Milan magic

Strategists from product designers Seymourpowell's Foresight team, headed to Milan's Salone del Mobile to give CID an exclusive insight into the products, launches, sights and lights that made this year's furniture fair so fashionable.

INTERVIEWS, Design

This year, more than ever before, the influence of fashion upon the world of interior design was evident, from Moooi's fashion-inspired boutique concept for dressing your sofa in-store, to kaleidoscopic Missoni-style bold print patterning. But the omnipresent star of the show was undoubtedly Marcel Wanders. With his own huge showroom at Zona Tortona and creations for virtually every other notable manufacturer, he even brought his humorous decorative touch to the Cow Parade -'the world's largest public art event' that happened to coincide with the fair.

Playing with scale was a recurrent theme throughout the fair. Studio Job at Bisazza created vast mosaic spoons and teapots, whilst Wanders again manipulated scale in the form of oversize bells and mammoth standard lamps.

The major design trend for all types of seating was based around informal comfort and 'nesting'. This was created through a number of routes, which were often combined - from shallow padding and unfinished edging to layering of materials and cocoon-like high backs and sides.

Low padded furniture maintains popularity with classics such as Jasper Morrison's Lotus chair, recreated in subtle new colours, whilst the Bouroullec Brothers revisited their facet chairs for Ligne Roset in chic neutral leather finishes, making them more gorgeous than ever. What felt fresh was a tendency towards unstructured edging on chairs and sofas, both from a finish and from a structural point of view. Rough-hewn fringes popped up regularly, notably as playful seam-lines along Paola Lenti's 'Play' series of soft pouffes, designed by Francesco Rota.

The large braids that upholster the Play series can be made for indoor or outdoor use and have a tactile rustic charm. Patricia Urquiola's latest venture at Moroso lends an 'unstructured' top to a simple trapezium-shaped frame, featuring soft panels wrapped in textured fabrics. Urquiola explains the inspiration behind her 'Volant Range': "Poised between a Balenciaga dress and a Shogun costume, it uses the body as a base to be transformed and hides the legs. Lined for even greater comfort and attractiveness, it is an extremely elegant evening dress. The seat can also wear a short dress - simpler and less complicated. It bares the legs and reveals the contours of the body."

Like Volant, double layered textiles were everywhere. The combination of two fabrics applied back to back demonstrated a heavy use of felt, linen and leather. The 'Moel' armchair, by Inga Sempé, is the culmination of Ligne Roset's expertise in the field of all-foam seating.

This piece's softness is due to a huge cushion in the shape of a flared semi-circle with bands of quilting on the seat and back supported by an elastomer structure in thermoformed ABS.

High backed furniture fulfils our desire for protection and personal space and responds to our inherent need for nesting. Throughout the Milan fair were offerings such as those by Tom Dixon and Patricia Urquiola (at B&B Italia). Unlike the more austere versions of the past, these tall sofas and chairs create zones for solitude and retreat, The 'Alcove Highback Sofa' by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra has high flexible side and back panels that extend well above the head of the sitter and offers both visual and sound insulation from the surrounding environment.

We have entered an Age of Eclecticism, where sophisticated consumers have developed cultured skills in creating assemblages of products with ethnic influence, both old and new. We see this in our clothes and in our homes, and designers at Milan responded to our love of diversity by creating ever more exciting combinations. Designer duo Doshi Levien base their work on the mix of different cultures. For Moroso Design they created a modern re-think of an Indian daybed, called 'Charpoy' ('four legs').

The handmade cotton and silk mattress is embellished by precious crafted embroidery and icons from Indian culture and contrasts with the black lacquer wood base produced industrially in Italy. All the women who worked on this project in India have embroidered their names in Hindi on the edge of the mattress, telling its story and origins and reflecting the current desire for products with provenance and authenticity.

