The recession did nothing to dim the lustre of the world’s biggest design event - the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, commonly called the Milan Furniture Fair.
About 270 exhibitors filled a dozen halls flaunting flamboyance with even star designers crashing through the taste barrier.
Karim Rashid’s BiteMe coloured moulded chairs had legs like pulled teeth. Philippe Starck shocked with his chair designs and all-Swedish girl design group Front printed a covered sofa with the pattern of a crumpled throw.
London’s Ruth Aram (www.aram.co.uk) from the Aram Store in Covent Garden was there to buy new international pieces, as were the Conran Shop in South Kensington, Viaduct in Clerkenwell, Chaplins of Uxbridge, Twentytwentyone in Islington and Geoffrey Drayton at Euston.
Furniture as skinny as a latte
Alongside the Fair ran Euroluce, a huge international lighting exhibition, a mass of “fringe” events with product launches, and shows.
Ambitious installations lit up Italy’s most fashion-crazed city with new ideas for fabrics, lighting, flooring and a mass of accessories.
Trends polarised. On the one hand there was the new lean look, with furniture as skinny as a latte and modest, well-mannered woods and plastics in all their glorious colours.
On the other were puffed-up pieces, over-blown, quilted and stuffed. Then there were ridiculous conceits, such as sofas printed with bricks or planks of wood, contrasting with re-workings of old favourites such as wing and Windsor chairs and Chesterfields. These mod-trad British pieces caught the mood of a market with their quality and safe reassurance.
Britain put on a great show that was original and accomplished. The British Design Embassy was a new government marketing venture (www.britishdesignembassy.it).
Sir Paul Smith had decked out rooms in the beautiful neo-classical Villa Reale, opposite the public Giardini gardens. Huge screens showed continuous loops of clips of great Brit post-war culture - fashion, pop, art, books, design and more. Lavish curtains were digitally printed with floral photo patchwork, as was baroque furniture.
Designers showed new work. A blue chair of plaited recycled plastic sat under a painted ceiling on a marble mosaic floor, along with slotted paper lampshades, tiny trinket cabinets, a sofa with voluptuous purple cushions and a polished copper bar cabinet.
And fittingly, Holly Palmer from Poynton in Cheshire gave us a giant teacup as a surrealistic plastic table (www.hollypalmeronline.co.uk).
At Salone Satellite - the hall for new ideas - our own Hidden Art design group was equally ingenious (www.hiddenart.com). There was sculptured fabric by Kaniez Abdi, and a “shadow chair” by Christopher Duffy. Cut-paper snowy-white lampshades by Yu Jordy Fu are an intricate mass of poetic motifs.
Margo Selby has developed a new “banana silk” for her elegant rugs and the neat lines of Helena Jonasson’s cabinets would grace any room (left).
London’s Sheridan Coakley has built up his own brand for his two shops in Westbourne Grove and Curtain Road (www.scp.co.uk). His style is quiet and unassuming, cosy even.
“Furniture should be domestic,” he says, “not flashy and throwaway.” So there were comfy small-scale sofas upholstered in updated Welsh weave, and a Peggy dining table with tapered legs in solid ash.
Making more of a splash was Peter Marigold’s boxy wall shelving, all at odd angles, and Donna Wilson’s round stools decked out in modern Fair Isle knitted jumpers.
Highlights of Milan, a special show at Twentytwentyone
18C River Street, EC1, from 12 to 30 May 2009
Features brands such as Tom Dixon, Cappellini, Established & Sons, Magis, Moooi, Artek and more (020 7837 1900; www.twentytwentyone.com).