Milan’s Salone del Mobile made a brave attempt to expand the debate on the future of furniture but ended up feeling more fractured than forward-thinking.
By Hugo Macdonald
“What are the trends?” people scream over drinks after dark in Milan during Salone del Mobile. It’s a fairly annoying question at the best of times; it feels childish to talk about table shapes at the biggest event on the design industry calendar, as if they say something revelatory about the way we live today.
It’s the weight of expectation for new stuff – from press, buyers and from each other – that makes manufacturers feel they need to produce 20 furniture elements as a badge of a thriving business when really the small coffers could be far better spent. No one feels this weight more keenly than the Italians. Domestic spend has continued to fall and Italy’s design exports are lagging severely behind its European neighbours. What was the trend? Lots more new Italian furniture, struggling to make it to the production line let alone beyond Italy’s borders.
Against this backdrop the 52nd Salone del Mobile felt like two separate events that just happened to take place in the same city at the same time. One event, which dealt with furniture, took over the Rho fairgrounds and the giant monobrand showrooms in central Milan. The other had a wider remit, taking full advantage of the world’s design industry being in one place for a week.
It consisted of exhibitions and discussions that delved into questions about how we might live in the future, how objects might be made and how they might reach their consumers. This half of Salone had nothing to do with trends (or table shapes) and the fact that it was here at all was confusing and counterintuitive: a debate about micro-financing and self-production sits rather uncomfortably alongside a showroom unveiling 10 new sofas. It felt like talking ill of the dead before they’d died. People here spoke of not visiting the Rho fairgrounds at all – that it was irrelevant. Such talk is more dangerous even than trendspotting and I think these two events need to be split before one eats the other.
The furniture industry is experiencing grave illness but it isn’t dead and it will recover. It might be an industry that looks and works a little differently when it finally emerges from its sickbed, with new markets, channels, chains, materials and names, but the essence of it will remain the same: we will always need furniture and the Italians make beautiful furniture.
At its Paduan facility, La Palma makes around 450 chairs a day and exports 95 per cent of them. The Cut chair family by new art director Francesco Rota is sure to be a winner in offices and restaurants.
At biennial lighting fair Euroluce, once the hottest part of the fiera, adoption of LED meant we could peruse the stands without drowning in sweat this year. Our highlights were: Carlotta de Bevilacqua’s Empathy for Artemide in blown glass; Michael Anastassiades’ brass and glass Tip of the Tongue; and Daniel Rybakken’s compelling Ascent light for Luceplan. Shining examples, all.
artemide.com; michaelanastassiades.com; luceplan.com
Salone has a stultifying amount of new furniture billed by brands as “the best piece we’ve ever made” but Poliform might be telling the truth. This solid-wood Ipanema bed by Jean-Marie Massaud has a padded headboard, upholstered either in leather or fabric. No-nonsense and very handsome.
A veritable kick up the backside to much of the furniture industry came from the joint exhibition held by young stars Luca Nichetto and Nendo. Together the pair co-designed seven things, each produced as a prototype by a different manufacturer. This whole process, despite collaboration between Stockholm, Venice and Tokyo, took just three months. “It takes three years to design an aircraft, not a sofa,” says Nichetto. “Design can sometimes take itself a bit too seriously. Our goal with this joint design project was to show how things could work: quicker and with more fun.” We agree.
We have three new additions to our terraces: the ingenious outdoor version of Naoto Fukasawa’s mini Papilio tub chairs for B&B Italia; Gordon Guillaumier’s teak Caddy for Roda; and Nendo’s magic one-legged tables for Caesarstone, shown in the courtyard at the Palazzo Crivelli.
bebitalia.it; rodaonline.com; caesarstone.com
Renato Preti’s dynamic young design brand Discipline proved its worth among the dinosaur firms with his pop-up store pulling in almost €10,000 during Salone. A more permanent addition to Milan is Marazzi’s stunning 400 sq m showroom on via Borgogna. Designed by Gianluca Rossi it showcases the brand’s ceramic materials to perfection.
De Padova launched the most beautiful chair we’ve seen for some time. Donzella is by Michele De Lucchi, the local Leonardo. Made from solid ash with a woven paper-cord seat, it is miraculously light and, importantly, comfortable. If we could take one thing from Salone 2013, this would be it.
Gastone Rinaldi’s 1954 DU 55 P club chair is reborn as Poltrona Frau’s Letizia. Welcome back.