Salone del Mobile in Milan 2011

Where can you see all of the latest European furniture designs at one time? Just like a strong cup of espresso, the heady brew of Salone is always stimulating and maybe just a bit overwhelming at times. Not only are there regular exhibits in hall after hall like at any trade fair but all over Milan there are special events, happenings, displays, and all kinds of activities related to Salone. This year I focused on these external events and decided to visit as many as I could. At any time of the year in Milan, you can find elegant shops with their goods artfully displayed but when Salone is on there is an extra excitement in the air and everyone in the design or style business tries to put on their best show. For lovers of contemporary design, there is quite enough to satisfy and maybe even a bit more.

I enjoyed seeing all of the variety and creativity on display this year. I find it exhilarating and affirming that people never stop creating new things and coming up with new ideas. It provides such a positive counternote to all of the bad news we hear every day and gives me reason to be hopeful.

Seeing and experiencing things that are not part of my everyday life gives me a new perspective and opens me up to be more accepting of the unfamiliar. That includes both the designs that I saw and the fun and challenge of routine tasks in another country. I enjoyed trying to communicate in a language that I don’t know and experiencing how far hand signals, facial expressions and body language can take you. Small differences can take on bigger proportions and on the other hand it is easy to see how much all people have in common.

The more designs I see and discuss with designers the more distinctions I have about what for me constitutes “good design”. I was encouraged to see some displays that emphasized green living but I wished that there had been more. I sat in more chairs that I would have thought was humanly possible in a given day. From that I was reminded that looks do not always predict comfort. Some were so beautiful that they almost seemed worth the compromise – sort of like when you buy beautiful but impossibly tight shoes and love seeing them in your closet but just don’t find an occasion to use them. It makes me wonder what happens to all of the things that we buy and don’t use, a problem that many in the world would love to have. After seeing so many new things, some of which seemed to me to be solutions to problems that don’t exist, I wonder about the use of producing more and more “things”. On the other hand, beauty definitely elevates our lives and I loved seeing elegant solutions to problems and the simplicity of some of the new designs. There are benefits involved that cannot be easily measured.

I was pleased to see many new ecologically friendly and recycled materials being used and that many designers are focusing on the life cycle of their product – can it be easily recycled?

It is hard for me to pick out the highlights but some of the ones that I remember were a great exhibit by Brazil about past and present architects and designers, a local optical store that had amazing eyeglass frames made entirely from one piece of beautifully grained wood, many exhibits that creatively used sound and light to make an impact, and an exhibit by Bambica with a shelving/storage system made of pieces of wood that you assemble that was as much fun as a toy to use.

I am grateful to all who put out their best for the show including all of the local businesses that hosted exhibits, the many hours that so many put into designing and bringing their products to life, and to the people who came to the show to give it a reason to exist. I’m so glad that there is a place where good design has a chance and that I was able to be there.

If you are interested in design, there are events all year long and some of them may be near you. The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) is held in May in New York, dwell on Design is held in LA in June, there is 100% Design in London, and there are many more. I highly recommend attending to open up to new design.

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