The question on everyone’s lips recently has been, “Did you go the Salone?”. While we were in Milan it appeared that most of the Gulf’s design aficionados and industry leaders were there, too, and at times it felt like we hadn’t left the UAE – until we called “spritz!” and the waiters ran over with trays of the bright orange yet tasty sundowner.
While the Salone and its ensuing trends may be the hot topic of the design scene at the moment, it’s the Fuorisalone – the exhibitions and showcases in the heart of Milan – that never fails to impress us. From a stroll around Missoni’s knitted town to a pillow fight with Moooi’s energetic CEO Robin Bevers, there was a creative surprise around every corner of the bustling, cobbled streets.
It’s not often that you go back of house at a restaurant and glimpse stainless steel counters and backsplashes, the metal window where the servers’ dupes are tacked for the chef, and the pots and pans hanging from hooks nearby, while sous chefs, chef de partie and the eager commis dance around each other with choreographed dexterity cooking for hungry customers. Now the industrial stainless steel kitchens of the hospitality world are coming front of house in residential design, as seen at Boffi’s via Solferino showroom. Avoid your counters looking cold and clinical with farmhouse accents. Think counters and shelving made from reclaimed wood, rustic storage boxes, and wooden utensils hanging on the wall by copper pots. Oversized wooden chopping boards were popular at the Dada, Boffi and Arclinea stores, however, Boffi led with the boldest designs, boasting giant beech-wood boards spilling out over stainless steel worktops (see top image). Concrete (or concrete-effect) and leather-effect were also popular kitchen surface materials. Tactility is key for kitchen surfaces this year.
Rustic floor tiles
Celebrating 50 years in contemporary design culture, B&B Italia presented classic and new collections at its via Durini showroom, yet we couldn’t take our eyes off the floor. Hexagonal floor tiles in faded charcoal, dirty white, olive, terracotta and shades of grey paved a pathway through sections of living and dining room vignettes, and complemented the mix-match of furniture on display, especially the latest Gio sofa by Antonio Citterio, with its mid-century-modern cantilevered wooden frame and tapered legs. Tucked away in a discreet basement studio, Mirage’s Project Point in via Marsala unveiled a new ceramic tile collection called HMADE, mixing four distinct tiles – rustic brick, natural wood, concrete-inspired cottocemento and hand-painted majolica – presenting a playful and creative look for residential and commercial use.
Furniture as art
A new carpet collection by Dutch super-brand Moooi was unveiled as part of the brand’s Rebellious Harmony showcase on via Savona, with Signatures and Moooi Works ranges, as well as the opportunity to design your own pattern through its online customisation tools. The abstract Dreamstatic rug by Beirut-based design duo David/Nicolas caught our eye, with colourful geometries reminiscent of work by Russian painter and theorist Wassily Kandinsky, who celebrates a posthumous 150th birthday this year. Suspended from the ceiling rather than underfoot, the retro-futuristic rug also looked effective as a modern wall hanging.
Meanwhile, back on the eastern side of the city centre on via Durini, Cassina Milano curated its classic collections into a gallery of statement chairs and vintage living room displays. Cassina often promotes furniture as art – remember its 2013 Salone installation An Extraordinary Anomaly by Mario Bellini at the Triennale Design Museum? Here, 30 abstract white LC2 armchairs by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand were stacked haphazardly into a three-metre-square cube to “recount the farsighted productive strategy of Cassina”, when it acquired the exclusive worldwide rights to produce and distribute such modern masterpieces in 1964. At the Milan showroom, Cassino unveiled Patricia Urquiola’s first collection as art director. While part of her limited edition Beam Sofa System looked (unwittingly) like a giant baked potato in the window, further in her new 570 Gender chair presented an enveloping, cosy armchair. Paying respect to the late Dame Zaha Hadid, one corner was poignantly curated with the words “I really believe in the idea of future,” quoted on the wall behind her indigo and black ZH One Chairs from Cassina’s Origins of the Future collection.
Softly pushing a movement that’s gaining in popularity, experiential design invites us to engage, interact and personalise the encounter we have with product and space. The Fuorisalone’s hotspot is the Brera design district. Here, we strolled amongst a pop-up town of knitted houses, woven within a sound and lighting show, as playful combinations of colour and music brought the town to life with endless varieties of patterns, graphics and geometries. Designed for Spazio Missoni by artist Aldo Lanzini, with the creative direction of Angela Missoni, Knitown cleverly combined Missoni’s home and fashion houses, with knitted walls and roofs intertwining to create a colourful, engaging and soulful cluster of thread-made streets and structures. Light also played a large part in JCP’s 10 Secret Treasures exhibition, whose tagline ‘transform normality’ was evident throughout. Crunching ‘snow’ underfoot, we wandered through the atmospheric installations and wondered at the surrealistic furniture and philosophical poems etched on the walls. Bright white lights cast a net of silhouette through a golden mesh sofa called Orauro. Its poetic quote read: “Footstep of a cat / Uncertainty principle / The roots of a cloud” etched onto the wall. The long, dark shadow of a coat stand was simple yet dramatic. A spotlight emphasised the majestic impact of a golden throne, whose velvet upholstery spilt like a long red tongue onto the floor, running away down the corridor. The most mind-boggling was the hairy Oglof chair – Cousin Itt’s baby! Its caption read: “You try to escape / The further away you run / The more it loves you”. This hairy mammoth of a chair is certainly something to run away from…
A trend we spotted at last year’s Salone, circles and ovals remain a strong emblem in design at this year’s expo. Consistent with a return to eco-friendly, natural and organic ways of living (aesthetically, if not technologically), while also evoking constant growth with subconscious references to the ‘circle of life’, spherical shapes are reassuring, positive and productive.