Exploring Milan Design Week: from modular sofas to sustainable living spaces

We visited the annual Salone del Mobile design week in Milan, which saw exhibitions, product launches and installations from the likes of Tom Dixon, Ikea and Airbnb.

Mini Living Breathe installation

Milan was awash with exhibitions, fairs and talks last week, as design in its many forms took over the city for the annual Salone del Mobile design week.

More than 300,000 people hit the streets of the Italian capital over six days at locations dotted across the city. Exhibits ranged from Lee Broom’s reimagining of his furniture and lighting collections from the last decade in a disused vault at Centrale station, to Alessi’s tribute to Zaha Hadid, which saw it transform the windows of its flagship store on Via Manzoni into an installation of notable designs created in collaboration with the late architect.

Some brands opted to stick with the spirit of one of Milan Design Week’s most enduring features; the Salone Internazionale del Mobile furniture fair, held annually at the FieraMilano complex on the outskirts of the city.

Passeggiata: An Airbnb experience of Milan curated by Martina Mondadori © Cristian Castelnuovo

Airbnb took over the Casa deli Atellani stately home that Leonardo da Vinci lived in while painting The Last Supper in the late 15th century. Curated by Italian design magazine Cabana’s founder Martina Mondadori Sartogo and inspired by Airbnb’s Trips platform – where travellers can book experiences hosted by locals – the event saw the decadent house filled with the personal collections of both emerging and established designers.

In a strangely harmonious mishmash of styles, British furniture designer Faye Toogood’s lifelong collections of rocks sourced from all over the UK sat alongside dusty book-filled shelves and ornate bird of paradise wall murals, while Horizn Studios compiled a mini exhibition of designers’ travel essentials, including Yves Behar’s suitcase comprising swimming trunks, a notebook and a metallic red portable speaker.

Tom Dixon’s Multiplex exhibition

British designer Tom Dixon also took a novel approach to furniture and interior design, debuting several new collections in a two-storey, temporary exhibition space on Via Manzoni. Housed in a spectacular 840-seat cinema complex built in the 1950s, the window-fronted shops on the ground floor of the space played host to the Dixon’s new Cut and Tube lighting collections, alongside the designer’s Supertexture range of cushions, throws and blankets, and pop-ups from brands including Sonos and Mabeo.

Taking the sweeping red-carpeted staircase up to the foyer on the second floor, visitors were greeted with a breakout area filled with pastel-coloured furniture and cinema-inspired food and drink kiosks serving popcorn and gelato.

Within the theatre itself, the space was entirely dedicated to Dixon’s upcoming collaboration with Ikea – the Delaktig “living-platform” sofa, featuring a modular aluminium frame.

In a visually powerful illustration of the concept, dozens of the modular sofas in different colours and materials were scattered around the space, featuring an array of different add-ons and hacks such as lamps, pillows and sideboards.

In another area of the cinema, a smaller exhibit displayed sketches and prototypes of the sofa produced in collaboration with 75 students from design schools including the Royal College of Art (RCA), Musashino University and Parsons School of Design.

With Delaktig being aimed largely at “young people in big cities”, according to Ikea, the collaboration with Dixon tapped into a wider theme explored during the course of the week, with many brands and designers looking at issues related to urban living spaces today.

Mini Living Breathe installation

Car brand Mini highlighted architectural solutions for two key challenges facing people living in urban spaces through its collaboration with New York architectural practice SO-IL (Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu). The first was that attractive places to live are in increasingly short supply in cities today, and the other was that the irresponsible use of resources within living spaces is a growing problem.

The Mini Living Breathe installation comprised a modular, resource-conscious living space on a previously unused 50m2 urban plot of land. The metal-framed structure featured six individual living areas including a wet room and roof garden, as well as light-permeable, semi-translucent textile walls which filter and neutralise the surrounding air.

Meanwhile, the roof was designed to be able to collect rainwater which could then be reused within the house, and the entire structure could be disassembled and reinstalled in another location.

“We view the installation as an active ecosystem, which makes a positive contribution to the lives and experiences of the people who live there and to the urban microclimate, depicted here by the intelligent use of resources essential to life – air, water and light,” said Mini Living creative lead, Oke Hauser.

One of the prototype finalists in the Lexus Design Award

Several emerging designers also looked at potential solutions for sustainable urban living. Two of the prototype finalists from this year’s Lexus Design Award – which were displayed in an accompanying exhibition at the Triennale design museum – included a minimalist capsule which contained only the bare essentials needed for mobile living and a 3D-printed floor covering made from different coloured and textured rectangular beads, which could be adapted to reflect how personal tastes and interiors naturally change over time.

Despite the sheer range of different design-related disciplines explored by brands and designers throughout the course of Milan Design Week, the event continues to highlight that it is often when these disciplines are brought together in the form of collaborative installations, collections and prototypes that the most effective design solutions are created.

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