With the influential Milan Design Week finally back, we have the lowdown on the looks that are likely to inspire our decor decisions
When Milan Design Week swung into action earlier, there was more than the usual frisson of excitement in the air. After a three-year pandemic-induced hiatus, the world’s largest and most influential interiors event is back.
The big Italian furniture companies, along with designers and brands from all over the world, are showcasing their latest homeware collections – which had been kept a closely guarded secret – at the huge Salone del Mobile trade fair, as well as at showrooms and pop-up exhibitions all over the city.
And although the designer pieces that are on display here might be beyond the budgets of most, you can expect to see their like hitting the British high street in the very near future.
“Milan is our most important event of the year, in terms of product development but also because of the brands that exhibit there,” says Sabina Miller, buying director at Heal’s. “It’s where you see how a homeware trend starts to take shape. Sometimes you’ll see something that fizzles out – copper lighting for example, which was everywhere about eight years ago – and sometimes it gains momentum.”
Bouclé upholstery fabric, for instance, which started to appear in Milan three years ago, can now be seen on armchairs everywhere from Habitat and Anthropologie to Dunelm and La Redoute, and it’s a trend that’s set to stick around. “Five years ago it was all about velvet,” says Miller, “whereas now textured fabrics have taken over.”
Rounded furniture, which suits bouclé upholstery so well, is another trend that had its first expression in Milan a few years ago, Miller notes. Judging by the latest pieces that are on show this year – from Moroso’s modular Anorak sofa to B&B Italia’s reissued Bambola armchair and Lara Bohinc’s Peaches seating collection – curves are still very much in fashion.
The speed at which a trend translates from a design show to the shop floor isn’t quite on a par with the fashion world, where a look can be reproduced in Zara 10 days after it appears on the catwalk. Developing a piece of furniture naturally takes longer – and it should result in a piece that people will want to keep in their homes for years.
The interconnectivity between the fashion and furniture worlds continues to grow, however, as evidenced by the number of fashion brands exhibiting homeware – everyone from Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Fendi and Missoni to Dior, Hermès, Ralph Lauren and Armani. Increasingly, whereas it used to take two to three years for a trend to really come through in interiors, these days the process moves far more quickly.
Adam Daghorn, head of design at Made.com, puts this down partly to social media, and the barrage of images of “newness” that a customer will see. “Everyone’s so au fait with it now, it’s like you’re at the show, even if you don’t go to the show.”
While upholstery and bigger-ticket pieces take longer to develop, accessories such as textiles, cushions and lighting are quicker to produce, and are the pieces that people will pick up on impulse if they want to buy into a trend: “A new sofa means a complete revamp of your living space, whereas if you just buy a few accessories, you can completely change the feeling of your room without making so much of an investment,” he says.
He also notes that although trends might be moving faster, there has been a welcome move away from cheap, throwaway furniture, in favour of pieces that will last and that a customer will want to keep. The challenge is to design something that feels fresh and current, but won’t date and fall out of fashion in a couple of years’ time.
“The Italian brands like B&B Italia and Minotti have such kudos, which is down to the way they work, and how long they spend on developing a product,” says Daghorn.
“It’s the opposite of fast fashion – it’s a product that will last 30 years or more. We’re trying to give customers that same feeling, so that they can also see we’ve put in that amount of consideration and care. A lot of it is to do with the quality of the product: the materials, the construction and the details.”
For some designers, it’s not a case of producing a completely new collection of products based around new trends, but tweaking designs to give them a fresh twist. James Patmore, creative design manager at Soho Home, is in Milan on the lookout for “amazing details, materials and finishes”, which can inspire his seasonal designs.
“We’ve just finished designing Autumn/Winter 2023,” he says, “so if I feel strongly about anything I see I can incorporate it into that season, or even Spring/Summer 2023, depending on how quickly we can have samples made, and how well they come up.”
To have longevity, a trend has to work both aesthetically and functionally; more than ever, it needs to result in a piece of furniture or an accessory that looks and feels good to use, hence the popularity of tactile textiles such as velvet and bouclé, and the comfort of curved furniture.
The question is, what are the key looks at Milan that are likely to make it into our homes in the months to come?
The installations hosted by fashion brands are among the most innovative and exciting of the week, particularly when it comes to colour and pattern.
