Designers get playful at Milan furniture fair

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At the 2010 Salone Internazionale del Mobile, better known as the Milan furniture fair, optimism is the prevailing sentiment. Many designers’ work was downright playful, expressing levity in looks or in spirit.

The Campana Brothers, Humberto and Fernando, called their new storage unit Cabana, but it looked more Wild Thing than beach hut. Anyone who got beyond the wigged facade found the unit filled with ideas: a shape that was round instead of boxy, and a fireproofed raffia cover that provided more angles of access than a conventional door. (Those lights also pictured above, each made of 180 pieces of laser-cut aluminum, are called Campana; like the storage units, they were designed for manufacturer Edra.)

Vitra urged the international press to test Chairless, an apparatus that felt more like bondage than seating. (But I’m just guessing!) The concept: Provide a comfortable way to sit on the floor while keeping hands free. No propping up the upper body to keep from falling over, no hugging your bended legs to prevent overstretched hamstrings.

Instead, a strip of fabric slips over your head and around your waist and shins. That’s it. Skeptical crowds filed into a testing room painted hot pink, donned Chairless and laughed at an idea so simple, it was silly.


The funny thing: The concept actually worked.

Show-goers also seemed delighted by the theatricality of designer Fabio Novembre’s giant masks-as-chairs. Called Nemo, the indoor-outdoor seating was meant to function practically and metaphorically, each occupant taking shelter behind an emotionless facade.

Keep reading to see photos of Nemo as well as premieres from Moroso, Magis and a showcase for emerging designers....

Above: Driade’s indoor-outdoor Nemo chairs, designed by Fabio Novembre.

Fans of designer Patricia Urquiola still giggled at her 2009 Soft Wood sofa, upholstered in fabric patterned like wood grain, above right.

This year at the Milan show, the sofa was paired with a new chair, above left. Designed by the Swedish design group Front, the new seating practically bubbled with effervescence.

Beads of different sizes had been strung together and draped over a scoop chair. The little orbs were actually birch, which explains the tongue-in-cheek name: Wood chair.

More than a few passers-by also seemed tickled at the idea of such high design echoing pedestrian car seat covers. (Haters, just remember: Don’t blame the messenger.)

Yes, the Wood chair is comfortable, manufacturer Moroso promised, but show-goers wouldn’t know it.

A red sign on it admonished, “Do not sit.”

Above: Italian manufacturer Magis showed designer Thomas Heatherwick’s Spun, which looked like a Claes Oldenburg sculpture of a giant spinning top. It worked like one too: Sit, lean back, twirl like a toy.

During the run of the fair, which opened Wednesday and will close Monday, related events include an exhibition by emerging artists staged in the Tortona design district. There, Studio Ivanka and artist Janos Hubler showed their Applied Literature table. The idea: The owner’s library of books will make each desk unique. (There also was talk about a metaphor for concrete history, but let’s not go there, shall we?)
Exclude events around town and focus on just the fair proper, and you’re talking about 2,550 exhibitors across more than 2.2 million square feet of convention halls. That’s the equivalent of 39 football fields. Needless to say, more reports are coming in the days ahead.

-- Craig Nakano

Photo credits: All are by Franco Forci / For the Los Angeles Times, with the exception of the Applied Literature table, which is from Studio Ivanka.

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