In Milan, high style trumps a down economy

GIVEN the demands of the global recession, one might expect inspiration and innovation to be in short supply at the world's most important home furnishings show, which closed here Monday. Yet the 2009 Salone Internazionale del Mobile, where top designers showcased their latest looks, offered proof that lean times can inspire fresh thinking.

More than 2,700 manufacturers launched collections to more than 300,000 showgoers at the Milan Fairgrounds and at independent exhibitions all over the city, including the trendy Tortona neighborhood. Though some pieces -- clearly in development before the recession -- seemed indulgently luxurious, many were in step with the times, aiming to be sensible and sustainable despite the downturn.

"It forces you to become more thoughtful and creative, to make things that will have lasting value," Spanish designer Jaime Hayon said.

Added Italian designer Paola Navone, the artistic director of Gervasoni, "This is not the time for ostentatious things, which I hate."

The recent wave of neo-Rococo furniture is ebbing as designers embrace lean, clean shapes in natural wood, colored felt and quilted fabric that took cues from minimalist Italian design and Scandinavian modern. Plastic was huge (see Page E6) and so was lighting (Page E8).

Butterfly chairs flew back indoors, as did lightweight leather sling chairs. Deer and birds went back into the woods, replaced as decorative motifs by rabbits and robots, of all things. Turquoise, a color that Navone called happy and optimistic, was everywhere. For accent pieces, yellow and purple reigned.

Some of the Milan showstoppers are presented here, and more than two dozen other designs can be found in expanded color photo galleries online. Look for our picks for best in show -- and worst in show -- at