29 May 2019

The new directions of furniture design

As always, the Salone del Mobile.Milano has come up with a number of different keys for unlocking the world of furniture design. Of the huge variety of projects presented this year, we have tried to single out some of the most specific avenues explored by designers and companies, ranging from the world of re-editions to that of neo-primitive design, from the outdoor world (latest status symbol) to that of shared spaces, from the design of individual pieces to designs for spaces in the round, with a keen eye on the lighting world, courtesy of Euroluce.

Here’s the lowdown, in detail and in three unmissable parts.

Defining universal furnishing

The first thing that needs to be flagged up is the attempt, driven by ever more pressing market demands, to define ‘universal furnishing’: this does not necessarily mean neutral, rather acceptable to a varied and transnational public. This has led to the adoption of a poetic simplicity, which should not, however, be confused with the Minimalism of the late 90s. It is more a case of an approach that blends the sophisticated pauperism of the American millenary sects with design that is at times ingenuous, reminiscent of the schools of our childhood. Wood is without doubt the most favoured material, worked with great skill, while chairs have become the most popular typology.

Building on the past

Equally, the concept of genuine re-editions, i.e. dredging the archives in search of forgotten pieces, continues to be a totally dominant trend, harnessing the safety of déjà-vu to ‘treat’ a feeling of anxiety around the new, increasingly evident among buyers. Given that this year marks the centenary of the legendary Bauhaus, there had to be a powerful reminder of the most important pieces produced by the Weimar-Dessau movement. The icons produced in Scandinavian countries by Hans J. Wegner, Børge Mogensen, Jens Risom and Finn Juhl remain the focus of aesthetic interest. The manufacturers’ attention has also turned towards the rehabilitation of Italian design figures, and this year in particular to Gianfranco Frattini, and to totally rediscovered figures, Gio Ponti first and foremost. In general, the re-edition concept has crept closer to us time-wise, leapfrogging the much-loved Fifties and Sixties to come up again with much more recent pieces, right up to the mid-Nineties. Basically, the past is catching up with us!

Overcoming expectations of formal balance

So what are the directions this much-longed for ‘new’ is being required to take, necessary, as we have learned from the world of fashion design, to distinguish itself from mass production which ‘duplicates’ every new product in real time? Of these new directions, the vogue for the neo-primitive stands out. It is a crosscutting movement that transects different typological and goods sectors, given to using stone of particular provenance and texture (dark, veined, crushed), raw heavy wood, hand woven fabrics (like tricot), cement coloured with pigments and wax-finished. Basically, a world in which luxury, for people who have already had and seen everything, is interwoven with the myth of primeval caves.

It’s a short but automatic step towards a ‘dissonant aesthetic’, which crops up in all periods of history similar to our own and is therefore marked by a pronounced aestheticism (think of the transition from the Renaissance to Mannerism). In this respect, there has been no shortage of right and proper homages to the much-missed gentle genius of formal provocation, Alessandro Mendini, who sadly died on 18th February this year.

We are gradually becoming more accustomed to an alternative aesthetic, thanks to increasingly frequent incursions into the realm of recycling. Design has acquired a new ecological and aware conscience, along with a certain fascination with the unfinished, the apparently casual, which has led to the systematic rehabilitation of used materials. It is worth noting here that part of the furniture design scene has been influenced by the theme and apocalyptic message of the XXII Triennale di Milano, Broken Nature, which has stigmatised the irredeemable loss of harmony between man and nature.

Outdoor furniture becomes a new status symbol

The latest trendsetter in terms of typology is, without a doubt, outdoor furniture. Several leading producers, of upholstereds in particular, have expanded their ranges to include entire outdoor collections for the first time ever.

One might almost say that the system of communicating indoor-outdoor vases has been turned on its head, inspired by the outdoor rather than the indoor world. This is also manifest in the explosion of naturalistic references introduced by the vogue for wallpaper featuring macro plant patterns, with palm and fig trees fostering the illusion of unpolluted, sumptuous nature. There is no shortage of large images of animals and dreamy bucolic subjects, from 18th century toiles de Jouy to the pastorales of the Grand Tour.

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