Bright sparks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 April, 2010, 12:00am

Milan's Salone Internazionale del Mobile might take up only six days but its influence on the world of design lasts throughout the year.

Last year, the recession dominated products, but the signs for this year indicate that while economic considerations remain at the forefront the outlook is less gloomy.

Key trends include the increasing dominance of wood and multi-functionality, while at the less cautious end, the influence of designer lingerie has found its way into seating and flickers of Pollock-esque colour challenge our senses.

Similar brightness also bathed some exhibits at the recent MiArt International Fair of Modern and Contemporary Art, where exuberant creations by artists such as Patrick Hughes and Paola Pezzi sparkled among other novel works at the event.

Although Milan's world-famous Salone furniture fair is a forward-looking event, one of the sharpest trends revolves around traditional wood. Ralli Design is especially convinced of the material's image of stability and reliability, and now the deepest clouds of the recession are beginning to dissolve there is something welcoming about wood.

Made up of brother and sister duo Louis and Sophie Howe, Ralli Design has found solace in sturdy plywood with the Flip Chair, which can be adapted easily for dining and relaxing, and the Stepping Stool, which, in doubling as a mini-ladder, saves space in urban kitchens. The duo's commitment to multi-functionality and space saving is to be applauded but these unusual objects might take a little getting used to.

Also taking a stab at the hybrid is Italy-based Luca Nichetto. Plinto can be used as a stool or a small table and its cubic form recalls the blocks of concrete frequently dotted around construction sites. Stackable and suitable for indoor and outdoor use, it also has a built-in handle that makes it easy to move around. His Alle chair comes in four-legged and column-based versions and boasts curves and a deep back.

One of the defining characteristics of this chair is the graduated shading of the edges of the seat. This type of fading recalls the lived-in wear and tear of the shabby wooden chairs that line continental pavement cafes and smoky basement bars.

The slightly worn look of designs such as Nichetto's is a growing indication that the perfect minimalist look is now a thing of the past. His chair might look pleasingly used but it looks box-fresh next to the Corvo by French designer Noe Duchaufour-Lawrance. Sitting in this is a bit like being suspended in a cocoon.

Hand shaped from solid American walnut, it is wide enough even to loll around in. Shaped by 15 carving tools, each of these chairs is slightly different although the one thing it does share with the Alle is a return to traditional design's core values of practicality and comfort.

In sharp contrast to the stripped-down bare appeal that will be unveiled at the Salone is the all-purveying influence of the catwalk, or the influence of lingerie, which has been huge in recent years and is now flouncing into home decor via the designs of British-born Christopher Guy's chair. The slashed back reveals a sweep of red while the stud detailing underneath is redolent of boudoirs instead of the comparable safety of living rooms.

Other Hollywood-style influences include the welcome return of the cocktail cabinet. After years of derision, this much undervalued living room staple is cropping up in tandem with the welcome return of the Manhattan and Tom Collins cocktails. However, for the 21st century this piece of furniture is not in drab 1970s beige but glossily colourful and, in the case of Guy's drinks cabinet, in china blue with splashes of gold.

Also dabbling with splinters of colour is Swiss-born Rolf Sachs, who admits to being inspired by Malevich, Robert Morris, Dan Flavin and Joseph Beuys. This inspiration has found fruit in his armchair which is enlivened with squiggles and dashes of red and blue. The former investment banker, who has designed sets for ballet and opera, notes that we are witnessing big changes in the design world in that shimmering perfection is being replaced by a more relaxed attitude.

He says: 'I am inspired by my curiosity in the imperfections of humans and daily life ... I am trying to distance myself from the typically flawless design attributes of the past decade and aim to create design that demonstrates conceptual rather than decorative ideas.'

Such originality and confidence is welcome after last year's acres of monochrome and with talent such as Rolf's guiding us into a new post-recession age, Salone proves that, once again, it leads where others follow.

Milan's Salone Internazaionale del Mobile takes place from April 14 to 19. For more information visit