The best of Milan Design Week 2016:beautiful materials and cleverly crafted furniture

“Materiality” was the buzzword as plastics, glass slabs, marble, copper, wood and crystal starred at Italy’s designfest for the home. We pick some of our favourite ideas...

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From pastel plastic bunny chairs at about £70 each from to £30,000 hand-painted folksy limited-edition fridges by Smeg for Dolce & Gabbana, there were plenty of surprises at Milan Design Week. This international event filled 300 venues all over Italy’s design capital — from palazzos, churches and former warehouses, to an ice cream parlour and the back of a van.

Dwarfing them all was the 55th Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the international furniture fair in its 20 hi-tech exhibition halls, all silvery metal and glass, on the outskirts of the city. This year’s fair had a record 372,151 visitors, nearly 70 per cent from abroad.

Big continental brands vied for most exotic stand — here an enclave of giant designer “talking heads” on video, there a modernist villa — parading colourful furniture with strongly figured upholstery, steel frames, asymmetric shapes and wire woven into jazzy ethnic motifs. There was even a stained-glass sideboard.

As a welcome counterpoint were quieter, considered designs from the UK, notably from SCP of Shoreditch, whose new sofas by top designers displayed the skilled handiwork of the firm’s Norfolk workshops.


“Materiality” was the buzzword and materials took centre stage, usually with the help of technology and sometimes a good dollop of craft. Architect David Chipperfield, creative director of Italian furniture brand Driade, discussed design with Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum in London. Chipperfield argued that materiality is the essence of design and key to longevity — “beautiful materials carefully crafted make furniture you will love to keep”.

French celebrity designer Philippe Starck made a plea for individuality. He needn’t have worried — Milan Design Week couldn’t have been more eclectic. Kartell showed off a new kind of plastic. Made from plant waste, it can be injection-moulded like polycarbonate, and a chair, by Antonio Citterio, proved it. Elsewhere, traditional materials held their own. The stunning Prism seat was simply flat slabs of glass bonded with today’s miracle glues, for Glas Italia by by Tokujin Yoshioka.

Green is for go: the Aquario sideboard by the Campana Brothers of Brazil for BD Barcelona Design and is available at Chaplins

Thin sheets of wood were stitched together for a seat as tailored as a suit, from BD Barcelona Design. Timber was richly crafted by Britain’s John Alfredo Harris, whose chair, with padded bands of leather by Bill Amberg, seemed poised for takeoff. All around, tubular and square-section metal made striking frames for comfy upholstery or supports for eye-catching tables.

Marble shone in a six-ton chair by Paul Cocksedge carved from a single block at Dutch brand Moooi. Swarovski commissioned top designers to create exquisite vases, candle holders, bowls and trays, mixing wood, metal and resin with its Austrian crystal. Expect these pieces in London this autumn.


Londoner Tom Dixon called his whole collection Materiality. Marble, wood, plastic, glass, iron, brass and copper are his basic building blocks, he says. Multiples of his newest lights — shimmering assemblies of huge lenses, blown glass and metallised foils — were suspended in a vast baroque rotunda, converted into a kitchen/restaurant. Visitors ate at monumental slabs of Caesarstone, a composite quartz material that mimics all kinds of stone.

Materiality: Tom Dixon's newest lights were suspended in a vast baroque rotunda, converted into a kitchen/restaurant

As always, Milan had its mad moments, such as illuminated graphics for a “new forest” that Dutch designer Maarten Baas is planting in Holland. Its carefully structured tree canopy, seen from above via Google Maps, will reveal a message — but only in 200 years. “The planet is my canvas,” says the designer. Elsewhere were levitating stone slabs and an “internet enabled” sofa.


  • Kartell, 223 Brompton Road, SW3
  • A new Moooi showroom opens soon at 23 Great Titchfield Street, W1
  • Cassina, 242 Brompton Rd, SW3
  • Moroso, 7-15 Rosebery Ave, EC1
  • Poltrona Frau, 147-153 Fulham Road, SW3
  • SCP, 135-139 Curtain Rd, EC2
  • A Smeg showroom comes to London soon

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