For the 50th time, the Milan Furniture Fair took place this year, and once again the state of exception ruled in the Lombardy capital: on the exhibition grounds in Rho alone, 321,000 design enthusiasts from all over the world were counted on six days. The list of exhibitors read like a “who's who” of the industry: all the big names were represented, from Artemide to Cassina, B&B Italia and Moroso through to Zanotta. Trade fair boss, Carlo Gugliemi, drew a positive summary, but also warned: “We cannot rest on our laurels. The need to strive for quality continues to be a decisive challenge, both for the companies and for the trade fair itself, which should underscore this standard by means of strict selection.
Even if the support event turned out to be more modest this time than in recent years, a carnival atmosphere reigned well into the night. Exhibitions and parties in all the streets and alleys, the whole city appeared to be back on its feet. Yet it is not the dolce vita that attracts the design enthusiasts to Milan. People want to be inspired, develop a feel for how interior design is understood in 2011 and get a sense of trends, currents and tendencies among the vast range. What role does design play today?
Democratisation of design
The requirement that things must not only be functional but also good looking has become more a matter of course and important for a lot more people, so that one can almost talk of a democratisation of design. And this trade fair shows that anything goes in terms of design, but the basic tendency, even with established style directions, reveals nonchalance, simplicity that does without opulence, a kind of understatement that can also be seen in the fashion world at the same time.
Earth colours persist
Whilst walking around the trade fair, you can see that there is still a preference for warm, earthy, almost homely colours, in other words shades like stone, sand, mud or mocha, brown and grey in all nuances. Harsh contrasts can barely be found, at most soft colour accents often in blue or purple, for example used as inlays on shelving units. Some designers, on the other hand, make contrasts using neon accents or folklore tendencies. Over and above that, in keeping with the Bauhaus style you can also see clear lines with strong colours like deep yellow, red and blue. A nice example of this is a dresser by Porro in a full red, divided up in a way that is reminiscent of the geometry of Mondrian.
Turning old into new - recycling in a new light
Pieces of furniture, which are made out of recycled materials like salvaged wood, old clothes, scraps of paper or plastic bottles, have developed into a real trend. For instance the “Mill Table” by Ayush Kasliwal and Thomas Lykke. As the story goes, the two designers discovered some stacks of teak wood on an Indian trip, which came from demolished buildings. They liked the material so much that they made a table top out of it. Wonderful timbers, which were processed in India in the decades and centuries gone by, are put together to make a colourful mix of teak, rosewood, acacia, mango and tamarind. Even the table legs are originally a waste product: old aluminium that is cast into a new shape. The table very deliberately does not conceal how it is constructed: the mortise and tenon joints between the legs and table tops are clear to see.
Even bolder is a sofa by Controprogretto, made of leftover bits of wood like small battens, profiles or panels, which was presented at a community exhibition. Using discarded items of clothing, which are glued with a kind of mortar, the Kassel-based designer, Tobias Juretzek, creates a piece that he calls “rememberme chair”. By doing so, he wants to bring new life to clothes that have been forgotten in wardrobes and trunks. The appreciation of what is old and used is shown in the new use of the material, in the transformation to a different context.
Arts & Crafts
Besides the recycling trend, an old movement has also re-emerged: the Arts & Crafts movement, dating back to England in the middle of the 19th century, which triggered a recollection of the qualities of handicraft skills. The central feature of this movement – simplicity, processing to suit the material and appreciation of traditional skilled craftsmanship – could be seen all over the trade fair.
The Taiwanese designer, Yu-Jui Chou, presented an unusual way of handling traditional production methods on the top floor of the Triennale di Milano with his “Bubble Sofa”: It is made out of 999 balls, which are braided from thin strips of bamboo. These bamboo balls are known as typical souvenirs of Taiwan tourists. Here they are joined together to make a piece of outdoor furniture that does not need any further upholstery or springs.
The current trend for home-made knitting is reminiscent in the “Biknit” easy chair, which was designed by Patricia Urquiola for Moroso. Its seating area consists of a knitted pattern with huge stitches. The knitted element rests on a contrasting substructure made of wood and steel. One armchair at a joint exhibition of international designs, with its seating area composed of bright-coloured cords, reminds you of a patchwork rug.
The armchair designed for Edra by the Brazilian brothers, Humberto and Fernando Campana, has an archaic effect with its oversized, creased fur cover. The sight of a sofa by Meritalia, whose colourful jesters hat backrests invite you to snuggle up and relax, puts a twinkle in your eye.
Experiments with renewable raw materials
The topic of “green furniture” at the trade fair was rather in the background. You almost got the impression that it is part of the self-image of many manufacturers to work with valuable materials which meet ecological criteria by their nature. After all, a simple wooden chair or a sofa braided from willow branches has always been close to nature, without serving any ideology or emitting an eco atmosphere. The German design professor, Werner Aisslinger, is experimenting with a particularly quickly renewable raw material: his “hemp chair” is made of hemp and kenaf from the Malvaceae family, whose fibres are pressed together with an ecological adhesive. The material has been used for some time for the interior trim of cars and is now taking hold in the furniture industry.
The Salone del Mobile 2011 was not looking for sensations. What could be sensed all over is the appreciation for material and craftsmanship. Many familiar items were on show to provide orientation and security as genial constants. And a colourful variety, which combines apparent contrasts: elegance linked with recycling, perfection coming up against the incomplete, wood and metal are harmoniously combined.