11 November 2020

Design Parade (Part 1)

When we were children, smoke signals signified a Red Indian camp or the burning bonfire of a surviving hero. We were in absolutely no doubt about this. In any case, signals should never be underestimated, rather seized upon and analysed: they indicate which paths to take and bear witness to evolutionary hypotheses and upcoming trends.
The design world also has its own scouts, who send up smoke signals, and therefore logically, has a rear-guard that develops these signals over time.
What we want to do is to try and identify these phenomena as they emerge, if possible, or at least before they’ve really struck home, so as to be able to process them analytically, not necessarily critically.


Clearly this review has to start with the events that have overtaken us since January 2020, not least the global spread of Coronavirus. In particular, the pandemic has wrought a radical change to our lifestyles and, consequently, prompted the cancellation of all the great international meetings. The Salone del Mobile 2020 was first deferred to the month of June and then definitively put back to the 2021 edition. The fact that activities have been brought to a standstill hasn’t meant, however, that reflections on design or more specific thinking around how the sector should tackle the problem have slowed down. Business thinking has focused on matters such as the development of e-commerce, on one hand, and the study of hygiene procedures and easily sanitised materials (glass first and foremost – see Piero Lissoni’s structured internal door Spin collection for Glas Italia), on the other.

Sherazade Spin, design by Piero Lissoni, Glas Italia

Equally, ways of marking out spaces (screens and dividers) have seen a renaissance, as have ways of ensuring comfortable smart working (small desks, easily accommodated in bedrooms, and chairs that are a cross between office and domestic). Desks include the essential Era model by David Lopez Quincoces for Living Divani, Tucano, designed by Monica Förster for Zanotta, with a steel frame and shaped leather top, and the sophisticated solid wood MO Bridge Small Desk with woven strips conceived by Sinsaku Miyamoto for Ritzwell.
livingdivani.it/en - www.zanotta.it/en-us - ritzwell.com/en

Era, design by David Lopez Quincoces, Living Divani

A large variety of screens have also been devised during this period, some hugely decorative and some more technical, as well as sound-absorbent (now much-needed, even outside workplaces, thanks to the recent forced domestic co-existence). Caimi Brevetti has always worked with this type of furniture, and has now come up with Sepa Rolls, designed by Sezgin Aksu, steel screens with Snowsound fabric, that can be juxtaposed and are equipped with wheels for easy movement. Philippe Nigro and Manerba are presenting the multifunctional Stem bookcase-divider system that can be fitted with padded elements to create individual phone booths. The back panels can be covered in a fabric of choice to ensure a good level of sound-absorption.
www.caimi.com - manerbaspa.com

Stem System, design by Philippe Nigro, Manerba


Thanks to a sudden obsession with “green” solutions, designers, philosophers and architects have swiftly turned themselves into “gardeners.” Everything has to be green, although there are those who forget that nature is expressed in a far broader range of colours - brilliant white salt pans, grey basalt cliffs, expanses of black lava. Obsessions aside, there’s no doubt that a renewed ecological and environmental sensitivity has blossomed and spread. It is a movement that, in some ways, is reminiscent of the great “green” wave of the Seventies.

In moral, as well as financial terms, sustainability is the word that drives this phenomenon. Working towards sustainability is a tough and unrelenting commitment, totally unlike the green show (or, as per the jargon, green washing) we’ve recently witnessed. Many companies really have gone down the eco-sustainability route: opting for biodegradable or easily recycled materials, simple assembly and disassembly, with an eye to wrapping and packaging quality. Consumers seem to appreciate these product attributes, not just verbally, but also by accepting the inevitable price increases. An indirect consequence of this new attitude is an increasingly strong awareness of the need to make objects last over time and the ability to adjust, restore and freshen them up (which means the industry must really focus on all levels of post-sales service).

Recycling is also a huge concern. For example, during World War II, Emeco produced the 1006 chair for the US Navy, using recycled aluminium. Seventy-five years on, they’ve used plastic Coca-Cola bottles to make the 111 chair (named after the number of plastic bottles needed to make a single chair), harnessing the principle of upcycling, i.e. turning waste material into something of greater value, much more interesting than that of recycling.

111 Navy Chair, Emeco


Directly related to the green explosion of the last few years and the more recent demand for apartments with balconies and homes with gardens, the production of outdoor furniture is in full swing, curiously, however, although widespread attempts to “imitate nature” have been seen in every sector, from upholstery to the art of table dressing, it is the outdoor sector that often avoids any mimesis with the natural environment for which its products are destined, instead aiming for an aesthetic assonance with “high end” interiors, which means sleek lines and good quality materials. Basically, the most important pieces in living areas have been taken outside, which obviously involves a thorough revisiting of materials, as we have seen with Minotti’s Daiki Outdoor collection, for example, which sets the seal on the company’s partnership with the Brasilian designer Marcio Kogan/ studio mk27 design.

Daiki Outdoor Armchair, design by Marcio Kogan/mk27 design, Minotti

Arper’s moulded shell Adell lounge chair, designed by Lievore + Alther Désile Park, creates an indoor/outdoor link.

Adell, design by Lievore + Alther Désile Park, Arper - Photo by Salva Lopez

Although nature “keeps out” of designs for outdoor furniture, it makes a forceful appearance in art design. The work of many young designers (just a niche movement for now) is crammed with straw, mud, fungi, hemp and cork.

Furthermore, as an indirect consequence of the above, a new, rough approach to furnishing design, while more discernible in interiors, is hardly in short supply out of doors either. The collections showcased by Ethimo, for instance, contain two such examples, Luca Nichetto’s Pluvia and Paola Navone’s Rafael collection.

