Wednesday 17 April 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 17/4/2024

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Fair play

We have our sights set on Milan this week as Salone del Mobile kicks off in the city. We tuck in to a mid-century showcase in a Milanese restaurant, celebrate the art of craftsmanship with furniture manufacturer Alki and talk to Philippe Malouin about the importance of education in design. To get things started, our design editor, Nic Monisse, steps out of his comfort zone – and onto the trade-show floor…

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Better together

“Salone del Mobile is the moment to test things out because it has a huge, diverse audience,” said Maria Porro, president of Salone del Mobile, when I spoke to her in the lead-up to the annual furniture trade fair, which opened yesterday and runs until Sunday. “You could be sitting in front of two people from opposite sides of the world and, over the course of a week, you can understand how people feel about your designs.”

Her statement is a reminder of why the event, and the various exhibitions and showcases that take place in Milan for its duration, is the design industry’s most important gathering: it draws in more than 370,000 designers, architects and developers from 188 countries. Since arriving on Sunday, I’ve had dinner with Danish furniture CEOs, enjoyed drinks with American architects planning new furniture lines and toured a textile showroom with a cohort of Japanese developers. The effect? A huge cross-pollination of ideas and dialogue around design.

It’s something that also seems to be embodied in the wares on show, with many collaborations between brands from different countries and areas of expertise. Architects Snøhetta and Italian ceramic-tile manufacturer Fornace Brioni, for instance, have become unlikely partners, working together on a lightweight tile that uses architectural structural principles. At the trade hall, Italian furniture brand Flexform has teamed up with Copenhagen-based Natural Material Studio to create a room divider made from bio-textiles that beautifully filters light. And interiors specialists Cassina have made a timber stool clad in Italian fashion brand Bottega Veneta’s signature leather.

These projects (as well as the dinners, drinks and meetings) are a reminder that designers are at their best when engaging in dialogue and discussion. It’s a good reason to come to Salone del Mobile – or, if that’s not on the cards, to push yourself to look for creative partners from beyond your comfort zone.

Nic Monisse is Monocle’s design editor. For more about Milan Design Week and the furniture industry, pick up a copy of Monocle’s dedicated ‘Salone del Mobile Special’ newspaper, which is available on select newsstands across Europe and online now.

Exhibition / Lasvit, Czechia

Top of the glass

“We built our own kiln to fulfil our dreams,” Maxim Velcovsky, creative director of Czech bespoke glass designer Lasvit, tells Monocle about the company’s mega-installation, Re/Creation, which was unveiled at Palazzo Isimbardi during this year’s Milan Design Week. The showcase is what Velcovsky calls a “world premiere”; a chance to demonstrate how Lasvit is fusing artisanal techniques with industrial-scale processes to create its glass products.

The new kiln uses handmade moulds to create beautiful patterns on large sheets of glass, which are on display in the palazzo’s inner courtyard as part of Lasvit’s Porta installation – a series of arched works that mimic the architecture of the building (with some moody smoke thrown in for good measure). Inside, check out the “Bois de Cristal” plywood-and-copper light installation and a new collection from Swedish architectural studio Claesson Koivisto Rune. There might even be a chance to sample a glass of bubbly in the sunny back garden.

Exhibition / Loro Piana, Italy

Make yourself at home

Milan-based Loro Piana Interiors, has transformed the atrium of its headquarters on Via Moscova into a celebration of the work of the late architect and designer Cini Boeri. The showcase, marking the 100th birthday of both Boeri and fashion house Loro Piana, is the result of a collaboration between Archivio Cini Boeri and Italian furniture firm Arflex. It features Boeri designs that have been “re-edited” in Loro Piana’s trademark fabrics.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

The wares on show include Pecorelle sofas and Bobo armchairs. Boeri’s Compasso d’Oro-winning Strips seating system forms the focal point and platforms representing different rooms are arranged around it. This exhibition is part of a three-year programme, ahead of a retrospective of Boeri’s work at the Milan Triennale in 2026, that will see Loro Piana Interiors reimagine a selection of the designer’s other pieces.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Words with... / Philippe Malouin, Canada

School of thought

Philippe Malouin is known for his bold furniture designs and product partnerships with brands such as Quadro Design, Zanotta and Hydro. The Canadian-born designer joined Monocle yesterday for our series of talks in partnership with leading Swiss appliances firm V-Zug at Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera. Here, he tells us about the evolution of his products, the negative effects of trends and the importance of design education.