At Fendi, wide stripes – one of the brand’s signature motifs – have moved from handbags on to everything from cushions and baskets to cabinetry, suggesting the statement stripe won’t be falling out of fashion any time soon. (For a novel take on the stripe, see British designer Bethan Gray’s Inky Dhow furniture collection, featuring undulating stripes in white and deep blue – a key colour this year.) Ralph Lauren Home is similarly keeping things classic with its new Palazzo collection, which blends tartan and tweed with Italianate gilded and lacquered tables and cabinets.
At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson is promoting basketry as an art form, working with artisans on one-off pieces, while woven textures can also be found on furniture and accessories at Missoni and Fendi. Reflecting a drive for sustainability among luxury brands, Stella McCartney has designed a toile de Jouy-style wallpaper for Cole & Son featuring a forest of mushrooms (a nod to her new range of mushroom-derived clothing and accessories), made from 79 per cent renewable fibres. It will be available in a choice of burgundy or navy later this year.
The Italian-American design duo Studio Dimore have become a cult favourite thanks to their flair for creating atmospheric room sets shot through with glamour, and their Milan gallery is a must-see for designers on the hunt for inspiration.
The design motifs showcased at Milan often make their way into the mainstream, and this year, displays include an array of glossy furnishings, which, paired with animal-print upholstery and rugs, amp up the luxurious vibe.
Lacquered cabinets and chairs on show at Fendi Casa, for example, bring the wow factor, while at Dior, Philippe Starck has reinterpreted the Louis XVI-style Medallion chair – a favourite of Christian Dior’s – by wrapping it in shiny metallic finishes, including black chrome and a pale-pink copper.
Made.com’s Adam Daghorn predicts that high-gloss finishes, especially in interesting colours, will become a key feature of homeware collections in the coming months.
“Milan is unbelievable for colour, it seems to set the tone for everything,” says Daghorn. “From an interior-design point of view it’s also the easiest way to revamp a room; you can make a huge impact by changing the colours.”
The warm 1970s-style tones that have been popular recently, such as terracotta, mustard and forest green, were all dominant in Milan three or four years ago; this year, there’s a move towards a bolder, brighter palette.
Daghorn attributes this to the returning influence of 1980s and 1990s style, and a revived taste for optimistic colours to give a visual pick-me-up following a period of anxiety and stress.
Those brighter shades, such as raspberry pink and cobalt blue, can be seen on everything from cabinetry to upholstery – Poltrona Frau’s True Evolution chair being a particularly bold example. A subtler way to bring in strong colours is through smaller accessories and tableware: La DoubleJ’s sweetshop-style glassware and Swarovski’s teaware collection with porcelain brand Rosenthal are examples of uplifting colour that will instantly brighten up a table or shelf.
British artist and designer Luke Edward Hall creates character-filled illustrations featuring classical Greek and Roman references, which have been much imitated on textiles and tableware.
This year, along with new pieces for the heritage porcelain company Ginori 1735, he has teamed up with the Italian fabric house Rubelli on a new line of upholstery and curtain fabrics that blend his signature motifs with patterns that evoke the English countryside, inspired by his own Cotswolds garden.
His fun and joyful collection – in a palette of olive green, sky blue, pale pink and lilac, sunny yellows and burnt orange – captures the optimistic mood of the moment.
British designer Lee Broom’s installations are always a key talking point in Milan. Broom’s lighting designs in particular have proved to be hugely influential – his Crystal Bulb from 10 years ago set a trend for decorative bulb lamps that’s still going strong – so the launch of six new lighting collections, his first since 2018, is one of this year’s not-to-be-missed events.
The new designs are inspired by brutalist architecture, executed in materials such as wood, plaster, jesmonite and mixed metallic finishes, and can be hung individually or in clusters – a technique that several designers are using to turn lights into a statement work of art.
Even the luxury brands have taken on board the fact that we all need our homes to work harder post-pandemic, and furniture that scores highly on comfort but can also do more than one thing is a short cut to a more organised and easy living environment, particularly for those who work from home.
The words “multifunctional furniture” don’t normally call up images of beautiful things, but Italians just don’t do function over form.
Instead, the latest collections subtly incorporate extra storage in stylish ways, such as Paul Smith’s Everyday Life collection for Italian brand De Padova, which includes chic details like armchairs with leather side pockets to store newspapers or paperwork. Folding screens, which can be used as room dividers to separate off areas for working and relaxing in open-plan spaces, are also a feature of many a new collection; Flexform’s version comes in lightweight woven paper cord.
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