Rafael, design by Paola Navone, Ethimo - Photo by Bernard Touillon


The influence of Instagram, which no longer presents itself as a platform for communicating visual experiences, but rather as a legitimisation tool, is incredibly powerful right now. Every image (therefore every product) has to work with the immediacy of the social networks, capturing the retina in the blink of an eye. This calls for a general “softening” of the message, and so the images are full of captivating colours and sophisticated details. The objects are never presented on their own, but often harness the power of accumulation, of superposition (see, for example, the generous size and abundance of tassels on the Shah armchair produced by Etro Home Interiors by Jumbo Group).
The rooms put together by stylists (this year’s emerging stars) end up looking like backdrops or Wunderkammer. The Five to Nine daybed designed by Studiopepe for Tacchini, is a clear example of this visual immediacy approach, like the sharp Kimono chair in transparent moulded polycarbonate, designed by Ramon Esteve for Vondom.
https://etrohomeinteriors.jumbogroup.it/ - www.tacchini.it/en/ - www.vondom.com

Kimono, design by Ramon Esteve, Vondom


Connected to some extent with “Instagram-mania,” ‘80s styles are making a strong comeback, with precise reference to the post-modern look, in “fairground” colours, with archetypal architectural elements, columns and round arches. (Paolo Badesco and Costantino Affuso’s Crystal Palace wallpaper for Wall&decò is a case in point). “Seaside” stripes are back, lacquered or in laminate (a material that is enjoying renewed aesthetic appeal). Pink, yellow, blue and sea-green alternate with Venetian influences (real or fake), cement tiles (real or fake) and precious marbles (real or fake). However, there’s no longer any question of judgement in terms of value, the only judgement applies to the taste of anyone suggesting a “mix” – seen as transgressive in the eyes of other people. When it comes to upholstereds, a return to the early ‘80s is obvious in the “overblown” shapes, where the structure plays a fairly minor role and the support is practically on the floor. The idea is to suggest comfort visually, then experientially (particularly within the context of home-cinema, a dream shared by many during lockdown). The Japanese designer Keij Takeuchi’s Ripamonti armchair for DePadova can be interpreted in this way, for example. Patricia Urquiola, one of the undoubted protagonists of 2020 design, takes up the Eighties reference with her Ruff armchair for Moroso, but she interprets it in a more geometric vein, with a backward tilting backrest. Roberto Tapinassi and Maurizio Manzoni have used tailored quilting to give volume to their Odea 2 for Roche Bobois.
www.wallanddeco.com - www.depadova.com - https://moroso.it/ - www.roche-bobois.com

Ripamonti, design by Keij Takeuchi, DePadova

The upholstereds market then seems to take two very different directions: the soft, sculptural lines mentioned earlier on one hand and, on the other hand, “slimmed-down” design, hovering above ground and with visible structural details, as in the Octave collection conceived by Vincent van Duysen for Molteni & C.

Octave, design by Vincent van Duysen - Molteni & C.

Beds follow the same lines, boasting triumphant upholstereds and quilted materials or spare, clean lines. Matteo Nunziati’s Gaudi for Flou belongs to the latter category, with solid wooden details similar to those featured by the designer in his Tela lounge chair for Rubelli.
www.flou.it/en - www.rubelli.com/en/

Gaudì, design by Matteo Nunziati, Flou

The resurgence of interest in decorative schemes typical of internal architecture is becoming increasingly obvious, especially where coverings are concerned, from wallpaper to tapestry to fabrics. Every surface, whether horizontal or vertical, is a “palette” on which to tell stories (as Salgari would have done, or Lewis Carroll with Alice, or the travellers to Japan before that). As well as oriental echoes, which have been popular for some time, there is an appetite for the exotic, like some of Henri Rousseau’s naïve paintings, with tigers, lions and leopards in the midst of the jungle.

It’s not just a case of decoration pure and simple, wallpaper is also a prime subject of material research (waterproof fibreglass papers, for instance, commitment to sustainability, increased sound-proofing power) along with the quality of digital image reproduction (which can now be totally customised).

The same approaches and trends apply to tableware, with plates emblazoned with large leaves, exotic insects and mythological monsters.

When it comes to rugs, graphic patterns are clearly to the fore (see Jaime Hayon’s Silhouette for Nanimarquinqa), but so are shapes, in a bid to break with the regulation geometric rectangles, squares and circles, with composite outlines, fringes, cut-outs and superpositions.

Some producers in this sector have also embraced the challenge of sustainability and recycling, for example - Patricia Urquiola has worked with Gan on scrap felt, coming up with a chromatic effect suggestive of building material (Nuances collection).

Generally-speaking, rug design veers increasingly between two extremes: absolute neutrality in which it takes on a background role for classically minimalist furnishings (such as the elegant Poetry designed by Maja Johansson Stabander for Kasthall and Inga Sempé’s Volentieri for Magis), and outright “aggressiveness,” undoubtedly mediated by the world of contemporary art.
https://nanimarquina.com/ - www.gan-rugs.com/en/ - https://kasthall.com/en - www.magisdesign.com

Poetry, design by Maja Johansson Stabander, Kasthall

An emblematic example of this latter trend is the Gesture collection for which cc-tapis has brought in five leading designers - Mae Engelgeer, Yuri Himuro, Sabine Marcelis, Philippe Malouin and, of course, Patricia Urquiola.

Stroke, design by Sabine Marcelis, cc-tapis - © Dario Salamone

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