Observations at the Milan Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2008
From delicately patterned plush of recent years to supernormal chair à la Francfort, from high-end cooking isle on a manor-house kitchen scale to cool pixeled sofa, and from soft carnation seat made of scraps of material to a bohemian-like golden background - in an age of hybrid diversity there is nothing which does not exist. And thus thousands of paths meander through the 2008 Milan Salone, none of them individual or even singular. A huge, blossoming garden of branching paths, this is Milan - a monumental hothouse in which colorful flowers thrive alongside solid, useful plants and orchids send forth their seductive blooms. From whence we derive our conclusion? Instead of one perspective in which everything would appear to be under the same roof we offer many - a pool of images from the tropics of furnishing.
How new is new?
One can certainly debate which innovations are really new and which are just de rigeur: Is Jasper Morrison's supernormal "Basel Chair" for Vitra cloned from the legendary Frankfurt Chair? Is Tom Dixon now striding in his seven-league boots within a neo-bourgeois 1950s-‘70s time capsule when he displays his spick-and-span, silver "mirror balls" of different dimensions as an artificial ball tree in a room? Does Ron Arad take the biscuit with his "do-lo-res" for Moroso because this "Pixelsofa" made of many column-shaped modules of differing heights consistently yet playfully actuates the digitalization of sitting? Or should we rather stick to the solid and keep an eye out for tomorrow's classics, such as Maarten van Severen's wonderfully light-looking "LC03" designed for Pastoe?
Without doubt Patricia Urquiola earns laurels for a new grandezza. Not just because this year she shows a whole host of new ideas for interiors and outdoors, bearing witness to her incredible wealth of ideas - and not just because she is responsible for the main line of the new Moroso collection and together with Martino Berghinz has also designed the company's trade fair stand. But because in the form of "bohemian" she rediscovers the good old lounge suite as something which by means of blankets, cushions and fringed rugs can suddenly be dressed up to transform what was once tacky into something avant-garde. Indeed, we can clearly observe that the return of the pattern - which we have witnessed for some years now - continues in the dignified nomadism of the living room, full of oriental frills and allusions. Edra incorporates the journey to the Orient directly into its program, transforming sofa into seating isle in the form of "Sherazade" and "Odalisca" by Francesco Binfarè, which can be used as wished given backrests that can be positioned as desired and cushions with oriental patterns, into the bargain (as indeed Antonio Citterio attempts for B&B albeit in a more demure way). By contrast, Patricia Urquiola goes a step further and, rather than simply giving things exotic covers, forges a synthesis of the crafts tradition, Modernism and the rich global repertoire of cultural patterns. Design booms
Contemporary design and the firms which produce it certainly did not shy away from glamour this time in Milan. Why? Because design is booming. From what we can infer, the trade fair halls out at Rho are bursting at the seams as much as are the other locations, particularly the Zona Tortona with its "Superstudio Più" center where Jamie Hayon has created "Jet set" for Bisazza - the ultimate free-purpose flying device, an ironic-surreal propeller model complete with mosaic stones and with a white upholstered sofa on top. Marcel Wanders also left no doubt as to his penchant for a certain sense of morbidity with his mighty golden and somehow abstract animal skulls hung over a bed-head decorated with fine bows. No question, Milan was once again an El Dorado - in the true sense of the word: glamour like never before. And Tom Dixon was rather modest considering, all he did was supply the press with golden carry-bags.Imitating handcraft
If you wish to search for the production principle which powered the design process in more than a single case, one thing you will spot is imitation. Perhaps one day we will be surprised to realize that on the high-tech threshold of the 21st century, suddenly, wherever you looked, old proven handcraft were remembered - admittedly adjusted to the new technical standards and oriented to the mass market, made of innovative materials and somewhat alienated in form. This phenomenon is no longer all that new, but has established itself as a broad trend. And so things are being woven for all the material is worth, bent and embroidered, fringed and pleated with opulent-looking designs.
Kartell, for example, is holding on tight to its gummy-bear-color aesthetic, but here too the design or treatment of the surface has gained in importance. "Frilly" are the chairs Patricia Urquioly designed for Kartell: draped seat and backrest as if molded from molten sugar. Yoshioka Tokujin's "Ami Ami" imitates handcrafting to an even greater extent - he presents chairs and tables of woven plastic. Alberto Meda calls his collapsible chair which combines plastic and aluminum "Honey Comb", seat and backrest being made of a honeycomb-like structure.
Essentially, Konstantin Grcic's "Myto", developed for Plank with BASF, can also be considered part of this category. But Grcic, whose molded cantilever chair is even narrower in its final form and thus more elegant, maintains a consistent orientation to technical patterns. What he imitates and transforms are the processes of a second industrial nature - and this is not something he first started attempting with Myto. Private in public
Another trend is spreading: that of shielding off a small private world from the noisiness of the world at large. As if a tiny protected private space is created in the middle of the public space, the backrests of armchairs and sofas strive upwards and encompass the head like a hood. The high-back trend has also been around for a few years - in designs by Jamie Hayon, for example, or the e15 sofas. In Milan there are now numerous new interpretations to marvel at. While the alcove sofa by the Bouroullec brothers presented by Vitra in 2007 was always a sort of housing or bedding, the trusty design is now available as a love-seat, a small two seater for cuddling in, but also as a high-back version which creates a space and place for lovers and others to temporarily withdraw to or seek a bit of discretion. Patricia Urquiola achieves a similar effect with the sofa from her new series of outdoor furniture made of woven plastic bands. In the days of hybrids
As is become increasingly more evident today we live in an era of hybrid furniture that combines old and new along with elements from various cultures in one contemporary amalgam. The way materials are used and processed is becoming ever more refined and the results all the more perfect - regardless of whether you sit in a carnation, a pixel sofa, a plastic cantilever chair or on fine wire netting, or whether you are surrounded by natural tones, soothed with pastel colors or roused by the strong colors of neo-pop.Wishing you much enjoyment sifting through the images from Milan.