In the midst of three days of heavy snow, more like a blizzard at times, many of the visitors to this year’s Maison&Objet (those who somehow made it to Paris despite cancelled flights and train journeys) were yearning for some peace and quiet. Now, that isn’t exactly a property most of us would equate with the world of trade fairs. Meaning that those who headed for Hall 8, once again housing “now! Design à vivre”, were all the more amazed at what they found. For among the usual hodgepodge of accessories, textiles and furniture there were quite a few rather tranquil, reduced presentations. Stands and products made of wood and brass, with subtle lighting concepts, that turned the design world spotlight on themes such as “perfection” and “craftsmanship”.
As had also been the case at past editions of Maison&Objet, in 2013 “now!” once again brought all exhibitors relevant to the design world together under a single roof. While in the other halls design aficionados were left to seek out worthwhile items themselves (in case you missed them: in Hall 3 Alessi presented their new range of silverware, namely “MU Cutlery” by Toyo Ito, and Fornasetti showcased their new wallpaper collection for “Cole & Son”) the “now!” section did it for them: it essentially resembled a defile of prestigious exhibitors boasting names such as Zanotta, Artek and Ligne Roset. Among the more established brands there were also a few newbies to be seen on their first outing in Paris, such as the young French label “Discipline” or “De la Espada” from Spain, who place great emphasis on auteur design with three distinct, independent presentations by design studios “Autoban” from Istanbul, “Matthew Hilton” from London and “Søren Rose Studio” from Copenhagen.
The rediscovery of craftsmanship and reconsideration of traditional production techniques proved to be a recurring theme that ran like a red thread through the “now!” presentation. Numerous exhibitors presented products whose origins in mass production had been cleverly concealed behind filigree porcelain shells, wooden surfaces and semiprecious metals. Furthermore, the presentations themselves were recognizably more reserved with many an exhibitor making a more subtle appearance than in previous years. Product and manufacture’s time in the limelight has clearly arrived.
The special exhibition “Japan Creative” also served to drive this point home: In cooperation with a line of Japanese manufacturers, European designers developed objects that combine modern design with traditional, far-eastern craftsmanship. The outcome was hand-made products that bespeak every single one of the senses – be it touch, as with the heavy iron pans by Jasper Morrison; or taste, in the form of fine confectionary created by up-and-coming French designer Pauline Deltour.
The theme “tradition” also played a key role at Fornasetti, known for their hand-painted chinaware, as evidenced by its second wallpaper collection since 2008,. Created in collaboration with the British wallpaper maker “Cole & Son”, the pieces are adorned with flying contraptions, knight’s armor and antique walking sticks, all of these nostalgic motifs taken from the archive of illustrations and sketches by Piero Fornasetti.
Younger labels such as “Pinch” from London also hark back to the apparent past. It’s easy to believe you’re looking at a new-found love for “19th-century middle class values”: Wooden bureaus and cabinets, upholstered wingback chairs and materials such as walnut and copper transform traditional values into high-quality craftsmanship.
Some manufacturers present their products in a rich green (17-5641, declared “Color of the Year” by “Pantone” and also known as emerald green, made an appearance) while in retrospect it could seem like you had been looking at the trade fair halls through rose-tinted glasses: From light pastel pinks, to soft “nude” hues, to rich salmon tones, companies such as Normann Copenhagen employed the color across their entire product range. Even highly traditional French firms such as “Tolix” unveiled their sheet metal chairs from the 1930s dressed in pink.
One of the most impressive, if not the best, presentations at “now!” was that of Danish manufacturer “Hay”. The Hay stand was constructed from a system of wooden palettes, radiating coherence and a feeling of transparency at the same time. And there Hay exhibited around 50 new products from its extensive collection and proved yet again that treading the fine line between premium furniture series and countless small accessories for all areas of life is certainly no impossible feat. Here the Danes showed that they have their finger firmly on the pulse of the time: By expanding their product range to include accessories, the manufacturer opened themselves up to a wider customer base and simultaneously made design accessible for everyone. On entirely equal footing, Hay’s presentation at Maison&Objet placed kitchen utensils and wooden toys right next to modern interpretations of a bureau by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec or Stefan Diez’s brainchild, the “New Order” shelving system: perfection down to the smallest detail.
“Artek” and “Tom Dixon” also set an example with their new “Eclectic by Tom Dixon” range, presenting a whole host of accessories beyond the ubiquitous candlesticks and vases. Suddenly desktop accessories, wrist watches and home textiles are assigned an unforeseen relevance. Well-designed, more accessible products – the notion “Design for all” could really gain momentum in the coming years.