It is the “experiential” installations in the hundreds of presentations that fringe the annual Milan Design Week (Salone del Mobile), away from the 57-year-old main trade fair, that have become the hottest attractions. A 6m high scaffolding tree by Studio Swine for fashion brand Cos, which dispensed bouncing vapour bubbles, and a colourful pavilion by Spanish designer Jaime Hayon for quartz manufacturers Caesarstone, were probably the most Instagrammed pieces of the week. And, ultimately, Instagram has become one of the main points.
For those who’ve obeyed the trend gods and painted walls in dark shades, there will be relief in knowing the corresponding dark furniture is still a thing: blackened oak armchairs at Brazilian brand, Sollos, were beautiful. Graphic, geometric patterns were still evident, including bright red and white striped sideboards at Driade. Pink is on the increase in design and was surprisingly pleasant in this context: a velvet chaise at Sé and a day bed with giant metal palm leaves by Marc Ange for the Invisible Collection, shown at the Wallpaper* Handmade exhibition, were the nicest I spotted.
Otherwise, around the city, Lee Broom celebrated 10 years in business with a massive rotating carousel of limited-edition pieces in white and AirBnB hosted a brilliant exhibition of numerous designers in the breath-taking palazzo were Da Vinci lived as he painted The Last Supper. The show, despite no obvious branding, was quietly promoting AirBnB’s new trips platform, which encourages travellers to view a city through the eyes of a local. There were also several firsts for UK designers: Faye Toogood created rugs for luxury makers CC-Tapis, and Bethan Gray designed wallpapers for Dutch brand NXLS. Gray’s mother of pearl marquetry print was a standout. Her former Habitat boss, Tom Dixon took a huge 1950s cinema for his show of new textiles, lighting and a collaboration with Ikea.
Wildly new trends? Arguably not, but rather there were thoughtful reissues of archive pieces and add-ons to existing series. Marble, wood and brass is still popular, while people were talking about up-cycling (Paul Cocksedge excavated stone and concrete from the floor of his studio to create tables and shelving) or tech developments such as customisable, modular wall and ceiling speaker tiles by Bang & Olufsen, offering a new acoustic concept called “band on the wall” whereby the singer’s voice remains in the middle, no matter where in the room you’re listening from. They’re Kvadrat fabric-covered hexagons, so they look good, too. Here are a few of my other favourite finds of the week…
German designer Konstantin Grcic, who trained at the Royal College of Art, loves a strict form. His designs for the Italian brand Magis, with whom he has a 15-year relationship, include architectural chairs, sofas and tables that have become his signature. This year he presented the Brut chair and sofa. Made from a cast iron frame, it’s industrial and somewhat unforgiving, and yet, add colourful upholstery and it’s at once oddly elegant. I love the retro 50s colours, another theme of the week. Available late 2017, magisdesign.com
The Italian designers Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, who together practice as Studio Formafantasma in Amsterdam, have up until now solely worked in experimental, non-functional design, showing through galleries. This year, they’ve created their first industrially produced pieces for Italian lighting brand Flos: two lights which manage to portray Trimarchi and Farresin’s simple, subtle and meticulous approach to design, but will translate to a commercial market. This one, Wirering is stripped down: a ring (available in brass, aluminium and several colours) which contains an LED, held in place by a long cable. The effect is perfectly sculptural and restrained. Available early 2018, flos.com
Nendo for Alias
The always popular Japanese design studio Nendo, headed by Canadian-born Oki Sato, remains a major player in Milan, loved for its “nothing superfluous” approach. A new collection called Flow Bowl for Italian furniture house Alias, “blends accessories with furniture, taking away the boundary and finding something blurry in-between,” as Sato told me. This is a system of coffee tables, consoles and vases constructed in coated metal with signature minimal detailing, which seem to melt in one corner to create a container. Available in white, graphite grey and light grey. Sato says they’re working on an iron outdoor version. Available late 2017, alias.design
Cristina Celestino for Fornace Brioni
The Italian architect and designer Cristina Celestino is hot right now. She creates furniture for Pianca, lighting for Torremato and glassware for Paola C. Her collection of handmade tiles for the family-owned Fornace Brioni, is the almost 100-year-old brand’s first collaboration with an external designer. Design-wise, the company gave her carte blanche, so inspiration was found in the geometric architecture and the nature in the Giardino all’Italiana she discovered close to the company’s headquarters near Mantua. The results are colourful, feminine and upbeat. The idea is to mix and match: play with colour and size to create your own effects. Prices from £175 per square metre, fornacebrioni.it