The installations, collaborations, and exhibitions that made a statement at this year’s Milan Design Week.
After two years of uncertainty—and a truncated version last September, Salone del Mobile and Milan Design Week were back this year and bigger and better than ever. Brands from around the world brought their A-games, creating inventive, show-stopping installations and collaborating with the hottest designers on the market to celebrate the return of the most important design fair in Europe. Here, GRAY highlights some of the standouts from the week.
The Hermès installation at Milan Deisgn Week. Image by Maxime Verret
Known for taking over the La Pelota even space each year during Milan Design Week, Hermès was back with a totemic installation designed by architect Charlotte Macaux Perelman and set designer Hervé Sauvage. The four colorful structures, inspired by brutalist water towers, were made from wooden frames covered in translucent paper and lit from within. Visitors could pass through and view the brand's latest furniture and home accessories. Items included dishes, leather trays and boxes, and cashmere textiles with bright geometric patterns.
DESIGN WITH NATURE BY MARIO CUCINELLA ARCHITECTS
Design With Nature installation at Salone del Mobile. Image by Giovanni De Sandre.
For the 60th edition of Salone del Mobile, architect Mario Cucinella designed an installation for the fairgrounds. Titled Design With Nature, the exhibition addressed the relationship between nature and the way we live and encouraged viewers to interact with each other to restore the lost social touchpoints of the past couple of years. Exploring themes of ecological transition, circular economies, and how we use the spaces and materials available to us, the exhibition was full of plants (considered a necessity, not a luxury), and it many components and materials that would be repurposed after the show. Cucinella envisioned the space as an ecosystem, “a large space mindful of design and the environment, dedicated to the new sociality,” he notes. “An installation in which the word ‘ecosystem’ is fundamental and with which we aim to show that our vision of the future needs to capable of bringing knowledge, skills, and technologies together for a new generation of materials and design.”
DIVIDED LAYERS, KOHLER
Daniel Arsham's Divided Layers installation for Kohler. Image by Jeff Stasney.
Kohler returned to Design Week with an immersive art experience in partnership with artist-designer, Daniel Arsham. Installed in the vast courtyard of the historic Palazzo del Senato, Divided Layers was a site-specific installation that builds upon Kohler’s release of Rock.01—a 3D-printed sink designed by Arsham in 2021. The work, which drew crowds every day, comprised a series of stacked panels combined to form a walkable tunnel. According to Arsham, while he was working on Rock.01, he had the idea of designing Divided Layers to allow people to “move through the sink.” Each panel in the installation references a single plane of the 3D-printed clay that layers together to form the sink. A pond beneath the structure acted as a mirror that seemingly doubled the volume. “The flow of water is experienced in both negative and positive space, regardless of a form’s ‘function’,” Arsham says. “In Divided Layers, visitors experience being within the sink, rather than a user of a functional piece.”
An installation at the IKEA Festival in Milan.
For its annual IKEA Festival, the Swedish furniture retailer presented the Ögonblick - A Life at Home exhibition. Inspired by H22, an initiative to improve the quality of life through smarter, more sustainable cities, the brand invited people to discover how different moments in life (ögonblick means ‘moment’ in Swedish) are reflected in their home life and the way they experience spaces. Additionally, in homage to Milan, the exhibition recreated the traditional Milanese "casa di ringhiera" (railing house), with stories from three families with different living situations. As part of the festival, IKEA unveiled new collections from Sabine Marcelis, Marimekko, and electronic dance music artists Swedish House Mafia (yes, you read that correctly—the collaboration will launch in September).
The to-tie light is designed by Guglielmo Poletti for Flos.
