Salone del Mobile limped to a close last week, with lots of shade being thrown at exhibitors by big-name critics who say it's "changed". Yep, the glitziest, most-hyped design week of the year -- informally nicknamed Salone del Marketing -- has definitely changed. Chalk it up to the protracted recession most of Europe is slogging through: $160,000 tables just don't interest people (even rich people!) like they used to.
That might not be such a bad thing. As the New York Times reported today, the lethargic high-end market means that little guys, like students and young firms, are getting a chance to show (even if they have to sleep in tents to do it). Meanwhile, big brands are tempering their exhibitions with more thoughtful work.
Ten of the most interesting finds from Milan follow, a healthy mix of the old guard and the new.
Zabuton is actually a Japanese word for the cushions used to sit on the floor. Nendo (aka Japanese designer Oki Sato) hybridised Eastern and Western seating systems with these chairs, starting with a steel framework and draping zabuton over the edges like an armchair futon.
These faceted surfaces are made by compressing triangles of wood with several layers of fabric, creating a hybrid system that could work as a heavy-duty rug or even a curtain.
Starck is a perennial big name at design fairs, but it's been a few since he introduced anything really remarkable. Each piece in this collection (named after his extended family -- or anyone's, really) is made from a single-form mould, using a new type of rigid plastic. The sofa is over six feet long and only an inch or two thick; structurally, it's pretty wild stuff.
The idea of plastering your walls in color-shifting wallpaper is inherently silly, but the technology at work in Ron Arad's color-shifting wall system is actually pretty cool. The colour is generated by a small pulse of electricity sent through a thin film of fluid held between two panels -- which means that it requires almost no energy to operate.
These modular rugs build on Patricia Urquiola's longtime fascination with knitting. At this scale, they look like they were patched together from a giant's old sweaters.
OMA's first big foray into furniture is all kinetic; the chairs and tables rise at the touch of a big red button. This hybrid seating system is pretty much unusable -- but Rem gets points for daring anyone to spend money on it.
Afrofuture curated by Beatrice Galilee
This little exhibition generated an outsized amount of conversation, bringing together artists and makers from African countries to speak about topics ranging from Ghana's fantasy coffin culture (think fish, hammers, and PT cruisers) to Zambia's ill-fated Mars exploration program.
We tend to associate Grcic with the super-expensive plastic chair trend that reigned in the late 2000s, but Traffic is delightfully simple and super tactile: A simple steel frame fitted with knobbly fabric cushions. [Via Design Boom]
David Collins for Promemoria
There was also room for good old-fashioned glitz, like these gold-lined table lamps from Promemoria, designed by the Irish architect David Collins. [Via Wallpaper]
12,000 translucent orbs (read: ping pong balls) hang over a pond in this installation, which reacts to the movements of visitors using a 3-D tracking system akin to Kinect. Each ball becomes a pixel in the installation, activated by light cast from nearby projectors.
Top picture: Woodskin by MammaFotogramma