Furniture, Marketing, Machines, Fashion, Food & Spectacles @ Salone Milan 2012

Furniture, Marketing, Machines, Fashion, Food & Spectacles @ Salone Milan 2012

Milan Fairgrounds – The Cathederal of Design

In the world of design the “Salone del Mobile“, (a.k.a Milan Design Week) remains strongly considered as the absolute reference for everything design-related.

This is the time when conservative Milan lives up to a total other dimension, and tiny private apartments in the city center get rented out for 600-800 euros a day. Hotels as far away as Switzerland and the surrounding areas within 70 km were sold out. For many it may have taken over 3 hours to reach Milan or the fairground due to heavy traffic, but it was simply the place to be.

A Walk in Milan – Video to inspire “Design Tourists” by Giuseppe Vetrano

The 51st edition of Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2012 saw 330,000 people from the creative world descend onto the city to hopefully fulfill their hunger for design from the hundreds of new projects and installations.

For six days, the big and small players of the design scene stepped into the giant Design Arena and struggled hard to catch the audienceʻs attention. The result is an impressive mix of wonderful works of art and some small but gorgeous treasures, one could find all over the city.

The famous furniture classics of yesterday met their potential successors, questionably styled creations showing full pride in being branded as “Italian design” and nearly every booth provides a lovingly arranged overall concept of good taste.

The Trade Fair halls in Rho saw a lot of new business done in 2012, and there was a lot of posing, viewing, celebrating and eating in the countless showrooms, galleries, and museums, on the streets, in the courtyards and even in industrial buildings; and once again there were colourful displays, which stand almost as an ideal type for what tends to be called the “Spectacle Culture”.

There were relatively few landmark products, and at times the splashy events staged by technology companies, car manufacturers and cosmetics brands threatened to overpower those of the furniture makers.

However overall 2012 was not a vintage Milan Furniture Fair.

Furniture makers from all the European countries felt the bite of clients’ purchasing restraint and opted for a more downbeat approach as a consequence with many companies playing it safe ( re-upholstering classics or finding past classics in their archives). Some careful consolidation is good for the industry anyway.

Amongst the presentation “smoke and mirrors” of the Salone, there were fewer overly strident designs or gimmicks to be seen in the trade-fair booths, with experimentation for experimentation’s sake tending to emigrate to either the Salone Satellite or the Ventura Lambrate Zone, where the talented younger designers championed trying to make the world a better place.

A compelling trend was noted in the groundswell of participative design, rapid manufacturing techniques and hacking is starting to challenge Milan’s design orthodoxy, making us forget about products and think about processes. The furniture fairs of the not-too-distant future will be for exhibiting new services and technologies, not just objects.

No matter what economic winds are blowing – the Salone is always an optimistic “Progress Machine”. The critical issue is to be able to distill all of that product and installation material into the essence of what really matters.

Arriving in Milan before things commence you can feel and see the energy and spectacle that seizes the city during the Milan Furniture Fair. Run-down stores metamorphose into elegant showrooms; roomy garages become extravagant pop-up stores, just in the nick of time.

This fair was notable for penetrating a number of eye-popping sites that would have been off-limits or simply invisible to the casual visitor. But even attendees who chose not to seek out obscure corners of Milan could walk down a Salone corridor and see the world.

Medieval Palazzo doors were opened to reveal wings and courtyards that otherwise remain hidden, and at the more established locations (showrooms belonging to the major brands) re-stylised windows sparked curiosity for passers-by.

You are fleetingly reminded of Hollywood Western village stage-sets, yet already find yourself caught up in a world of illusions, true beauty and exciting new things.

The Salone is a tremendous source of pride for Milan and for Italy. The fundamental and symbolic role of the Salone, as a focal point for businesses that make up 3% of the Italian manufacturing industry, and an inventive driver of crucial Italian economic growth.

It’s basically a big shopping bonanza – except nothing is for sale (all to order) and many prototypes displayed will never see the light of day.

2012 Breakdown

331,320 visitors overall (2011 = 334,673)
292,370 sectorial operators, 3.5% up on 2011.
188,579 foreign operators making up 64.5% of the total (+5.9%)
103,791 Italian operators, in line with last year’s results.
6,484 members of the press attended the 2012 Saloni,
5,725 of them from countries all over the world.
2,479 Italian and foreign exhibitors (2011 = 2,720)
157,500 sq mtrs of exhibition space
6 days duration

Based on these statistics Salone 2012 was a success – but still about 10% down overall on the peak activity years of 2008 & 2009

But right now, the industry is preoccupied by its financial woes, not least as last year’s furniture fair was also relatively subdued.

