Milan Review

The Furniture Practice reviews Milan Design Week

EACH YEAR, Milan Design Week presents itself as a melting pot of design ideas, collaborations and inspiration for the design industry at large. The theme this year? Laboratorio Futuro. An apt direction for an event which offers a near infinite exploration of creativity, the theme intended to recall the experimental dimension of design as well as its capacity as a tool for collective action.

From the array of exhibitions across the week, there were three key themes that stood out to The Furniture Practice. Read on for a look back at the team’s highlights from the week, extracted from their Milan report – from new developments in sustainable materials, sensorial explorations, and design inspired by nature.

New Materiality

As sustainability continues to steer the design agenda, we’re seeing a growing focus on materiality. As well as prioritising what raw materials go into their products, designers and manufacturers are paying closer attention to how materials are processed as well as their end-of-life. Material innovation was a dominant theme throughout Milan, where it was made clear that an experimental and research-driven approach is becoming the new normal.

At Alcova, French design and research laboratory, Atelier LUMA. introduced visitors to bioregional design – a practice that scales production systems to match local resources and needs. LUMA’s native Arles was reflected through displays of rice, straw, salt, textiles and wool, as well as bioplastic chairs manufactured from Algae and agricultural byproducts.  

Image Credit: Andrea Ferrari

Also at Alcova, Habitare and NEMO Architects presented an experimental library, Habitarematerials, displaying materials from 14 Finnish manufacturers working towards more sustainable production. These included Durat, whose 100 percent recyclable composite material contains recycled post-industrial plastics, and Luonnon Betoni, with an ecological alternative to cement based in clay.

Another installation from the Solid Nature x OMA collaboration, winner of the FuoriSalone Award 2023. Image Credit: Marco Cappelletti

We were inspired by designers and brands reevaluating existing resources and processes to create new products. At the Norwegian Presence exhibition, Stine Aas and Siv Støldal presented their CS2 armchair, highlighting the unique character of a typically lesser valued type of wool.

Meanwhile, Tacchini x Formafantasma presented alternatives to four classic Tacchini designs, replacing industrial foam with surplus sheep’s wool. Elsewhere, designers explored repurposing waste streams. At Rossana Orlandi’s gallery, Nature Squared showed their Reflections collection made from waste eggshell, while Japanese studio Honoka, winner of the SaloneSatellite prize, presented striking 3D-printed furniture made from recycled tatami mats.

Diesel Living x Moroso is an audacious, 3D expression of the Diesel lifestyle defined by a bold, surreal window takeover in iconic Diesel Red

These experiments demonstrated a growing movement towards a new material mindset, led by a drive towards sustainability and resulting in new and exciting aesthetics.

Sensorial Awakening

Increasingly, for design to engage, it must appeal to our senses. Moreover, design that achieves this can serve as an escape from the everyday. We saw studios exploring this at Milan through both curation and product.

The E15 KERMAN Pouffe with Dedar’s Tiger Mountain fabric brings playful energy to the fore

Solid Nature’s experience, Beyond the Surface, took visitors on a multisensory journey. An illuminated onyx staircase in an array of colours and patterns led to several rooms dedicated to the transformative power of stone, displaying tactile finishes from raw to polished. Finally, a travertine and glass table designed by Sabine Marcelis was displayed alongside specially selected food to reflect the material’s colour – unexpectedly expanding visitors’ sensorial experience of the exhibition to include taste.

Further to taste, we also saw smell being incorporated into displays. At Alcova, DWA Design Studio created a timber-frame installation holding small, smellable clay sculptures for perfume brand Les Eaux Primordiales – their scent activated by small paper fans.

Sancal’s Fiesta furniture textile by ByBorre celebrates a 70s colour palette

Use of bold, enveloping chromatic colour was another way that designers strove to immerse their audience. At Diesel Living, Moroso led a vibrant pop-up showroom takeover in ‘Diesel Red’, designed to reflect the brand’s characteristic bold identity. Sancal revelled in a 70s colour palette with a vibrant installation of furniture on their stand: the Bold coffee table by Studio Pepe in orange, black and white was displayed alongside seating upholstered in the Fiesta textile, specially designed by ByBorre to celebrate Sancal’s 50th anniversary. Appealing to our sense of touch, luxurious fabrics and textures invited viewers to enjoy tactile experiences. At the Salone, Leolux, Tacchini and Tecta used corduroy to bring material variation to their minimalistic pieces, while Dedar’s Tiger Mountain fabric brought playful energy to E15’s KERMAN pouffes.

DWA Design Studio created this timber-frame installation for perfume brand Les Eaux Primordiales

This movement towards creative sensorial activation is bound to evolve and become more prevalent, both in terms of how designers choose to display their collections and at product level.

Industrial evolution

 Hand-in-hand with a focus on sustainability, and the emphasis on engagement through sensorial connection, was a theme of design directly inspired by nature. As biophilic design continues to inform interiors and products, we’re seeing examples directly mimicking shapes and patterns found in nature as well as more subtle imitations.

Inspired by funghi, JOV Studio and Studio Mary Lennox displayed three rugs that take their cue from mushrooms. Image Credit: Francesco Stelitano

We saw sculptural organic forms across several displays. The hand carved Juv Dining Table by Anna Maria Øfstedal Eng was shown at Norwegian Presence, while Gubi displayed their indoor/outdoor ceramic Carmel tables at their showroom – their high-gloss tops evoking pools of water.

Fabrics also took inspiration from the natural world. Kawashima Selkon Textiles’ intricate Evolutionary Specimen of Fabrics installation at the Superdesign Show at Superstudio Più explored textures of moss and rust through modern weaving techniques. JOV Studio and Studio Mary Lennox put on a funghi-inspired installation, a collection of three rugs inspired by the natural patterns and textures of mushrooms, created using 3D effects and careful colour gradients.

Kawashima Selkon Textiles explored textures of moss and rust through modern weaving techniques.

The +uno chair by Sapiens Design Studio for Pollini Home was also displayed at the Superdesign show, its curved porcelain stoneware seat – achieved through thermoforming – designed to reflect the organic curves. At the Labo Cultural Project, the Pétiole collection by Alexandre Labruyère looked to the structural detail of plants, while back at the Superdesign Show, Alcarol got macro. Widening the viewers’ perspective to encompass Earth’s relationship to space through their ‘Geomorphic’ collection, the studio investigated the morphology of Earth’s elements and planets through a collection of furniture exploring geological processes.

As human connection to the natural world continues to gain value – both as we come face-to-face with our planet’s fragility and seek to escape from the everyday – we’re sure to see nature-inspired design continue to manifest in interior spaces and furniture designs.

Image Credit: Koji Ueda

These were just some of the brands and designers at Milan Design Week who, often by pushing the experiential boundaries of design, engaged us with its ability to transform – not only in terms of its effect on how we experience our spaces, but crucially, as a mechanism for positive change for people and planet.

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