The Platner Collection, by William Platner for Knoll International, in a Gold version.
The 2016 edition of the Salone del Mobile in Milan has been the most crowded ever – recording more than 372,000 visitors – confirming its mission to be the most important resource in the world when it comes to trends in furniture design.
Among the pavilions of Rho-Fieramilano and FuoriSalone events, we could enumerate more than 3,000 exhibitors, including companies in the furniture industry, bathroom furniture, kitchen furniture, appliances, designers and large consumer brands, complemented by a huge number of exhibits and events outside the fair – nowadays impossible to manage, as it would require more than a week just to visit them. Even more difficult to understand, in this abundance of products, are what the industry-specific, but not only, emerging trends are – but we have tried to identify some, delimiting the area of expertise to furniture, and more specifically to furnishing for the home.
LUXURY AND DESIGN
A well-established trend (and rising) is the “luxury” furniture. In the world, luxury furnishings, which by convention also includes the segment “high-end design,” accounts for about 3% of the total of the global luxury goods market. Thus we speak of a value of 32 billion euros, representing approximately a 7.5% share of the total consumption of furniture in the world.
The Salone del Mobile in Milan, recognizing that it is an established trend on the rise, for the first time prepared an area entirely dedicated to this market segment, the hall 3, with an evocative name to define it: xLux. However, it is not easy to draw a dividing line so clear between what is “luxury” and what instead is “high-end design.” In contrast, a large proportion of Italian companies identified in the “design” segment, puts its own production in the higher market segments, and companies active in the “luxury” segment began working with renowned designers, making the borders more and more indefinible.
You can try to establish a difference between companies with a century of history and brick-and-mortar production facilities, which have created their own brand working on an image supported by the craftsmanship that still distinguishes the production, and the fashion brands that created a line of furnishing as a further element to complement a renowned griffe; a difference that today, especially in China, it is beginning to be appreciated (and understood) by a wider audience. In more recent times, in fact, it is the small-scale, handcrafted production, the one which shows the greatest success in the emerging markets. But the boundaries are very blurred, and so the trends that emerge are more and more mixed.
Metal, for example, either as solid material or as a finish, is very much present in the collections presented at the Salone 2016.
Brass, gold, antique gold, bronze, brushed bronze dominated every company’s xLux pavilions, even for the best-known companies which are (or were) renowned for their minimalism, as MDF Italy, or for their research on the design, such as Moroso. Oasis, with the art direction by Massimiliano Raggi, and Promemoria, born from the love for the detail of Romeo Sozzi, have focused on fine woods and metals such as gold, antique gold, bronze furnishings which look increasingly like “sculptures”, with handcrafted, impressive details. Bronzed metals and Prussian blue velvet are the distinguishing marks of the collection Fendi Casa, which also uses steel and leather for pieces designed by Toan Nguyen for the Contemporary Fendi collection.
CONTEMPORARY LUXURY – THE GOTHAM STYLE
The novelty of the Salone del Mobile 2016, however, resides in the new trend of the reintroduction of the precious metals in the collections of the companies which operate in the contemporary design segment. MDF Italy has employed a brass plate with a brushed finish with a transparent acrylic cover that entirely covers all surfaces, including the legs, for the Link table, designed by Piergiorgio Cazzaniga. Legs and brass profiles are also found in chairs designed by Nika Zupanc for Sé collection, and a polished brass version was also presented by Moroso for the Double Zero chair, designed by David Adjaye (and launched in 2015).
Knoll International, one of the oldest American companies in furnishing design, which has created some of the most famous products of furniture history, most recently has indulged in a “Dark Knight” mood, producing “luxury” versions of two of its true icons: the Diamond Chair designed by Harry Bertoia, and the Platner Collection, edited in a flamboyant Gold version.
In directing their attention to Asian markets, many companies are beginning to collaborate with designers from those areas, both to get products more related to the taste of the local public, both to expand the possibilities that their products are conveyed in those places through local “stars”, so extending their recognizability.
This is the case for example of Gebruder Thonet Vienna, working with Nathan Yong, designer and entrepreneur in Singapore, who this year presented a contemporary interpretation of the valet stand, using the Vienna wood and straw construction: the traditional materials of Gebruder Thonet Vienna.
Also very interesting is the initiative of Chi Wing Lo, a Cantonese designer who produces an extremely refined design collection in Italy, working with the Maroni company of Cabiate. Products of contemporary design, enriched by precious materials and extreme attention to detail, to meet the requirements of customers with a major spending power, in the West but especially in the East, considering that the company has created showrooms mainly in China, and Indonesia.
Driade has not made use of Eastern designers collaboration, but still added to his production a piece with a distinctly Asian taste: is the Mingx collection, designed by Konstantin Grcic, a remake of the classic rosewood Chinese chair, but colorful and in metal. Another exception is worth reserving for Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, from the Neri & Hu studio in Shanghai.
World-renowned architects, now recognized among the 100 most influential architects in the world, in recent years they are working with many Italian and European companies, like Lema and Moooi, Gandia Blasco and Classicon, to name a few. Their skill in blending Eastern and Western cultures, both in the architecture and design, has allowed them to design poetic spaces and products that fit easily in international, cosmopolitan circles.
Among their various activities, one is of particular interest for the sector. Since 2008, Neri & Hu follow the art direction of Stellar Works, a company with registered offices in Hong Kong and factories in Shanghai. Born to provide custom furniture for “luxury” hospitality, Stellar Works has quickly established itself as an international brand, collaborating with renowned designers from all over the world, from the Canadians with offices in New York, Yabu Pushelberg, to the American David Rockwell, the Italian Carlo Forcolini, to emerging British, Danish, Australian designers. Its products are placed in the high-design segment of the range, and are characterized by extreme attention to detail, combining materials like wood with oil and wax finishes, leathers and bronzed metals. An interesting example of how the business model of this niche tends to uniformate: when it comes to very high quality, the size of the companies do reduce, becoming like a two-point-zero evolution of the artisans.
THE TOUCH OF NATURE – EXOTIC WOOD
Another exception is reserved for wood, especially when exotic or inspired by the mood of the mid-last century. Rediscovered in recent years, the Brazilian design today is definitely in vogue, both vintage and in original re-edited version. Like Lin Brasil, for example, the only Brazilian company licensee of the design by Sergio Rodrigues, who designed furniture for over 50 years. Among the Italian companies, however, Molteni & C. has chosen to re-edit certain parts of its archives, including a library of 1959, MHC 2, of Yasuhiko Itoh, in curved wood with a core of iroko and poplar veneer teak. Get back to basics with limited edition products, to highlight the exclusivity of its collections.