Over the past year most of the Habitat furniture stores in Britain have closed, as has Moss’s SoHo flagship store, once the heart of New York’s design scene.

Yet new furniture makers continue to emerge !!!

However given the crowds stuffed into booths and the lavish displays by international furniture producers and materials suppliers, it took a discerning eye to detect adversity.

Milan is the home to European furniture production. Milan and the surrounding area is home to 800 companies working in the field of producing furniture and other associated designed elements

FederlegnoArredo, an Italian furniture industry association that is a sponsor of the Milan Furniture Fair, reported a decrease of 9.7 percent in local purchases between 2010 and 2011, but an increase of 4.3 percent in exports.

Beyond dispute is that European producers are catering to the tastes of prosperous foreigners in South America, Russia, India and East Asia, many of whom value the look and feel of luxury.

The fair has never stretched so far internationally or represented so many transcontinental partnerships.

The Salone del Mobile has grown enormously, it goes far beyond the sale of furniture, and even beyond the product. It’s more and more about the concept, the ideas behind the product.

Salone del Marketing Festival

Milan is about design in all its forms – not just furniture.

British designer Jasper Morrison suggested that the Salone del Mobile should be renamed the “Salone del Marketing.” “I think it was prompted by the launch of a washing machine,” he explained dolefully.

The search to discern design trends and to find quality products becomes tougher each year as the furniture fair and its fringe events are dwarfed by the promotional efforts put in by fashion houses, car makers, cosmetics companies, technology enterprises and other companies that converge on the city.

Design is a guise, it is a product, it is an event, it is marketing.

The Salone is now more about the world of design than the design of the world. More shape than content / More product than process. / More fashion than long-term solutions.

And that’s Milan during the Salone del Mobile: big show and amateur theater, time machine, fairground, springboard and a lab for experimentation.

Milan is such an enjoyable and important experience we’ll always look forward to its design overload.


We know how loose the definition of the word ‘ Design ‘ can be – furniture, architecture, Do-It-Yourself craft, food , parties, fashion, lots of public relations, product launches, socialites and more…

During this intense and festive week, Milan becomes more international than ever and every opportunity for brands and designers to gain visibility is caught while the audience is treated to many visual and food / drink delights.

Although the length of the design week is still 6 x days, the amount of events around the city increase with every year that passes.

One thing you can be sure of when you go to Milan for the furniture fair: you can never see everything in it.

Traditionally the fair was the venue to showcase exclusively new product but increasingly these days its seems merely a venue for simply putting everything the company does on display – in some fashion –and not necessarily anything even new

The crowds at the fairgrounds outside the city, as well as those attending the numerous exhibitions in town, seemed as enthusiastic as ever.

But the furniture on display looked a bit more subdued than in recent years, and there seemed to be less of it, as if manufacturers were being cautious about the near future — which is understandable given the current mood of economic uncertainty.

What is always intriguing about the reports and reviews that trickle out (seemingly quicker and quicker every year) is the disparity and variation between what were deemed to be the trends and patterns for the coming twelve months… and beyond.

Opinion and interpretation are bandied about wildly and at times there is truth in the aesthetic forecasting but in 2012, and perhaps for the first time most prevalently, the most commonly acknowledged practice was the re-issuing, re-releasing of existing designs and design classics.

In the wake of the Salone del Mobile the sentiment seems to be one of cautious optimism. This was not only clear from conversations with manufacturers, distributors and designers, but was perhaps just as evident in the products and presentations

A hesitance to invest in new product development at a time when many suppliers are folding is understandable – where risk is great we seek to minimise impact and with the boom in fake furniture retailing there is a hesitation to keep throwing all the best and freshest cards on the table in such quick succession, so suppliers are well advised to survey the landscape with more caution.

Of course it’s not all doom and gloom: it’s not to say that Salone for 2012 didn’t showcase a commendable share of ground-breaking and exciting new products – merely it goes to prove that the current financial uncertainty has pleasantly served to rekindle a love for some design greats.

Still, there were plenty of bright spots.

