Handmade in Milan

Last month I had the pleasure of making my annual trek to Milan for the celebrated Salon del Mobile. It’s always a great place to spot emerging trends in the world of lighting and furniture design — and also to see which ones from previous years have really taken off.

The overwhelming movement in design is still toward things that are local and sustainable; however, within this there are a myriad of permutations.

A recurrent theme was “retro” — now with a sense of humor. There were lights in abundance incorporating the nostalgic form of a traditional tungsten light bulb, although in their modern versions they are illuminated by LED or halogen lamps. Humor could also be found in the unexpected, such as hand-stitched details on hard surfaces — even around a glass table.

The trend for the “handmade” aesthetic continues to evolve, and craftsmanship has become the symbol for value in products. This theme was applied to objects where you might least expect to find it, as in the many variations of hand-knotted and hand-knitted lampshades.

Some furniture featured a simple “handwoven” look, including an elegant timber daybed by Porada and a comfy low chair by Moroso.

As observed at previous fairs, manufacturers tend to stick to their core range of designs and then add improvements each year. This allows companies to attract interest when they bring new products to market, yet also remain competitive by having a reassuringly recognizable style.

Several interesting takes on informal seating showcased the potential for creating new possibilities out of the familiar by mixing the traditional with the contemporary and injecting wit into the mundane. For example, a historical Victorian nursing chair was reinvented in a hard metal form.

The continuing success of fashion brands selling furniture to those who trust in big names — perhaps more than in their own tastes — also remained quite evident. Roberto Cavalli and Fendi Casa, in particular, are continuing to offer very traditional, ostentatious styles of furniture tailored to the preferences of Middle Eastern and Russian markets.

Yet despite all the new ideas on parade, it seems many designers are still reluctant to take risks, and the established names still show up at the party — including Philippe Starck once again. Kartell decided to show off its design classics by displaying them behind an old-time storefront.

Perhaps after today’s trendy worn aesthetic has worn out its welcome, this style could also be presented as “the next step backwards.”