency.
“Is that really design?” It’s a question asked frequently at any design fair, and this year in Milan there was a rash of “idea” designs – the focus being more on the concept than the product itself. Vitra led the way. Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena commandeered a traditional un-designed strap used for centuries by the Ayoreo Indians. The looped textile strap is wrapped around the knees and back supporting both and promoting comfortable sitting on the ground for many hours. Is it design, though? The pioneer of the Super Normal school, Jasper Morrison, was in no doubt: “Borrowing an idea and making it better, or promoting it in any way, is definitely worthy of the term ‘design’.”
Valet stand by ett la benn, a wooden rod with strategic hinges that, when bent, can be used for multiple functions. ettlabenn.com
Coatstand by Staffan Holm, a series of poles and a clay pot. staffanholm.com
The Salone is an experience based wholly in reality but this year there was an added virtual element. Cosmit and Interni launched apps, but the biggest shift was the promotion by several brands and designers of their online retail presence. Established & Sons debuted its new brand Estd via its online shop-in-shop hosted by Yoox.com, with all products available to buy instantly. After a tentative start it seems the design world is finally realising the potential for the speed and scope afforded by e-commerce.
Skitsch is pushing its relaunched website as the chief sales channel. skitsch.it
British designer Tom Dixon launched ‘Virtual Milan’, a 3D, interactive tour of his stand, complete with an avatar of the man himself. tomdixon.net