Showing refinement

Milan’s annual furniture fest makes designers feel as fêted as their fashion industry friends. In terms of trends for what’s now and what’s next, it certainly holds the sway of the catwalk collections. But the main moves are felt pretty well across the bo

Milan’s annual furniture fest makes designers feel as fêted as their fashion industry friends. In terms of trends for what’s now and what’s next, it certainly holds the sway of the catwalk collections. But the main moves are felt pretty well across the board, and the only ones walking to a different beat are usually the Dutch.

This year was no exception. The overall impression was one of waiting patiently for the millennium although quite what everyone is waiting for is a question I’m bored with asking. The big picture was quiet tweaks, refining details and gentle updates. The key words were smart, understated, adaptable, modern and modular. Rather than being a disappointment, the fair consolidated and confirmed themes that blossomed last year, or stuck a nose above the parapet five months ago in Cologne in fact many “new” launches had their prototypes previewed at the German fair. (The Germans reputedly buy the most contemporary furniture in Europe, so this is hardly surprising.)


Central to the millennial vibe was a predictable use of silver, black, white and grey. From Ross Lovegrove’s white ceramic and platinum-painted Myanmar vases for Driade, to the Millennium seating collection by Giuseppe Vigan for Pierantonio Bonacina think boxy aluminium frames and techy fabrics. MDF’s trademark aluminium shelving and storage units were updated with white and dark grey laminate fronts and one of the best modular sofas around, Scott, executed in “grey ebony”.

Italian giant B&B Italia showed similarly monochromatic upholstered offerings from Antonio Citterio, whereas at Ycami the mood was harder with shiny aluminium again the material of choice. Its new launches particularly Achille by Carlo Colombo and PAC by Decoma Design are “containers whose area of use is not predetermined, but derive from the function that they must perform.” This idea of nomadism lightness go anywhere, take anywhere furniture crops up time and time again, from Cologne to Milan and on into Spectrum.

The restricted colour palette wasn’t just an Italian conceit, Swedish outfit David Design kept colours to white, anthracite or matt-lacquered birch. As it put it, “the next millennium calls for new furniture with higher demands for both living and working”. The stackable Bryne chair and flexible Hockney sofa and table system, both designed by Eero Koivisto, may well be contenders.


The Finns, under the banner of Snowcrash, alluded to Y2K in more subtle terms. They too believe “the home of the future will be furnished with light, flexible and adaptable products”. But, as one of their designers pointed out, “the fashion industry has had great success in using new synthetics, while the furniture industry still relies on traditional materials.” Thus Ilkka Suppanen’s Roll light, Timo Salli’s hanging lamp and Teppo Asikainen’s Fly chair were made from hi-tech metals, synthetics and polymers.

Plastics also made a strong bid for pole position in the most-appropriate-material-for-the-millennium stakes; the all important detail this year being transparency. As such Kartell perfected Ron Arad’s sinuous FPE chair it’s being used in the Adidas Sports Cafés in France. Philippe Starck’s polycarbonate La Marie chair summed up the moment by being completely see-through, lightweight and strong. Equally elegant was his Slick Slick chair for XO, the boxy Toy, and Cam El Eon chairs, both for Driade the Gallic maestro is still a force to be reckoned with. Zanotta’s Lia chair by Roberto Barbieri also held its own in this company.

Authentics’ Go trolley from Konstantin Grcic and the Wait chair from Matthew Hilton (both launched in Cologne) lived up to their hype, looking smart yet functional. Magis had more fun with plastic with the Air-chair by Jasper Morrison, Aida chair from Richard Sapper and the semi-backless Yuyu chair by Stefano Giovannoni, which attracted deserved attention.

Vitra recognised two classic plastic chairs Verner Panton’s iconic self-titled Panton chair and the Eames’ Plastic Chair by re-issuing them. Arad’s Tom Vac successfully made the leap from sculptural piece to industrial product and Emilio Ambasz’s VoX chair also turned form into function for the Swiss company.


In the face of the future, some traditional finishes hung on. The top two being leather (the perennial Italian favourite) and rattan (one step on from last year). The twist was texture. Crocodile skin at Cappellini, used to update old favourites like Tom Dixon’s S-chair, while the Italian company Arte e Cuoio showed plaited leather mats and ottomans. In the rattan corner, Michael Sodeau tweaked his trademark lamps for Gervasoni while Matthew Hilton used it for the rather colonial Tai Long sofa for Driade. Bute’s new Dunbar and Melrose wool fabrics as seen at SCP also echoed the basket weave patterns of natural cane.

Big on the textured look was Moroso, the soft furnishings giant. It presented Hipchic fabrics. In its own words: “Never before has there been such a desire for a not-too-serious form of assurance: soberness combined with irony.” Thus the Jorge project, a five-inspired seating system by Ferruccio Laviani, included very urban looking grisailles mixed with soft, almost feathery fabrics. Coverings were either the texture and surface of horsehair or more conventional but brightly-coloured Danish wools.

Edra’s distinctive brand of soft blocky seating was upholstered in velvet, rubber and Tyvek (a type of paper) among 30 other fabrics new this season. Cushions were stuffed with strands of linen which looked like straw. Blue Bench by Maarten Van Severen looked like a large block of painted polyurethane, which it was.

Countering all this texture was a lot of smooth white Carrera marble. Zanotta’s Skinny coffee table by Prospero Rasulo used thin slabs of it with slim aluminium legs. Piero Lissoni’s HT modular shelving system for Porro combined marble with glass, lacquer and aluminium for one of the sharpest looks around.

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