How has your product design process evolved over the years?
There are many things to keep in mind as a designer, especially with the rising cost of living and decreasing size of homes. Briefs are much more specific now than they were a decade ago. Designers had more creative freedom then. I like to be challenged, however, so this specificity is fulfilling to me. Furniture designers might not solve many real-world problems but we find solutions to different needs, even as they change with time. That is the most rewarding part of my work.

What is your stance on design trends?
Trends kill products. When designers create similar things to one another, it makes them less interesting. Design trends have an adverse effect on designers.

What should young designers understand?
Education needs to be taken seriously. I’m currently teaching at the École cantonale d’art de Lausanne [Écal] in Switzerland, where students are taught to design products that can be built from scratch using manufactured components. Écal applies a serious design doctrine to everything that it does and imbues in its students an understanding and appreciation for how products are made. If a piece needs to be taken apart to serve a different purpose or be recycled later on, it would be easy to do so as the product would have been designed this way from the beginning.

For more interviews with leading designers at Salone del Mobile, tune in to this week’s episode of ‘Monocle on Design’.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Trade fair / Maruni, Japan

Sofa, so good

Japanese furniture company Maruni launched its 2024 collection at the Fiera Milano trade hall yesterday with new pieces by a trio of design stalwarts: Japanese designer, author and educator Naoto Fukasawa, English product designer Jasper Morrison and Danish industrial designer Cecilie Manz.

Morrison’s modular sofa, the Lightwood, is made from a lightweight yet sturdy pale-maple wood and features upholstered seats courtesy of Danish textile company Kvadrat. “I wanted the sofa to be modular so that it could be flat-packed and more easily transported,” says Morrison. “The seat and the back connect and can be reassembled, while the adjustable element of the armrest means that an armchair can become a two-seater and vice versa.” It’s a pleasing combination of logistics and aesthetics.

Trade fair / Alki, France

The long view

French furniture manufacturer Alki is celebrating 20 years of its Emea collection at this year’s Salone del Mobile. The line was first designed by Jean Louis Iratzoki in 2004 and consists of stools, chairs and tables with clean and gently curved silhouettes. “Emea’s softly shaped lines are a sculptural exercise in simplicity,” says Iratzoki.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Alki’s wooden designs are mostly made from solid oak harvested in southwest France. The company is keen to preserve the know-how found in the area and create employment in furniture manufacturing, so it hires local craftspeople in the company’s workshop. With durable pieces such as the Emea collection, as well as a socially minded approach to business, we expect Alki’s success to continue.

Installation / Nuova Group, USA

Way back when

A key trend of Milan Design Week in recent years has been the reissues of furniture from the 1970s. For their solo debut at this year’s event, design agency Nuova has gone a step further by faithfully recreating an entire room from 1971. The showcase, tucked inside a Milanese restaurant, is called Time Travel and includes a custom-built lounge where visitors can kick back on a low-slung sofa, sample strawberry jelly and leaf through American West magazine, while Loretta Lynn plays over the speaker. Everything from the aluminium door frames to the wall clock and ashtray has been designed by the Los Angeles-based brand, which was founded by Rodrigo Caula and Enrico Pietra. “We wanted to create an ambience,” says Pietra. “Something that you can see, smell and breathe.”

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

After a week in Milan, Time Travel will be disassembled, transported and installed in Los Angeles and then Palm Springs. The room was inspired by the golden era of Florida motels, and Nuova are working to expand the time-capsule idea into an operating hotel, where guests can live like it’s 1971. “We want to show people the transformational power of design,” says Caula. For now, the room is a respite from the many social media-driven installations in Milan: to really immerse yourself in the era, it’s best to put your phone away.


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