Dramatic new directions were few and far between (save some softer color palettes, a hint of 70s styling and a taste for comfort in the form of loose upholstery and quilting – perhaps a sign of a need to nest), but instead there were loads of collaborations, and a focus on new technology versus traditional craft techniques ie 3D printing vs handmade furniture.

In Salone 2012 there was a certain prevalence of sober projects.

Austerity was perhaps the theme of this year’s biggest event on the design calendar; the Eurozone economic crisis seems to be having some significant impact with many companies who traditionally have had elaborate and expensive stands have noticeably downsized or simply reduced costs.

This may be due to the economic crisis and the consequent demand for a reassuring, more classical aesthetic. One Salone is more restrained, then it can be more flowery, then people get bored and someone reinvents the decorative look. Maybe we are in a moment where there is less desire to express something exotic, something very luxurious.

On the other end there is the Far East market and the Middle East as well, which seem to thrive on luxury brands.

As usually there is room for everybody

There is still no substitute for the buzz and energy that the Salone generates along with its now well established supplementary events.

There has therefore been a revisiting of past catalogues, with an intelligent re-uptake of enduring pieces that has turned into a real re-reading, in an attempt to make the pieces smaller, easier to transport, more suitable for clients no longer young and active.

Some observations

Moulded resins turn furniture into organic sculpture, while carbon fibre reduces it to a line.

Metal — whether laser-cut sheet, tube or mesh — is ever more ambitious.

Concrete — newly slender — is everywhere, even on kitchen cabinets.

Born-again bottles in glass or plastic, cardboard, juice cartons and other detritus become new materials, while plentiful linen and fast-growing bamboo get modern makeovers.

Old-fashioned wood, however, holds its own, machined and shaped with new technology.

The new trends at the 2012 Saloni clearly evidence a sophisticated attention to material. Every project evolves in “a” specific material, respecting its intrinsic qualities and peculiarities.

Rossana Orlandi, the Milanese gallery owner, commented …“Particularly now, a product has to be honest, concrete, beautiful.” …. “I should say only one word: honest,” she amended. “We don’t need other words.”

Born spontaneously in the 1980s and made official in 1991, Fuorisalone is a big collective event that takes place outside the habitual fair spaces.

The events in the city promoting the culture of living also had a large part to play. Yet again the Saloni have proved themselves not just as a business opportunity but as a vehicle for culture, with culture at the very heart of our city-wide events.”

The Salone del Mobile brings designers, retailers and manufacturers flooding into the city, all looking to find the trends of tomorrow and the stars of the future.

All week long, Milan will be “furnished” by young designers, who chose to exhibit their items in unconventional spaces.

This year the Salone’s events now occupied nine different areas of Milan – the city center around the Duomo and San Babila, Lambrate, Brera, Magenta and the Triennale di Milano art exhibition centre, Porta Genova, Porta Romana, Porta Venezia and Sempione.

The exhibitions outside the fair, used to be clustered in just a few areas of town — like the upscale MonteNapoleone shopping district or the formerly industrial Zona Tortona — but the FuroiSalone is now scattered widely around Milan.

The big-gun manufacturers (e.g.Minotti, Vitra, Moroso, etc) show at the sprawling Rho fairgrounds;

Minotti once again had the biggest stand at the Salone Trade Fair, and presented exquisite, completely new collections in its ‘typically elegant setting.

Once again Minotti continued to build on its already full house of crafted furniture pieces – driven by its visionary creative director designer Rodolfo Dordoni – who has helped craft the superbly sophisticated look that is Minotti.

And with trade fairs representing cherished places where brands dream of sales figures and margins, you can hardly be surprised to find knockout sanctuaries shimmering and shining in the middle of the colossal halls.

Often the best stuff isn’t to be found at the fairgrounds but in smaller satellite venues around the city.

Outside the fairground, the show went on in FuoriSaloni in more than different 400 venues – a mix of exclusive design and art .

Zona Tortona, inside the city, hosts established but still edgy brands, as well as a pot pourri of designer hopefuls getting a small footprint into the industry as per below

As was the case years ago in Zona Tortona, in the outlying Ventura Lambrate the major brands are already staking out their claims.

The experimental design scene, which recently emerged in the Ventura-Lambrate area of north eastern Milan, is now imperiled by the furniture fair’s equivalent of gentrification.

