The Salone Internazionale del Mobile, held at the end of April, is the furniture industry’s equivalent of the New York, Paris and London fashion weeks all rolled into one. For four grey and rainy days, Milan was overrun by furniture companies flogging their latest products, designers hyping new trends and thousands of international visitors eager to tune in to the latest buzz.
Fortified by endless cups of espresso, we tried to sift through all the contemporary furniture on display to discover what people want for their homes now and perhaps identify a few trends to bring some cohesiveness to that very loosely defined term—modern design.
Chair wall: Design companies created elaborate displays for their products at the Salone del Mobile.
Finding yourself at the fair
The first thing we noticed was how often we were seeing ourselves. Glossy finished surfaces of lacquered glass and shiny metals reflected our images back at us countless times. Black dominated the colour palette and created a moody, almost gothic glamour in the designs. In some cases, elements of stark white were also present along with the black, providing a bold contrast.
In other designs, the lacquered surfaces provided the odd flash of colour against neutral fabrics and leathers. Wardrobes and wall units made the most of this trend, with doors and drawers in high gloss that added colour in unexpected and unusual ways.
Another prominent trend were geometric patterns that cut into glass, metal and leather in chair backs, screens and cabinet doors. These cut-out patterns transformed flat surfaces into elegant origami sculptures and were among the few purely decorative flourishes that emerged consistently throughout the exhibition.
ITF Design used this technique for its “Papeete” chair. With its tubular metal frame, the seat and back had laser fretwork in a leaf-shape graphic. It was a clever display of high technology used to create an organic design. At the Matteo Grassi pavilion, designer Franco Poli’s “Arete” chair and “Loomy” screen consisted of leather sheets laser-cut into a gorgeous net-like pattern, and draped over steel frames.
The missing green element
While eco-conscious design has certainly been a buzzword lately, there wasn’t much of green design on show at the Salone del Mobile. Some young designers made creative use of recycled products, such as Molo Design, whose “softseating” and “softwalls” were made entirely out of folded paper. Otherwise, concern for the environment was evident only by the absence of solid wood. Most firms opted for wood veneers and the more forward-looking design firms, such as Kartell and Driade, used high performance plastics and metals.
Still, the fair’s cavernous exhibition halls were dotted with stark displays of artificial trees encased in glass, which seemed an arch—if somewhat oblique—reference to the growing importance of using man-made materials as a way of protecting the environment.
Perhaps in response to a demand for eco-conscious design, mainstream players, such as Flex Form, Poliform and Minotti, juxtaposed glossy finished surfaces with more natural materials such as distressed leather and rough-hewn stone. It seemed like a concerted effort to connect with the natural world. While their use of antique books, corals and animal horns as accessories added warmth to the displays and certainly made them beautiful, someone clearly didn’t brief their merchandisers that horn and coral aren’t particularly eco-friendly.
The drama dies down
In taking stock of dominant trends at the fair, it was also interesting to note what was definitely not there. Not a single Buddha head or gold-leafed surface could be found. It seems the international design world’s love affair with the East Asian sensibility has ended. The neo-baroque sensibility popular in the last couple of years has also receded. Only a few marginal firms were still focused on excessive ornamentation and pattern. Among the more high-profile luxury manufacturers, only Fendi and Visionaire rehashed this trend. Both design firms showcased completely over-the-top designs that seemed aimed squarely at the nouveau riche buyer and had most other design firms rolling their eyes.
Overall, modern design at the Salone del Mobile contained little that was revolutionary. But, as I walked through the halls on the last day of the fair, I was struck by one overarching theme. Almost all the booths that showcased entire rooms had identical arrangements of furniture—large L-shaped sofas, oversized coffee tables and wall units that spanned the length of their walls. Clearly, the segregation of living spaces into formal and casual has all but disappeared; a fact that manufacturers seemed keenly aware of as they all showed multipurpose spaces. Perhaps what the fair really demonstrated is that, increasingly, people are looking to modern design, not for cutting-edge new products, but for interiors that reflect the way they actually live.
(Puru Das is the owner of the Gurgaon-based design firm and home store, Basix)
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