Italian lighting company Flos celebrated its 60th anniversary, its latest releases, and its CEO, Roberta Silva—who was appointed in June 2019, right before the pandemic—with a party akin to a rock concert (seriously, the line to get in was hundreds long). The company rented a historic warehouse near the Fondazione Prada and introduced a fleet of fixtures, pendants, and lamps designed by high-caliber names including Patricia Urquiola, Marcel Wanders, Vincent Van Duysen, Konstantin Grcic, and newcomer Guglielmo Poletti. The brand also presented the 2022 limited-edition version of its iconic Arco lamp, originally designed by Achille and Pierre Giacomo Castiglioni in 1962. The output of work was impressive, as was the quality and inventiveness—each piece was created with a unique point of view (Vincent Van Duysen’s Gustave lamp, meant for hospitality settings, was designed in consultation with some of the world’s top restaurants) and a meaningful story to tell.
SEEING WITH THE HEART, WORK BY LUCIA EAMES
Work by Lucia Eames as seen in Milan.
Work by the late Lucia Eames—the daughter of iconic midcentury designers Charles and Ray Eames—was on display in Milan last week. The exhibition, titled Seeing With The Heart, featured drawings, cut-outs, and metalwork that show off a bold, graphic style and sensitivity towards nature (butterflies and celestial bodies figure in many pieces). A room full of cut-out white paper butterflies stirred a sense of nostalgia and whimsy—who among us didn’t cut out paper shapes when we were children—while cut steel and bronze tables and screens were a weightier addition that cast dreamy shadows onto the white platforms on which they stood.
NILUFAR GALLERY AND DEPOT
Designed Khaled El Mays' work at Nilufar Gallery. Image by Ruy Teixeira.
One of the city’s acclaimed design destinations for more than three decades, Nina Yashar’s Nilufar always stuns with its highly curated assemblage of high-level design. With its two outposts (Nilufar Depot is located in a former silverware factory on the edge of town, while Nilufar Via della Spiga, a multi-level complex, is more centrally positioned), the institution went all-out, combining contemporary and historic design At Nilufar Depot, electric-hued rug from Martino Gamper tie together new work from more than a dozen designers with rare historic and midcentury works by Gio Ponti, Lina Bo Bardi, Joaquim Tenreiro, Venini, and others. At the Via della Spiga Gallery, a sophisticated Seussian aesthetic reigned, thanks to work by Khaled El Mays, whose psychedelic-patterned modular seating was combined into one large, snaking sofa and lamps that looked ready to come alive.
Designer Lani Adeoye with her collection at Salone Satellite. Image by Ludovica Mangini.
With a focus on emerging designers under the age of 35, the annual Salone Satellite show is where to go to get your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with the next wave of designers. This year’s edition, ‘Designing for our Future Selves / Designing for Our Tomorrows’ included 600 creatives, including work from students at design-focused universities. From furniture, accessories, and textiles to designers rethinking the approach to objects such as a walker (Lani Adeoye won first prize for her prototype made of natural materials), entries into Salone Satellite are always refreshing and inventive—there’s definitely a bright future ahead.
LOUIS POULSON CAFÉ
Loius Poulsen transformed Milan's Taveggia patisserie into a layered pink wonderland for Design Week.
To celebrate the launch of its new PH Pale Rose collection featuring the Artichoke and Septima lights, Louis Poulsen took over Milan’s historic Taveggia patisserie for the week, transforming it into a layer-pink design confection. The concept was executed in partnership with Italian architecture and design firm Locatelli Partners, with an aim “to transform reality with nuances of pink, in a contemporary way while respecting the nature and qualities of the Louis Poulsen brand,” says Massimiliano Locatelli, architect and co-founder of Locatelli Partners.
POLTRONA FRAU TRUE EVOLUTION EXPERIENCE
The immersive Poltrona Frau True Experience structure was installed in the courtyard of the brand's Milan showroom.
Shaped like a giant pinecone, the immersive courtyard installation at Poltrona Frau provided a calming, serene escape amidst the frenetic energy of Design Week. The work of interior designer Greta Rosset, the structure was clad in shingles made from a mirror-like material that reflects the world around it. Viewers entered the installation through a dark corridor, where a sequence of lights led to the core. The interior was completely covered with a soundproofed mirrored surface and LED screens running the height of the installation showed images representing the past, present, and future of the Poltrona Frau brand.