Blaze of glory

There is good reason why over 320,000 people flock to Milan each April for the Salone Internazionale del Mobile (a.k.a. I Saloni and the Milan Furniture Fair) and Fuori Milano (the accompanying offsite program). It’s as much about inspiration and innovation as it is about expense and utter exhaustion. Each day begins at 9 a.m. with a double espresso and ends at 4 a.m. with fragolini cocktails. Restaurant reservations can’t be had earlier than 11 p.m.; semi-decent hotels start at $400 per night. Conversations are heightened by adrenaline and new products are launched with overflowing champagne. With the likes of Philippe Starck, Marcel Wanders and Jean-Marie Massaud rushing from one appointment to the next, star sightings are commonplace. Designer-emblazoned bags are the status symbol du jour, including this year’s Tom Dixon neon-orange postal bag and the always-coveted Paola Lenti fabric bags.

Catering to a jaded audience, no expense is spared. This year, Tom Dixon partnered with Blackberry to create a maze-like installation accessorized with his furniture and a 30-foot screen where images from the fair were uploaded by design scouts via a new app for the new Blackberry Playbook. Toshiba converted an old courtyard into a raining light show. A maze of archways encircling a small piazza served as a magnificent backdrop for Baccarat’s Highlights collection, a series of contemporary crystal chandeliers incorporating LED technology, by such designers as Arik Levy and Jaime Hayón.  

Yet, if it was all show with no substance, the Salone wouldn’t be celebrating its 50th anniversary. The fair itself features 2,700 established companies, including industry leaders Poliform, Moroso and Kartell; plus Euroluce, the biannual lighting fair, alternating with Eurocucine. Then there are the 200 or so off-site events, where the emerging designer has an opportunity to flaunt his or her design acumen. Previously scattered throughout town, the event venues are now grouped together, making it easier to navigate the unchartered sea of design. 

And while the fair may have been set against the backdrop of a struggling economy amid chatter about the divestment of the furniture industry, the Italians showed well. In response to the evolution of offshore reproduction, R&D was highly emphasized. Many manufacturers reworked prototypes and models currently in production, added pieces to existing collections, modified furniture items for outdoor use, and offered newer versions with contained pricing. 

So whether body-slammed sipping champagne at the launch of the Trussardi furniture collection by Michael Young, hanging with the cognoscenti at Galleria Rossana Orlandi or jostling for a turn at the cappucino bar – and despite how exhausted on the return flight – we leave Milan inspired, our hearts singing. 


During the Milan fair, Interni magazine converts the city’s State University into 

a think tank for design via provocative installations and exhibits. This year’s edition – with the theme of Mutant Architecture and Design – attracted an international roster of architects and designers, including Zaha Hadid, Mario Botta, Snohetta, Richard Meier and 
Ingo Maurer. Says Mauer of his Ablaze installation, “It was meant to show the gradual transformation of a house burning down in slow-motion; while working on that I decided to focus on the perception.” Like an actual burning fire, Ablaze is as frightening as it is mesmerizing. The house seems to be hoisted hoisted up by a rope. A series 
of windows reveal a smoking red interior; upon closer inspection, 
one sees a mirrored spherical object oscillating slowly from one side to the other above a glowing green opening.  


Moroso introduced the perfectly comfortable Gentry sofa. Available in a variety of fabrics, it’s accessible without sacrificing character and modernity; the curved armrests and large sofa cushions are friendly and welcoming.


Moroso’s Biknit chair and chaise longue are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. The enlarged stocking stitch and knitted pattern serves both decorative and functional load-bearing purposes. Biknit’s intertwined macramé, coupled with the solid dark wood frame, will revive the hippie in anyone.


Designed by Milan-based designer Patricia Urquiola for Glas Italia, Faint is a monolithic table in transparent extra-light glass with a tempered top and legs. At one end, the table starts in transparent white and starts to gradually fade until it’s only clear transparent glass at the opposite end.


Pritzker Prize winner (2008) Jean Nouvel is, by his own definition, “not a designer, but an architect who designs”; he further explains that “design objects are the inhabitants of architecture.” His Simplissimo series of seating and footstools for Ligne Roset is elegant and refined in a shade of black, personally selected by him. Each piece is upholstered in a scuba fabric giving a peach-skin feel and a matte appearance.


Located this year in the Versace Theatre (where the venerable label holds its seasonal couture shows), hot U.K.-based Established & Sons didn’t shy away from the theatricality of the space with close to a dozen new products taking centre stage on risers surrounded by mirrored walls. Cape, by Konstantin Grcic, is an upholstered sofa with an overlay cover. Reminiscent of seasonal house closures, the covered sofa has a casual yet luxurious feeling. Available in a multitude of fabrics and colours, it can be changed up with each new season.


Designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune for Paola Lenti, and initially launched in 2009, the Haven series for interior and exterior environments received a welcome addition this year with high-backrest armchairs (shown), a two-seater sofa and sunbed. The slender yet sturdy, specially designed, tubular metal structure form is covered with Rete, a Paola Lenti signature
techno-weave fabric, which is elastic yet resistant and permeable to air and water. Apart from giving support to the back, it adapts to the non-uniform seat shape
and has a semi-transparent character, providing multiple seating positions; it also allows air to pass through it –
making it perfect for outdoor lounging.


Based on the success of its iconic Tufty Time sofa by Patricia Urquiola, B&B Italia launched Tufty Too. Available in raw cotton and denim, it’s also a relaxed sofa, with subtle stitching details creating a tailored effect. The added bonus is that due to new upholstery approaches, Tufty Too is available at a more affordable level than its predecessor.


Always a mob scene, the Poliform stand this year had a refreshingly young and energetic feeling to it. This was mainly due to the new Scandinavian-inspired upholstery additions – Ventura Lounge – designed by French designer Jean-Marie Massaud. Seen mostly in blues and with details like stitching and buttons, the overall effect was sensual and refined.  


German lighting wizard Ingo Maurer continues to be fascinated with the lightbulb, and handcraftsmanship is the ultimate luxury in his JB Schmetterling (J.B. Butterfly) light fixture. A mouth-blown bulb is encased within a Teflon band (made via rapid prototyping) around which individually handpainted butterflies flutter. 


At Euroluce, FLOS once again made strides with over a dozen new products – all usin
g LED technology. Chrysalis, standing over six feet high, is a vase/light source made in “cocoon resin” by Marcel Wanders.  True to Wanders’ child-like sense of fantasy and wonderment, he poetically explains, “The way a chrysalis hosts the metamorphosis of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly – in the same way this magic vase, out of nothing, grows its fabulous flowers of light.”


Inspired by the Heracleum plant (a.k.a. the less appetizing Hogweed), the magical Heracleum light fixture is by Dutch designer Bertjan Pot, for Moooi. The inventive Pot is best known for the spherical LED Random light, also for Moooi, as well as the Heatwave rococo radiator for Jaga – both of which rocked the design world. The Hercaleum resembles a splattering of ephemeral mistletoe dangling from a series of unraveling rope. The LED “leaves” can be rotated and are intertwined via coated, conductive layered wires, giving a magical and airy effect.


U.S.-based lighting manufacturer Roll & Hill made its European debut in one of the offsite venues, Zona Tortona. In addition to prototypes by Jason Miller, R&H also showed Knotty Bubbles, a light by Lindsey Adelman, made of hand-blown glass globes tied together with knotted rope. The handcraftsmanship ensures that each sculptural piece is unique.