Accessorising your environment has become a trend set to compete with fashion. At the Fiera and at the Satellite, particularly at Marcel Wanders and Moroso, one's eye was immediately drawn down towards the oversized, decorative carpets and rugs. Bold, graphic cross-stitching, confident use of colour and overlaid prints created a richly decorative backdrop to the furniture. An abundance of blankets, throws and cushions to soften spaces was a strong theme. At B&B Italia, 'Couples' by designer extraordinaire Marcel Wanders is a family of cushions using juxtapositions of pattern and colour, which rework classic themes from Dutch tradition.

Moooi showcased the 'Bamboo lamp', a subtle hybrid of organic bamboo finished in a high-gloss surface to make a simple standard lamp which surprises in its details; the lamps have a quirky and inventive range of changeable pulls (a carrot, a rocking horse, baby shoes, a spoon etc.) and you are encouraged to get creative by adding your own variation.

Ineke Hans added a fur throw to her 'Neo Country' wooden chair, creating a glamorous luxury finish to a more rustic piece.

A selection of beautifully bulbous lights caught our attention. The 'Non-Random' light by Bertjan Pot for Moooi, moved on from the uniform sphere of last year's 'Random' light, presenting a more sophisticated weighty form of uniformly spun strands. In a similar shape and a new addition to the 'Beat Lights' family, was Tom Dixon's 'Beat Stout' pendant, made from hand-beaten brass inspired by Indian water carrying vessels, whose width and size made it an impressive statement. Patricia Urquiola's inventive 'Chasen' range are stylish lights that feature a similarly organic pod-like shape and an elegant swell, which moved up and down the form.

One of the highlights of the show was the 'Slow Chair' by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra's Home Collection. A new interpretation of the lounge armchair, it conveys classic style with contemporary materials. The innovation comes from a stretched translucent knitted sling, which lightens both the visual and physical weight of what is otherwise a generously proportioned piece.

At Zanotta, Arik Levy also created a visually lightweight and voluminous series of tables, 'Bigwire'. The steel frames have tempered glass tops painted to match the structures. Their symmetrical skeletal structure gives the illusion of movement and provides strength and volume without bulk. On a similar theme at Zero, lighting designer Mattias Stahlbøm created 'Three'.

At Established and Sons, always known for tongue-in-cheek design, three dimensional appeared two dimensional in 'WrongWoods' Night Table and Drawers: a collaboration between artist Richard Woods and designer Sebastian Wrong. A vibrant cartoon-like wood block print covers the basic plywood pieces, creating a witty take on DIY decoration. A more exaggerated 3D wood grain texture appeared in Tom Dixon's 'Slab' Dining Table, available in a vacuum metallised finish, where the reflective surface contributes to a prominent wood grain texture. A highlight of the Cappellini collection was Ineke Hans 'Neo Country' wood chair, employing a sanded finish to amplify the wood grain and capturing the spirit of neo-rural furniture.

A new look for bases comes on three legs. Tripod structures were explored to add support to lighting, furniture and even glasswares. Maarten Baptist for WAT design introduced his 'Louise' glasses, elegant and innately poised. The 'Foto' lamp by Thomas Bernstrand and Mattias Stahlbom for Zero echoes traditional photography lamps with their inherent tripod base. On an alternative three-legged theme, Offecct presented 'Bird'. This beautiful little occasional table has the simplicity for any modern interior with the unexpected but endearing detail of a bird's foot for a stand.

For the ultimate in innovative bathrooms, look for slim and floating fixtures converting washbasins into sculptural elements. See Axolute Corian® basins whose colour contour gently reflects as water flows out, creating a sleek and subtle edge. Alternatively embrace the ageing process with new spa bathroom concepts. ‘Ritual Architecture' by Mike Meiré for Dornbracht uses materials such as copper, whose surfaces change with use, so that the water leaves patinated traces of oxidised green.

These bathrooms live and adapt with you.

A special mention goes out to The Paul Cocksedge show at Trussardi, which formed part of the many satellite events around the city. An innovative exhibit exploring sight and perception - we found this technological eye opener thought provoking and fun.

With inspiring work, better-than-average weather and better-than-average stocked parties, the Salone culminated in carnival-like street festivities. Who would have thought that a furniture fair could actually create such grand celebrations?

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