It has become so expensive to show there that many of the young designers have been replaced by corporate exhibitors, such as the retail giant Ikea.

Eco and Helpful Design

Sustainable decor objects and initiatives were hot.

The bicycle seems to be one of the hottest vehicles for most companies – especially fashion brands – concentrated on different co-brandings.

Levi’s teamed up with Rossignol; Dolce & Gabbana presented their Animalier printed model; Dirk Bikkembergs launched its own ergonomic version; Sartoria Cicli offered a made-to-measure model according to each customer’s personality; Nike launched a sustainable model called Flynit;Slowear presented a folding bike in collaboration with Tern.

The Italian community helping social recovery San Patrignano presented Barrique, a special series of objects made by recycling old wood barrel elements into new objects like swings, tables, DJ banks, seats or benches.

Last but not least, Marni hosted woven chairs made by Columbian ex-prisoners.

Sadly, there were mere passing nods to the world’s worst problems of diminishing resources, pollution, social deprivation and natural disasters,

Ever cleverer energy- and water-saving appliances were at Eurocucina, the kitchen event alongside the furniture fair.

A lavish bar dispensing free drinks hyped a designer revamp of SodaStream’s fizzy water-making gadget, “saving 550 bottles per household a year” — but drinking tap water is cheaper, easier and uses no bottles at all.

In the upmarket home of its Italian designer, SodaStream previewed AquaBar for “all kitchen water needs” (hot, chilled, filtered, sparkling) — while much of the world still lacks a tap.

A decade ago, socially conscious design was a sideshow at the fair, but now it’s in the centre ring.

A number of companies boasted of earth-friendly materials and showed off efficient packing methods that reduced their carbon footprints.


An interesting trend in Milan this year was the revival of the city centre as a focal point for fringe events

For several years now the city has been splintered, with the main fair out in the sticks in the Rho exhibition halls, and the fringe events concentrated in the former industrial zones of Tortona and Lambrate. However this year, Tortona was a shadow of its former self.

A pleasant outcome of the economic squeeze was the chance to enter some of the grander historic buildings in Milan, whose owners had hitherto rebuffed offers to rent them during the fair.

Instead, many of the best shows were in the centre, occupying grand palazzos that, thanks to the recession, are suddenly cheap to rent out.

A series of events were also hosted inside historical locations such as Museum of Science and Technology, Palazzo Bagatti Valsecchi, Palazzo Clerici, Palazzo Visconti, Casa Degli Atellani, Villa Necchi and the San Simpliciano cloister.

One of the most stimulating exhibitions of the year was Paola Lenti’s “Keys of Colour”. Her indoor and outdoor collections, saturated in lustrous hues, curiously danced against the backdrop of the 15th-century monastery Chiostri dell’Umanitaria,

Cultural Activities

Design Dance”, an event/show illustrating the story of man through design, at the Teatro dell’Arte at the Triennale di Milano, was a sell-out every evening, although a large number of people had to be turned away because of the theatre’s limited capacity.

There were also lengthy queues for the “Skybook” installation at the Biblioteca Pinacoteca Accademia Ambrosiana

Both events sparked a good deal of interest from foreign cultural operators.

The public also responded enthusiastically to the “MonteNapoleone Design Experience by Citroën. AUTO-MOBILI” exhibition, set against the backdrop of Milan’s most exclusive shopping street.

Other Highlights

Another path led to “The Secret Garden,” an installation designed by Paola Navone and Zaha Hadid that featured Barovier & Toso glass chandeliers suspended in twiggy blue yurts in the botanical gardens of the Brera neighborhood.

Spazio Rossanna Orlandi has been established as a more straight-faced venue hosting the big fish of the design world, both the fresh-faced and the time-honored, for many years now.

In the front building, in the rear building, in the cellar, in the hallway and in the attic, set pieces from the global design industry have been placed throughout the building, while the design community enjoys a bowl of pasta in the courtyard.


Furniture typical to interiors, designed possibly with living rooms in mind, now makes its way outdoors and in terms of color combinations then emerge that would previously have been considered entirely impossible.

This propagation of outdoor furniture seems to indicate a departure from that previous retreat we beat to the protection of our own four walls.

Goodbye to cocooning. In view of the presentations and exhibitions to be seen around the Salone, in many places one could discern a certain surprisingly conceptual depth.

