A 3-D printed house that left a chalky taste in the back of your throat. Adorable animals transformed as if by a wizard’s wand into lamps and tableware. Chairs and sofas as chubby and pale as marshmallows.
These were some of the irresistible objects on display at last month’s International Furniture Fair in Milan, the world’s pre-eminent showcase of contemporary design. People visit “to have a vision of the future,” said Claudio Luti, the fair’s president. Here are 12 things that revealed where design is now and where it may be heading.
1. Breaking Up With Plastic
As the so-called sea of plastic grows not just in the ocean but in consumers’ minds, some plastic objects are being reinvented in wood. Kartell, the Italian plastic furniture company, unveiled a seating prototype called Woody, which rendered familiar Philippe Starck-designed silhouettes in thin shells of ash and striped rosewood. But the company has not completely repudiated its heritage — the chairs legs are still plastic.
2. The ‘80s, Now and Forever
Will the decade of big hair and tiny portions ever go away? Standing out among the ‘80s retreads was Four Wheels, a coffee table designed by William Sawaya of Milan that paid affectionate tribute to Gae Aulenti’s 1980 classic: a low slab of glass on four functioning wheels. Sawaya created a cheeky update from a folded sheet of brushed steel with round, flat feet going nowhere. The piece is part of his continued experiments in what he calls “soft origami.” Available in August, with enameled or plain “wheels”; $3,800 to $4,200.
3. The ‘80s (Part 2)
Ferruccio Laviani, the youngest member of Italy’s Memphis Group, never abandoned the gleeful decorative style of the decade. Now he’s smack in the mainstream, an original delightfully bobbing among revivalists. His Dolly cabinet for Emmemobili is trimmed in stained oak and studded with brass to evoke saddles, leather jackets or maybe even the trunk your father took to college. About $21,700.
4. A Dodo Here, a Leopard There
“We have to make things that will not be thrown away, that people love,” said Marcel Wanders, a founder of Moooi, a Dutch design company. Exhibit A is Moooi and Arte’s Extinct Animals wallpaper collection, inspired by 10 bygone creatures like the calligraphy bird and the blushing sloth. The 11th paper, the Menagerie of Extinct Animals, is digitally printed with the whole departed zoo. Available in October.
5. Frankenstein Chair
Design companies are resurrecting pieces from their morgue. Cassina, for instance, is reissuing Taliesin 1, an angular chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1949 for Taliesin West, the architect’s winter home and school in Scottsdale, Arizona. Produced between 1986 and 1990 without much success, the chair returns in a slightly modified version approved by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The chairs are available in cherry or oak veneer from $4,100; a limited edition upholstered in hide, is $5,500.
6. Furniture Mythmaker
Ini Archibong, a Nigerian-American designer living in Switzerland, introduced his Below the Heavens collection for the British company Sé. The Circe lounge chair, shown with the designer at Rossana Orlandi’s gallery, exemplifies the fat white pillowy seating found throughout the fair (from $4,094). His oblong ceramic Eos table, with an asymmetrical galvanized steel tray top, has the jolly silhouette of a penguin (from $5,248). And his Gaea pendant lamp is pure jewelry (from $13,878).
5. Clinking Not Recommended
La DoubleJ, the fashion and housewares brand of J.J. Martin, introduced a fanciful tableware collection called Housewives. The Tippetto glass goblets are based on vintage designs and handmade by Salviati glassmakers in Murano, Italy. The elaborate shapes and jewel colors are typical for the pattern-happy Martin: Zig Zag, Sun, Ring Pendant, Turquoise, Dragon and Rose. Available May 28; $4,900 each.
8. ‘Nude Ceramics’
NLXL, a Dutch company that produces trompe l’oeil wallpaper, heeded a call for more neutrality with a subdued collection called Monochrome. For the Hexa Ceramics wall covering, Studio Roderick Vos in the Netherlands molded, fired and photographed three-dimensional unglazed stoneware, giving the illusion of tile. “We call it ‘nude ceramics,'” Vos said. Starts at $299 for 47 square feet.
9. Scandinavian Cozy
Now that hygge is a global aspiration, a Danish brand called Warm Nordic is here to help. It is reissuing the Bloom table lamp, a 1950s classic by Svend Aage Holm-Sorensen, with a swan-neck stem and a bonnet-like shade. It will be available in the United States by fall for $719.
10. Add Rubber Ducky
What’s sleek, round and the color of a strawberry? Would you believe a bathtub? Also a sink and a mirror? India Mahdavi based her bathroom fixtures on approachable curves and edible hues. The Mahdavi Bath Collection also comes in blueberry and pistachio. “Design needs to lift our spirits in the very difficult world we’re living in,” said Rossella Bisazza, the director of communications at Bisazza, the Italian tile company that is manufacturing the line. From $1,225 at bisazza.it.
11. Is it a Sofa or Table?
“What if a carpet becomes three-dimensional and blurs the line of seating, dining, walls, decoration and floor covering?” That was the question posed by Lyndon Neri, of the design duo, Neri & Hu, who created a modular seating concept called Lan, including a sofa with a vertical textile-draped frame reminiscent of a weaving loom. Available in September through Gan, a Spanish textile brand.
12. Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Thread
For her new textile collection, Bethan Laura Wood, above, toured the New Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City (“this great brutalist spaceship,” she called it) and studied the play of light through the stained glass windows. The Mono Mania Mexico collection, created by Limonta for Italian design company Moroso, also embraces the polychromatic splendor of Otomi embroidery from the south of Mexico. Prices vary.