While there was no shortage of memorable projects on view during last week’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile fair in Milan, possibly the biggest thing that stood out this year was the turnout. A crush of visitors and locals alike descended to experience exhibitions and product launches occupying storefronts and palazzos throughout the city, creating lines that stretched along hallways, into courtyards and, in one case, all the way down three very long flights of stairs. Perhaps it was the picture-perfect spring weather that drove the crowd — but more likely it’s the current popularity of contemporary design. And, judging by these highlights from the fair, is it any wonder?
At Alcova — a brand new exhibition space occupying a charmingly dilapidated, roofless building that was once a panettone factory — the Carrara-based marble brand Bloc Studios hosted a sun-dappled installation that showcased three new projects by up-and-coming designers. There were pink-and-green marble side tables by Stockholm’s Nick Ross, three sculptural vases by Italian ceramist Valentina Cameranesi Sgroi and a series of modular planter/centerpieces by Athens- and NYC-based Objects of Common Interest.
Over the past three years, the Milanese gallery, interiors firm and furniture studio Dimore has become known for hosting some of the most unmissable shows of the Milan fair. This year it outdid itself with not one but three over-the-top presentations: There was an immersive exhibition of historical furnishings by the likes of Gabriella Crespi and Osvaldo Borsani, installed inside Bedouin tents, a mazelike display of its newest collection that featured an eight-foot-tall antique vitrine full of fresh flowers — and a show of nine one-off furniture pieces made from anonymous antiques the designers chopped up and put back together.
Each year, the Eindhoven-based design think-tank Dutch Invertuals puts on an exhibition of work by emerging talents who have been challenged to consider a certain theme, and each time it manages to be both beautiful and cerebral. This year’s theme was the future of materials, and the responses included solar-powered flashlights made of clay and vessels sculpted from non-biodegradable plastic, coal dust and stone.
From a series of ribbed-glass room dividers by the Bouroullec brothers to a coffee table by Patricia Urquiola inspired by L.A. sunsets, Glas Italia released what was arguably the most aesthetically pleasing, trend-aware collection coming out of the Salone del Mobile fairgrounds this year — underscored by the fact that glass itself feels like the furniture world’s material of the moment for 2018.
It was admittedly a bit difficult to focus on the latest home accessories collection from Hermès, as the works were presented inside a mind-bending procession of towering, colour-coded rooms covered with 150,000 Moroccan zellige tiles. The whole thing took the fashion house no less than three weeks to construct. While some sustainably-minded visitors fretted about the fate of all those tiles post-show, the installation — designed by Charlotte Macaux Perelman — was easily the week’s most showstopping spectacle.
The Kvadrat-owned rug-and-curtain label Kinnasand launched an initiative last year called Kinnasand Lab, which engages a different up-and-coming designer every six months to create a limited-edition collection or installation. Its latest collaborator was the Berlin-based designer Katrin Greiling, who cleverly made its rugs appear to crawl off the ground and onto a series of daybeds and benches she created from colour-coordinated metal frames.
Nina Yashar, the founder of Nilufar gallery, only began collecting the work of midcentury Brazilian design icons Lina Bo Bardi and Giancarlo Palanti — fellow Italian expats who began collaborating on furniture in the late 1940s — five years ago. But last week she mounted an ambitious retrospective in her Nilufar Depot space, featuring more than 30 pieces by the duo, designed both individually and as a team. For those who missed Salone, it will remain on view through March 2019.
Two New York interior designer favourites — the lighting doyenne Lindsey Adelman and the wallpaper-design duo Calico— collaborated on a launch of works themed around corrosion. Adelman debuted a patinated brass Drop pendant series and Calico introduced a photorealistic wallpaper made by scanning an original painting that had been corroded with salt.
The Belgian gallery Maniera invites architects and artists to bring an outside viewpoint to collectible furniture design — and their presentation showed that thesis at its best. Neither project was quite new — the Mexican architecture firm Productora contributed the yellow side tables they designed for the Exhibit Columbus biennial in Indiana last year, while the Italian firm Piovenefabi’s furniture, inspired by details from the Milan subway, was developed for last year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial — but the show was still a must-see for anyone who missed the work the first time around.
Lasse Fløde & Torjus Berglid
The fourth edition of Norwegian Presence, a group show of furniture and objects by Norwegian designers and craftspeople, was heavy on one of our favourite design trends — works that are so simple and sculptural that their function isn’t immediately obvious. That included an ovoid sound-absorbing room divider by Vera & Kyte and an inscrutable black tubular piece by Petter Skogstad that’s somewhere between a throne, a table, and a valet.
The launch of Far, a brand-new offshoot of Nilufar dedicated to experimental contemporary work, got a bit buried amid the fanfare around the gallery’s aforementioned Lina Bo Bardi exhibition. But one of Far’s two pilot projects — Guise, by the Amsterdam duo Odd Matter — rewarded those who were paying attention. It features two benches and a console made from carved foam that’s been coated in a gradient of iridescent car lacquer, plus a fourth piece meticulously painted to imitate marble.
Faux marble — this time made from solid pigmented plaster — also made an appearance at Unsighted, the open-ended group show curated by the Carwan Gallery co-founder Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte in the 5Vie district; the Italian designer Roberto Sironi incorporated it into a suite of furniture inspired by architectural ruins. Other exhibition highlights included extruded clay vessels by Anton Alvarez in a shock of Yves Klein blue and acrylic-topped tables by Korean newcomer Jeonghwa Seo.
3D Housing 05
In the Piazza Cesare Beccaria, just behind the Duomo, the Milanese architect Massimiliano Locatelli decided to mark design week by constructing an entire 1,075 square foot, four-room house out of hollow wall modules made from concrete that was 3D-printed on site in less than a week. The structure, called 3D Housing 05, was fully furnished by Locatelli’s firm CLS Architetti as well, aiming to provide an experience of how we might live in the future with a shortage of affordable housing.
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