This may be an indication that the profound interrogation of processes, structures and products not to mention a renewed reflection upon traditions and the tried-and-tested could from time to time offer some kind of enlightenment, and if nothing else then at least good entertainment.

This year the Salone del Mobile showed its green side and allowed for a true merger of interior and exterior. Whereby, at first glance it was more the decoration than the products themselves that highlighted this phenomenon.

This year there are a lot of projects for the outdoors proposed even by non specialised companies.

10 years ago it was kitchen being remodelled and then it was the Bathroom and now it is Outdoors… there is always an area that is rooming.

Outdoor is rooming because of smoking laws in Europe,

You can’t smoke in a restaurant any more so suddenly outdoor becomes more interesting.

And people seem to want to spend more space outdoor and enjoy outdoor life.

Walking through the trade fair halls, many of the stands were cheerfully greened with plants. Large terracotta pots boasting meter-high plants usually found outdoors adorned living rooms; entire walls were made using palm trees, and hanging flower baskets decorated bedrooms and dining rooms alike.

One often only noticed the actual products on the second glance:

At first it looks like a seating group for the living room, and only after taking a closer look do you notice that the lavish pillows and wide cushions are in fact made of a weatherproof material, specifically designed for outdoor use.

The addition of a thermal coating transforms wooden chairs into garden furniture and classic interior accessories such as side tables and stools are also available in a weather-resistant version.

Nature is moving into the living space and furniture is moving outside.

Fashion Houses muscling in ( Poorly)

Milan is often talked about as the capital of fashion, however many rival cities definitely challenge this state of things.

The fashion world cannot stay away from events or partnerships that show their own ability to present home decors or design objects bearing their own signature.

Designers like Giorgio Armani, Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Moschino, Blumarine, Mila Schön, Marni, Fendi, Coveri, Tommy Hilfiger, Gherardini and Missoni are some of the brands that presented their collections.

Lapo Elkann’s Italia Independent presented a special limited edition of the Smeg fridge covered with a stain-resistant and waterproof denim.

So far, however, most of the furniture developed by fashion houses has owed more to cookie-cutter management theories on brand extension than to compelling design

The same can also be said for car manufacturers like Mercedes Benz, Aston Martin, Lamborghini who this year released furniture lines stylised like the insides of their brands. This is in contrast to manufacturers like Audi, Fiat and Mini who continue to use conceptual “design projects” to promote their cars.


The great names of the design world are obviously present at the 2012 Salone, but the emphasis has shifted from the person to the product.

Superstar designers arrive from the airport by limousine, and young hopefuls by underground.

Designers from across the globe devising products for consumers across the globe and having those products manufactured in locations across the globe; or perhaps sooner in Europe after all

What the giant manufacturers lead with at the fair pretty much depicts what we will start to see in design and home stores next year.

Though design is about improving the quality of life, it never hurts to get one’s name in lights.

These events are the best place to test the cultural climate that is currently informing wider design practices.

Set in temporary spaces and showrooms in the city, away from the main trade event, these exhibitions reveal the ideas that are informing the manufacture of the latest products.

And not just the products.

In the shows from various schools, the manufacture of the next generation of designers.

The best work on show here are normally prototypes, limited edition or one-off pieces are effectively dialogues between material objects that address our needs or desires and often a playful comment on that need.

Who knows how renowned architects and great intellectuals of our history would react in front of this liquid, hybrid, edgy, restless, fast-changing society?

Connecting the new proposals by designers and creative people with the words of very important men of our history invites us to reflect and associate emotions with the mind.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. (Albert Einstein)
Modernity is not about adopting four square-sized pieces of furniture. (Gio Ponti)
We must become the change we want to see in the world. (Mahatma Gandhi)

Nendo, Nendo., Nendo

The scale of the Milan Furniture Fair — 5.7 million square feet of exhibition space in the main fairgrounds alone — would seem to ensure that no single design studio could stand out in the crowd.

Whilst Patricia Urquiola and Phillipe Starck produced important collections for the mainstream furniture businesses, this year, the Canadian born / Tokyo-based Oki Sato seemed to be everywhere

Nendo was founded in 2002 by Oki Sato, now 34, seemed to be everywhere. He was the busiest designer of this year’s fair.

Transparency is not only making things disappear. When things disappear, you notice light and texture.

