Milan furniture fair shrugs off recession

Philippe Starck strode up to the pedestal where the designer’s new outdoor chairs and sofa were perched like art. He ran his fingers over the soft curves of the silky polypropylene, and as cameras flashed and onlookers nudged closer to hear his verdict on the display, Starck didn’t say much of anything. Instead, he peered into an armrest, where gloomy black suddenly gave way to bright orange, and he smiled.

A light at the end of the tunnel.

Hope is the prevailing sentiment here at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, better known as the Milan furniture fair, where the world’s greats in home décor gathered this week to premiere their 2010 collections. After two bruising years, the industry has announced it’s quite ready to be done with this recession thing, if you please. Having slowed production and slashed the number of recent product releases in response to withering consumer demand, many manufacturers are ramping back up. Upscale British manufacturer Established & Sons, which had just 16 new releases in 2009, heralded more than 30 pieces for this year.

Perhaps more important, the optimism showed not just in business plans but also in designers’ work, often defined by levity in aesthetics and in spirit. Cheery colors often complemented hints of humor. Vitra urged the international press to test Chairless, an apparatus that felt more like bondage than seating (but I’m just guessing). 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.


Lightheartedness reigned at several launch parties and installations staged at showrooms around Milan. At Moooi’s showroom in the Tortona district, the Dutch design collection showed Bertjan Pot’s revolving chandelier, which uses heat rising from light bulbs to make the shade spin like a pinwheel — lamp, sculpture and plaything, all in one. For a Swarovski installation at La Triennale di Milano museum, Konstantin Grcic created beaded wallpaper whose tiny crystals reflected light like dozens of flashbulbs. Now a simple walk down the hallway at home can make you feel like a paparazzi-stalked celeb.

Attendance figures won’t be compiled until after the fair closes on Monday, but estimates range from 300,000 to 350,000, more than the crowds for Milan’s famed fashion week. The masses, including a few people of a certain age toodling around on children’s scooters, will see about 2,550 exhibitors across more than 2.2 million square feet of convention halls, the equivalent of 39 football fields. If all those tired feet don’t yet feel the inklings of an economic and psychological rebound, one need only visit the Satellite Salone, an area designated for emerging and student designers. There they will find New Zealander Tim Wigmore’s Pil lamps, carved beech and hand-blown glass shaped in the form of supersized pharmaceuticals. Time to get happy.