Velvet the New Revolution

4 Design Trends From the Milan Furniture Fair


MILAN — In 2008, a star of the international furniture fair known as Salone del Mobile was a carpet called Global Warming. It featured a tiny polar bear stranded on an ice floe in a fuzzy blue ocean. Nine years later, the bear is back. Only now it’s no longer small and forlorn, but sprawled over a couch.

The stylized bear, a huggable backrest on the Pack sofa by Francesco Binfaré for Edra, was one of many escapist moments this year at the Milan fair, which ended on Sunday. With more than 2,000 exhibitors along with legions of outsiders showing throughout the city, it was the most exciting in a while. You would hardly guess from the crackling ideas and deep pools of beauty that we are in anxious times here and abroad.

“What can I tell you? Italians are optimists,” said Ferruccio Laviani, a founder of the 1980s Memphis group who designs products and exhibition booths for Fratelli Boffi, Kartell and others.

His colorful booth for Kartell this year was boldly called Contamination. As Claudio Luti, the chief executive of Kartell and newly reinstated president of the Salone, noted, the word in Italian means not just polluting but also cross-fertilizing. “It’s a nice thing when you put two things together, they are completely different, but they grow together,” he said.

This year’s potent energy pushed design tropes into new territory. Marble, popular for years, morphed into richly patterned stones like onyx. Copper and brass should have run their course, but instead exploded, leaving steel and aluminum in the dust.

Designers were finally taking leave of the pink-and-jagged 1980s and welcoming back the Mary Tyler Moore ’70s. It felt oddly fresh. And then there was the abundance of green, a color that design companies seemed to appreciate for its own sake, not for any forced association with nature.

But nothing surpassed expectations like Euroluce, the fair’s biennial lighting show.

Two years ago, light was married in dazzling ways to materials. Ceiling fixtures had swirling fabric skirts. Table lamps were coated with diaphanous layers of gold. This time, light was also treated as a material in its own right, stretched thin across a room like a laundry line, split into rainbows, twisted into letters and poured like liquid into jars.

Light as Material

As LED technology advances, lighting remains at the edge of a frontier, astonishing us with its versatility while promising greater surprises ahead. This year’s wonders included portable, rechargeable and even collapsible table lamps; ceiling lights moved and dimmed by smartphone; and fixtures unabashedly marketed as jewelry. The collection by Flos was a particular standout, with products by leading international designers stamping their unique personalities onto this gossamer medium.


Designed by Piet Hein Eek, the Past and Future lamps are made with leftover pieces of Murano glass, some almost a century old, that were discovered in a basement of the Paris lighting company Veronese.


Antoni Arola’s Palma collection for the Spanish company Vibia features handblown glass globes attached to an aluminum structure. Plants can be integrated.

Masters of poetic minimalism, Formafantasma designed the Blush lamp for Flos to paint delicate color on a wall in winter. An LED strip casts light through dichroic glass, producing not just different hues but also what the designers call “the intimacy of shadow.”

Federico Peri’s Galerie foor lamp for FontanaArte was inspired by antique oil lamps. It combines glass, leather and metal with a stone base.

Emerald Is the New Green

Pantone, the color authority, declared 2017 the year of “Greenery,” a yellowish hue that gives us “the reassurance we yearn for amid a tumultuous social and political environment.” Companies at the fair apparently didn’t get that memo. Green was everywhere, but in a darker and richer tone that is closer to emerald. Frequently combined with violet and pink, it looked great with all of the ruddy and gold-toned metals. An echo of Deco.

Dark green Illo tables by the Italian company Miniforms are variably sized and easy to cluster, another trend at the 2017 fair.


Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s Quindici lounge chair for Mattiazzi comes in a forest green upholstered version with a base of natural, gray or white wood.

Green, bronze and gold Dornette ceramic tiles by Elena Salmistraro for Bosa have Art Deco-ish glamour.


The Chita armchair evolved from a collaboration between the Brazilian designer Sérgio Matos and Filipino furniture designer and producer Kenneth Cobonpue.

Warmed-Over Metals

Apparatus Studio, which is based in New York and has a Milanese showroom, has made brass a trademark. “It’s an easy metal to experiment with, unlike a lot of metals that you need to lacquer or powder-coat or polish,” said Nick Grinder, the company’s vice president for sales. “Brass is something that can take on a lot of life and character without degrading as a metal. That’s why they use it in boats.”


The new pendant in Apparatus Studio’s Lantern series is brass and slip-cast porcelain.


Elisa Ossino’s Lunar Landscape tableware for Paola C., in copper, blown glass and marble, takes cues from the Bauhaus.

The copper Longing cabinet by Nika Zupanc for the metal products company De Castelli references vintage sideboards with compartments filled with forbidden sweets.

Piero Lissoni set a brass bowl into blocks of marble and onyx for his Code washbasin for Boffi.

Supersized Sofas

A possible drawback with Edra’s Pack sofa is that it invites hibernation. But visitors who succeeded in rising from its velvety depths found many other big, fanciful couches to try out. The unusual shapes and configurations testify to the infinite ways we lounge. And creative seating is not confined to the home; it’s also cropping up in offices.

The Pack sofa comes in both black and white, and was shown with single and double bear cushions.

Lili Castilla’s asymmetrical Illusion sofa for Roche Bobois seats three, or four if you plop someone down on the wooden tray.

Based on an armchair that Pedro Franco (of the Brazilian company A Lot Of), designed with Christian Ullmann, the Under Construction sofa was shown in millennial pink velvet.


Ron Arad originally designed his Bell Lab couch for the historic research facility in central New Jersey, which has been redeveloped. Moroso is producing it for commercial and residential use.

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