There’s minimalism and then there’s intelligent minimalism.

Dixon District

As if events taking place in the Tortona and Brera districts weren’t enough, and whilst the Lambrate area has been gaining more and more ground since 2009, this year, Tom Dixon’s MOST took over the city’s design guides, by turning the 16th century monastery – Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology into an ambitious environment for innovation and culture during Milan’s design week

Tom Dixon created a wonderful new event venue for Milan.

Most likely, fair goers would not have previously set foot in the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci, were it not for the British designer Tom Dixon.

Steam locomotives, ships, airplanes and a submarine made an impressive setting, and young designers, small labels and all sorts of other attempts at design found their place in the arcades of the interlaced inner courtyards, where they rode the wave of publicity for the week

In the Milan Museum of Science and Technology the products accrued a context, so to speak, which anchors them in industrial history, though this did not always prove advantageous for the furniture, lighting and accessories on show

The Museum, provided a rich backdrop to the work on display, with its historic cloisters now festooned with outstanding design by a range of designers and brands.

Dixon showed his own lighting and furniture at Luminosity and partnered with the German fabricating machinery giant Trumpf to produce his metal Stamp chairs (some of which were given away) on-site.

The chairs also provided seating for Spring Table, a pop-up restaurant that was overseen by Stevie Parle, the chef at Dixon’s Dock Kitchen in London, and which served dinners in the monastery’s frescoed refectory.

But when a punching machine stands at the center of the huge locomotive hall, which Tom Dixon then uses to create a chair, the product doesn’t stand alone but is bound up in the process of its own creation.

At first glance it appears really quite fascinating, the use of a state-of-the-art, automated punch to produce the basic structure of simple metal chairs following an invisible blueprint; but why has this punch been placed in the middle of a museum in front of a row of steam locomotives?

Which analogy is this supposed to invoke?

Is the fully-automated assembly intended to mark today as an end to the development of industrial processes, which began with the invention of the steam engine?

Or it really nothing more than a desire to present the work in a “dramatic setting”, as purported in the project description?

Whether the technology museum has the potential to move beyond the initial hoo-ha and become an attraction within the Milanese spectacle in the long term will probably depend a great deal on future exhibition concepts.

But they have certainly produced sufficient proof that there is still a plethora of interesting locations that remain to be discovered by the trade fair’s visitors.

And, to keep guests going, there is free gelato from the Carpigiani Gelato University (plus lessons on traditional gelato making!)

Overall, MOST was very impressive – a truly experiential project.

Design goes Digital

All over Milan, this tension between mass production and self-production, between handicraft and digicraft, was to the fore.

Grimly accurate as “Salone del Marketing” sounds, the latest incarnation of the Milan fair might also be called the “Salone della Machina,” because so many of the bona fide fringe shows will be focused on new manufacturing technologies, 3-D printing in particular.

Design is going through a digital revolution with new materials and shapes created at the touch of a button.

This is a digital industrial revolution

Milan revolves around the luxury industry, and the furniture fair is part of it.

This year, however, there was an alternative group of designers subverting the traditional logic of the event.

These were the geeks and hackers challenging the very notions of luxury craftsmanship and mass-produced furniture – and stealing the limelight from a thousand glitzy chair launches.

They collectively presented an alternative trajectory for Italian design

For years now, 3D printers have been heralded as a manufacturing revolution, but now that you can buy one for the price of a good laptop, they’re finally becoming accessible to enthusiasts and not just professional designers.

Digital systems, like 3-D printing, have been hailed as the future of manufacturing

These DIY methods disrupt the traditional triangular relationship between the designer, the manufacture and the consumer – because now you can be all three. The cover story of this week’s Economist calls it “the third industrial revolution”.

By making individual objects at extraordinary speed and with great precision, 3-D printing enables them to be personalized for each user. It also saves money and scores eco-points by leaving less surplus material and unsold stock than conventional production processes.

British designer Tom Dixon, made chairs and lamps on a live digital production line and then to give them away for free as part of a cluster of events he organized at the Museum of Science and Technology (MOST)

Such machines can be programmed by teams of designers/developers working simultaneously in different countries. The resulting products can then be made anywhere, saving on transport costs and energy use.

While the machinery itself was engrossing, the process itself was arms length – a state of the art version of the Ford production line.

