The private palazzos of Milan, dripping with purple wisteria, threw open their doors to display more than 1000 listings at the celebrated Design Week this month.
Anchoring it all was “la fiera”, the huge Salone del Mobile in a behemoth of a modern building, sheltering 24 exhibition halls at the very edge of the city. In just 54 years, this show has grown from a modest attempt to revive the post-war Italian furniture industry into a centre of international furniture design, with 70 per cent of trade visitors coming from abroad this year.
Here the famously avant-garde Italian brands flaunt their latest designs some on stands as big as tennis courts with extravagant designs and fierce floodlighting.
Extreme thinness for chairs and tables was de rigueur. “Yes, my next chair must be as slim as possible,” demanded Milan maestro Piero Lissoni of Kartell, plastic supremos. So they found a way to injection mould ultra-strong carbon fibre – a world first. The result is chairs just 2 mm thick, and weighing only 2.2 kg.
On the other hand, upholstery has become plumper and more comfortable. Edra’s “smart pillow” has a concealed metal framework that turns its cushions into a back or arm rest at will (available from Chaplin’s in Pinner shortly).
Vico Magistretti (1920-2006) hid bicycle chains to make “foldable” cushions for his Maralunga sofa 40 years ago (now with removeable covers at Cassina, SW3). Londoner Ron Arad’s bulky sofa for Moroso has a graded-colour cover as if dip-dyed (showroom in Rosebery Avenue, EC1).
But timber triumphed. A super-simple essay in walnut and oak by British architect David Chipperfield for German E15 (celebrating 20 years) has perfectly-proportioned tables and benches (now at Viaduct in Summers Street, EC1).
City mansions displayed a jaunty jumble of new products/projects. There was lots of LED lighting , high-impact pattern (notably rugs and wallpaper), and innovation, including an Apple watch launch and an awesome Sony TV whose HD screen was simply a large white wall with images projected from a base cabinet (coming to London in June). Particularly intriguing (and both from London) were an assembly of hand-flocked light-bulbs, and a chair made from compressed discarded newspapers.
Utterly bonkers were large white moulded hogsheads with sockets and switches by Estonian artist Tarmo Luisk. Plug in your toaster and the eyes glow red… A sweet Lap chair by Spaniard Luca Munoz in wood and leather evoked our first seats as babies. A pretty rose-printed chair turned out to be mosaic.
The Panda collection for Cappellini by Paola Navone, an original 80’s Memphis acolyte, has a larger-than-human animal lamp, lavish sofas and patterns like multi-coloured pasta. Elsewhere were stools and vases by Ettore Sottsass, founder of the Memphis movement, and fluro stools by Alessandro Mendini, now 83.
West London’s Tom Dixon turned a 1930s cinema into a seductive cavern of glowing globules and suspended chairs. Lee Broom from East London turned a row of empty shops into a mock up department store to display over 20 new designs involving acid-coloured marble and a carpeted chaise longue.
Moooi Carpets – a new venture for Dutch design maverick Marcel Wanders - have made a vast “chromojet” machine to print around 650 colours for nylon carpet up to 4 metres wide (just over 13 ft). And one group of designers served up screamingly modern patterns (Ross Lovegrove, Studio Job, Maison Christian Lacroix et al).
Also touting technology was London-based designer Brodie Neill who used radical computer-controlled machines for the skeletal forms of his beautiful hardwood chairs.
Craft flourished in cross-stitched chairs by Sweden’s Johan Lindstén, and a lovely hand-beaten brass seat with rattan legs by Ranjan Bordoloi of India (again at Cappellini; London showroom in St John Street, EC1). And Moroso are making chairs by craft techniques in Africa (also in EC1)
Wallpaper became art. Classy shop windows at the ritzy La Rinascente opposite the Duomo premiered a portfolio from our own Serpentine Gallery aptly called Pasted, and “curated” (what else?) by London arts impresario Libby Sellers. Dance videos showed off 13 deeply diverse patterns by a global bunch of artists/architects. The papers will be in London this summer.