Seating: A Warming Trend: Product Report from Milan 2011

This April, while thousands of visitors flocked to Rho Fiera, the sprawling fairgrounds on the outskirts of Milan, Salone Internazionale del Mobile discreetly turned 50. iSaloni, a must-see event for furniture industry insiders, architects, designers, as well as the retail trade was brimming with news. The first fair, held in 1961, was the brainchild of a group of 328 furniture manufacturers (now called FederlegnoArredo) who banded together to exhibit their wares. Over time, dozens of international companies joined their ranks. This year the exhibitor number swelled to more than 2,700 exhibitors from around the globe with 321,320 visitors wandering the aisles. International starchitects Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, and Jean Nouvel were represented with products at the fair; and a two-day conference called Mutant Architecture & Design was hosted by the University of Milan.

While many Italian manufacturers were looking forward, producing cutting-edge furniture with technical expertise, many others took the 50th anniversary as an opportunity to look back into their archives. Zanotta featured its Marcaone Table, designed by Alessandro Mendini from 1985, while Cassina reissued the Veliero bookcase by design legend Franco Albini from 1939. Other brands reviving the past included Kartell with Joe Columbo and Classicon with Eileen Gray.

Chairs were plentiful, both at the fair and scattered around Milan, as many manufacturers were out to make their mark. American designer Jonathan Olivares—who recently published the book “A Taxonomy of Office Chairs” (Phaidon, 2011)—sits in a classic model, the Pollack Executive from 1965. When queried about its timeliness, he remarks, “It’s the most elegant office chair for the digital age.” Meanwhile, Olivares’ favorite of the show was by former boss, German designer Konstantin Grcic, whose new upholstered Avus chair for Plank was “very elegant, very comfortable, very innovative in its production technique,” Olivares explained. “It utilizes a vacuum forming technology used in car interiors and some hard-shell suitcases. I’ve never seen it used in furniture before.”

Across town, Etoile Nasrallah, national contract manager for Australian retail showroom Space Furniture, was partial to Scarlet, a wood lacquered stackable chair by Italian manufacturer Accademia. He claims it was “the best of the bunch” and ideal for restaurants and hotels alike.

Perhaps global warming is having an impact, as outdoor living definitely was a theme, and brands including Dedon, Driade, Gervasoni, and Emu all had dozens of new outdoor products on display. Veteran retailer Nasir Kassamali from Luminaire (with showrooms in Chicago, Miami, and Coral Gables) was spotted perusing the goods at Rosanna Orlandi’s hip design emporium. When pressed about his favorite item of the show, he quips, “Those who see color, rather than form, suffer.” He continues, “Very few see the form first.” Kassamali’s favorite of the week was Paola Lenti’s sleek outdoor furniture collection, which was shown at a restored convent near the center of town and coincidentally was offered in a range of tutti-fruiti colors. Also included was a series of structured “Cabannes” that would look right at home on the beach or on the roof of a spa.

Other themes included pods and nesting in cozy sofas and high-back chairs, a trend that emerged in 2010. Color palettes were bright, and upholstery ran the gamut from faux leather and high-performance textiles to felts and wool. Euroluce, the biennial expo devoted to light, was also in full swing. By the look of it, LED is no longer a novelty but here to stay. Barry Richards, principal at the Rockwell Group, was stopped in his tracks by lights made out of dandelions. In this collection, called Fragile Future II by Dutch manufacturer Drift, the flowers were dried and glued individually onto LEDs. Richards admits the lights are not so specable, but says that seeing them was “an inspiring moment.” He also was taken with new rugs that are over dyed and then distressed. “There’s something we could use in a minute,” he says. “As a trend, I was hooked.”   

--By Melissa Feldman

Milan 2011 Product Report
Chairs were plentiful, both at the fair and scattered around Milan, as many manufacturers were out to make their mark.
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