Upstairs at MOST, Assa Ashuach was exhibiting his “co-desgn” Digital Forming software, which lets the consumer customise designs with the click of a mouse. He allowed the visitor to adjust and customise existing designs to create their own version of, say, a lampshade or a pen, and then have it digitally manufactured and delivered to their home.

A stone’s throw from the Duomo, some of them were gathered at the Palazzo Clerici in a show called The Future in the Making, curated by the Italian design magazine Domus.

In a show all about alternative means of production, here was Dutch designer Dirk Vander Kooij’s Endless Robot, which prints out chairs made of recycled fridge plastic.

There was also a series of furniture collected under the title AutoProggetazione 2.0, a homage to Enzo Mari’s 1974 project, where he gave away the designs for a series of DIY furniture pieces that people could knock together with planks and nails – except these new ones, of course, are the digital, open-source equivalent, made with computerised cutting machines.

Internet-based “shared design” was the big buzz.

Designers share their ideas by making them universally available via the internet (open-sourcing) where they can be used, improved or modified by other designers. Anyone can then download the plans for free, often including computerised templates that allow the item to be made locally using digital laser cutters, CNC routers or 3D printers.

It’s the new digital DIY.

In the frescoed banqueting hall was a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, a cheap 3D printer squirting out digital canapes made of Nutella and chocolate

At Milan’s La Rinascente department store a series of performances called Hacked: 100 Hours or Rebellious Imagination, a succession of designers and artists were involved in madcap games and alternative production methods.

There were workshops on building an open-source house and on how to build your own particle accelerator.

There was even a grudge match between designer Dominic Wilcox and a 3D printer to see which could build a better model of the Duomo – Wilcox’s wonky clay thing triumphed in the battle of Man vs Machine

It was good fun, though if these performances counted as “hacking” it goes to show how ultra mainstream the strategy has become

The Economist magazine recently predicted that 3-D printing would prove to be as transformative as the invention of the steam engine and the transistor. So far, these technologies have been used experimentally, but they could prove tempting to the big European furniture makers that dominate the Milan fair at a time when they are eager to reinvent their business model after several bruising years of recession

Seeing these designers huddled around their laptops in an opulent baroque setting, it seemed entirely plausible that the geeks shall inherit the earth.

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Milan this year was more about ideas than products

On top of these technological developments there are new business models emerging, most notably the crowd-funding site for creative projects “Kickstarter” , also featured at the Domus exhibition.

Kickstarter facilitates gathering monetary resources from the general public, a model which circumvents many traditional avenues of investment.

People must apply to Kickstarter in order to have a project posted on the site, and Kickstarter provides guidelines on what types of projects will be accepted. Project owners choose a deadline and a target minimum of funds to raise. If the chosen target is not gathered by the deadline, no funds are collected. Kickstarter takes 5% of the funds raised

Kickstarter claims no ownership over the projects and the work they produce. However, projects launched on the site are permanently archived and accessible to the public. After funding is completed, projects and uploaded media cannot be edited or removed from the site.

There is no guarantee that people that post projects on Kickstarter will deliver on their projects, use the money to implement their projects, or that the completed projects will meet backers expectations.


Food was a popular medium for commentary.

In Lambrate, Rui Pereira and Ryosuke Fukusada baked tiny cakes shaped like chairs, lamps and vases to protest the hyperabundance of new furniture and the inability of consumers to “digest” it.

And in the Tortona district, Marleen Jansen presented her Seesaw Table, which requires two diners to sit down to meals and depart from the table at precisely the same time — or else risk sending one of the pair flying. “It’s a courtesy table,” Ms. Jansen said. “I want to manipulate behavior, and it’s rude to leave the table while eating.”

Acts of aesthetic indulgence seemed to compensate for the fact that Southern Europe’s economy was in tatters.

Several onlookers suggested that Italy’s recent austerity measures had whetted the appetite for comfort.

Others attributed bigger furniture to an obesity epidemic.

Street Fashion during Milan Design Week

Milan Design Festival – Party Week

Milan Design Week is slowly turning into a huge festival, which hails design and offers plenty of parties during night time.

Nothing wrong that design is turning social – for us Milan has for a long time been more about meetings and experiences than products anyway.

What the World Really Needs …….

And so the Festival of Furniture, Marketing and Machines ends …………….

Until next year …. “Arrivederci Milano

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