Salone Selects: The Design Brands You Need to Know

MIL

Design

April 26, 2023

Salone Selects: The Design Brands You Need to Know

Eight exhibitors from Milan’s annual design conference provide a cross section of what’s trending now, and what might be just around the corner.

Words by Ian Volner

Photos courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano

With annual attendance at the spring design extravaganza topping out around 400,000 people, Milan’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile is one of the five largest trade fairs in the world. It’s not for the faint of heart: Every night, hordes of intrepid creatives descend on Bar Basso for the famous negroni sbagliato, then wake up first thing in the morning for an espresso-fueled whirlwind of showroom debuts, high-powered meetings and brand-sponsored panel conversations. 

The weeklong event — taking place both in the historic city center and at the sprawling fairgrounds in suburban Rho — brings together established as well as emerging global talent to showcase the latest developments in furniture, lighting, fixtures, fabrics and more, offering industry figures and the public a brief glimpse into what the future of the built environment might hold. So what was the view from Milan like this year?

Credit: Salone del Mobile.Milano

Bocci/Showroom

Vancouver-based lighting brand Bocci has been on the scene since 2005, making multiple appearances at the main fair; this year, however, it was in the city proper, at a new year-round showroom featuring its elaborate lamps and pendants in a lush domestic setting. Alongside debut pieces like the exquisite handcrafted 118 Series chandelier, the space (created by collaborator Byron Amanatidis) proves the company’s penchant for innovation with an astonishing electrical system, a bit like a wireless smartphone charger embedded in the ceiling, allowing the lights to be inserted at any point without the use of plugs or ducts. According to brand co-founder Omer Arbel, the whole space represents an extension of the company’s craftsman-like approach. “It’s about bringing our work in lighting to the scale of architecture,” he says. 

Bocci/Showroom

Bocci/Showroom

Poltrona Frau/Bay

The name Norman Foster has been synonymous with architectural innovation for decades. But his firm’s industrial-design wing is no less adventurous: Witness the new Bay Gate and Bay Lounge series, produced in partnership with legacy seating brand Poltrona Frau. Perfect for airports and train stations, the modular system allows for built-in chargers and adjustable seat backs; more importantly, the Bay Gate is made of recyclable materials like nylon, an abundant deadstock resource with the durability to stand up to heavy use by flocks of weary travelers. Its sheltering, curved configuration also allows sitters to get a little distance from one another — a valuable feature in the wake of Covid. “It evolved from us analyzing people in spaces,” says Mike Holland, senior partner and head of industrial design for Foster + Partners. “Typical waiting-room seating is all about high density. We wanted to create something more flexible.”

Poltrona Frau/BAY

Poltrona Frau/BAY

Andreu World/Luba

Few figures occupy more real estate on the global design scene than Philippe Starck. Now in his mid-70s, the French demiurge is still hard at work, and he was on the town in Milan at the opening of a new showroom for Spanish brand Andreu World. On display was one of Starck’s latest creations: the Luba armchair, a simple composition of leather, wood and metal, rather reserved by the designer’s whimsical standards but with its own remarkably novel backstory. Made entirely without nails, screws or glue, the piece uses age-old joinery techniques to advance a very contemporary sustainability agenda, proving that even the famously insouciant Starck can be earnest about saving the earth.

Andreu World/Luba

Andreu World/Luba

Aioi/Pulp Mold

Back at Rho, SaloneSatellite provides younger designers with a chance to strut their stuff on the international stage. One of the highlights this year came from Japan, where 35-year-old Yugo Fukasawa filled the stall for his Aioi brand with custom furniture made from some very familiar castoff materials — old newsprint, photocopy paper and other pulpy products, kept largely intact and then combined into a surprisingly sturdy and attractive sofa, side tables and decorative birdlike wall fixtures. “The tables are egg cartons,” he notes, their stacked-crate construction allowing them to double as bookcases. As green as design gets, the pieces also echo classics of the past, like Frank Gehry’s famous Wiggle seating.

Aioi/Pulp Mold

Aioi/Pulp Mold

Lindsey Adelman/Soft Opening

Another major spot for up-and-comers in Milan is Alcova, which this year took over a decrepit former slaughterhouse and turned it into a warren of surprises and innovation from more than 100 independent makers. For sheer visual daring, few of them rivaled New York–based Lindsey Adelman: Her installation, Soft Opening, highlights a new approach from the prolific lighting designer, with handcrafted fixtures fitted almost at random to enormous chandeliers, making each one a unique, unpredictable creation.

Lindsey Adelman Studio/Soft Opening

Lindsey Adelman Studio/Soft Opening

Devon Turnbull/Listening Room

“People just seem to seek me out,” says Devon Turnbull, barely audible over the thrumming sounds of a vinyl jazz record — and if you’ve been to a high-end bar or fashion boutique recently in New York, you know what kind of people have been finding him. The very-in-demand acoustical technician and “speaker sculptor” was invited to Milan for an off-site exhibition organized by local design mag Capsule, and he brought with him a custom-made amplifier that does what his inventions do best: fill a room with amazing sound while providing first-rate eye candy. At the heart of Turnbull’s sonic wizardry is a surprisingly retro piece of tech: His machines rely on old-fashioned vacuum tubes, a few of which were on display at the Capsule installation.

Devon Turnbull/Listening Room

Devon Turnbull/Listening Room

Modo Luce/Basilica

This year’s Salone included the biennial Euroluce section, a fair-within-the-fair focused on lighting design. With the global office market in need of a post-pandemic reset — and with the need to reduce energy consumption on everyone’s minds — brands seemed to be looking for lighting solutions that could give eco-friendly LEDs a softer, more domestic feel. Working with Italian manufacturer Modo Luce, the designer duo of Baldessari e Baldessari responded with Basilica, an overhead lamp featuring ultra-efficient dual-emission tubes, sheathed in fabric-clad wings that make it an equally suitable complement to a cubicle or a dining room.

Modo Luce/Basilica

Modo Luce/Basilica

Wittmann/Figure

Sometimes the best design is just what works. Viennese brand Wittmann teamed up with the multinational design gurus at Nichetto Studio to produce Figure, a new sofa that seems to sprout from tapering, mushroom-shaped supports into a beguiling composition of big lobelike cushions, armrests and seat backs. A little bit futuristic-glam, a little bit classic-chic, the design also happens to be remarkably comfortable — a welcome respite at a “chair fair” where, all too often, there’s no place to relax.

Wittmann/Figure

Wittmann/Figure

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