At Milan Design Week, post-pandemic home design trends reflect a need for more fluidity and nature

Written by Marianna Cerini, CNN

After a year off due to the pandemic and a scaled-down iteration in September 2021, Milan’s Salone del Mobile — the international design fair that’s been held annually since 1961 — was back in full force last week. Beyond the trade show itself, which was packed with household names in the world of interiors, the Fuorisalone saw young creatives and smaller brands take over galleries, abandoned spaces and art hubs across the city with shows and installations, proposing new ideas for what our homes of tomorrow might look like.

From sustainability to boundary-pushing designs and an emphasis on craft, here are some of the highlights and takeaways from the event.

Bringing the outdoors indoors

Perhaps in response to the time spent indoors over the past two years, nature and organic materials underpinned many of Milan Design Week’s most interesting works. In the Brera district, Brooklyn-based Calico Wallpaper collaborated with international interior design studio AB Concept to showcase a Japanese Alps-inspired wallpaper in collaboration with interior design studio AB Concept that aimed to recreate an immersive forest experience, while in the 5 Vie area Berlin-based all-female collective Matter of Course debuted a series of home furnishings in wood, clay, and water.

Nature-inspired decor could become a future interiors trend. "Forest of Reflection" uses grass-like carpet and Alps-<a href=inspired wallpaper to create a serene space.”/>

Nature-inspired decor could become a future interiors trend. “Forest of Reflection” uses grass-like carpet and Alps-inspired wallpaper to create a serene space. Credit: Jonathan Hokklo

At Alcova, an itinerant exhibition that took over the derelict Centro Ospedaliero Militare di Baggio, natural stone brand SolidNature collaborated with Dutch designer Sabine Marcelis and architectural studio OMA to rethink home furniture as monolithic slabs of onyx and marble, creating a monumental bathroom, a multi-functional rotating cabinet, and an imposing (though possibly not very comfortable) bed.

Milan’s DWA Design Studio brought raw matter inside with a table made of soil and wild flowers; while industrial design students from Muthesius University used air as a design material for ten inflatable products, including a transparent suitcase and a blow-up seat.

The design fair also included futuristic-looking furniture made from unprocessed, raw materials.

The design fair also included futuristic-looking furniture made from unprocessed, raw materials. Credit: Matteo Parodi

Lighting, too, took inspiration from nature with designer Maximilian Marchesani, whose display showed suspended tree branches with LED blossoms and furry light sticks wrapped by silk, a natural electricity conductor.

Recycled, repurposed, reinvented

Sustainability was a big topic during design week.

At Alcova, Italian acoustic company Slalom used recycled plastic bottles to build a muffled, brightly colored room that could serve as a silent space; and California-based Prowl Studio unveiled a lounge furniture collection that incorporated environmentally-friendly materials and computer-generated upholstery. Meanwhile, at Salone Satellite, a hub for emerging designers under 35, some 600 exhibitors showed work around the theme “Designing for our future selves” with a focus on sustainable practices.

Designer Maximilian Marchesani took inspiration from nature in his branch-like light fittings.

Designer Maximilian Marchesani took inspiration from nature in his branch-like light fittings. Credit: Maximilian Marchesani

Nontraditional design materials also made an appearance. Lighting design brand ServoMuto experimented with lycra to create a lamp collection. Meanwhile, at art space Nilufar Depot the Dutch duo Odd Matter decontextualized the application of medical materials to present sculptures in fiberglass and crystalline plaster.

There was also plenty of upcycling.London-based Italian designer Martino Gamper showcased a series of vintage furniture reinterpreted in a contemporary style at Nilufar Depot; and Ginori 1735 invited artists and international designers to give a second life to porcelains that did not meet the company’s quality standards by hand-painting them and turning them into one-of-a-kind design pieces.

From fashion to furniture

Fashion brands have never shied away from playing with interiors. This year, though, proved that the trend is only set to grow.

Besides the usual suspects Loewe, Hermès, Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton — all of which had beautiful installations to present their collections of furnishings (Hermes had house-scale paper lanterns, Ralph Lauren invited guests over at its palazzo, Loewe flaunted an ambitious display at Palazzo Isimbardi called “Weave, Restore, Renew,” featuring sculptural straw raincoats) — a cluster of notable brands ventured into the world of furniture design and practices.

Stella McCartney collaborated with wallpaper authorities Cole & Son to create a fabulous funghi print for the home.

Stella McCartney collaborated with wallpaper authorities Cole & Son to create a fabulous funghi print for the home. Credit: Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney hosted a cocktail party to introduce her first-ever interiors partnerships with Italian design brand B&B Italia and heritage British wallpaper house Cole & Son. Paul Smith debuted a furniture collection of colorful sofas, armchairs, coffee tables and more with the company DePadova; and Sunnei teamed up with design firm Bloc Studios for a series of marble pieces designed for the dining room. And then there was Maison Dior, collaborating for the first time with Philippe Starck to reinterpret its Medallion Chair.

Prada — which has done furniture before — took it a step further, holding a two-day multidisciplinary symposium curated by research-based studio Formafantasma that investigated the relationship between natural environment and design.

Fashion-driven furniture was the word the week, and might be the concept of your next home redecoration, too.

Fluid objects and adaptable forms

Design week was rife with modular products and stackable home accessories, perhaps as a nod to the growing demand for flexible work-from-home spaces.

Vases took on a new form in Salone Satellite's presentation.

Vases took on a new form in Salone Satellite’s presentation. Credit: Isabella Del Grandi

Los Angeles-based brand Loose Parts debuted a brilliant showcase of modular furniture that could be assembled, disassembled, and reassembled — conceived, partly, to reduce furniture landfill waste and encourage reuse while playing with the idea of new possibilities within the same interiors.

At Salone Satellite, Belgrade-based Marija Kojić displayed modular structures for children that could serve as both a play structure and a circular workspace, while Japanese designer Ryosuke Fukusada devised a range of lighting with countless styling options at the main fair.

Elsewhere, at Rossana Orlandi Gallery — another treasure trove of great design — British designer Marc Wood also presented two collections of lights, Zig and Deco, that could be used as singular pendants, or stacked to form an array of decorative patterns and creative shapes.

Craftsmanship rules

The future of home design might well be time-honored craft. The Fuorisalone placed a strong focus on traditional techniques, spotlighting artisanal creations by international makers.

Two showcases, in particular, shone for their craftsmanship. Rossana Orlandi Gallery’s “RoCollectible 2022 | Designers & Crafters,” which displayed the work of international creatives like Bethan Gray and Alvaro Catalán de Ocón; and Doppia Firma, organized by the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship at the historic Palazzo Litta, which presented a collection of pieces created through exchanges between designers or artists and artisans.

The Rossana Orlandi Gallery displayed work from a variety of different crafters.

The Rossana Orlandi Gallery displayed work from a variety of different crafters. Credit: Andrea Ceriani

From lamps made with a Ghanaian weaving technique and upcycled PET plastic bottles to a lounge chair meticulously embroidered with vegetable leather appliques, the pieces at both exhibitions embraced heritage skills from across cultures, highlighting a slower approach to design.

Top image: Flexible, modular furniture by Loose Parts.

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