Diary of Milano Design Week 2022

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Milan is known as the city of Italian style. Design weeks, both fashion and design, ooze glamour and sophistication. So when the invitation came to fly out to Italy to meet our client Natuzzi, we packed our shades and headed to the airport. 

Monday

After a minor delay, we touch down in Milan just before midnight and find our apartment – a great little flat in the north of the city – the perfect jumping-off point for design week. 

 

Tuesday 

Salone: We’re jumping on the metro to Salone del Mobile today – a huge exhibition centre which is hosting hundreds of brands, each showcasing their best and newest pieces for the discerning eyes of the interior design world (and two Beaconers who may have lied about their credentials to get passes for the industry days – sorry, we were on a schedule!). We grab a couple of coffees to get us ready for the day. Mine, unfortunately, had a surprise in store – it turns out my confidently ordered ‘Caffe correto, per favore’ is not, in fact, ‘basically a flat white’, but instead an espresso with a shot of grappa in it. A stronger start than I’d hoped for, this early in the day…

Nature is a big theme this year, and organic tones are everywhere – think rich greens, deep rust and brick and flowing shapes, from the furniture to the object immaculately placed on each shelf and table. Upstairs in the exhibition centre is a maze of designers and brands showcasing everyday, liveable but beautiful aesthetics. It’s a real-life Pinterest board for interior design fans and a vast source of inspiration and trends (keep an eye out for that blog!).

Texture also plays a big part – fluffy borgs and boucle seem to be everywhere, often paired against woods and leathers (which are increasingly vegan), with houseplants galore. My favourite stand is Elica Studio, potters that make stunning vases in the shapes of hearts, hands, feet and even teeth. Not only does it stand out from everything else in the hall, but we also spoke to the artist about the idea of functionality changing perceptions. An anatomical heart dripping in spikes seems a questionable addition to a house, but make it a vase, and suddenly it serves a purpose, allowing it to take up space in our homes. It fulfils our desires for art but also less clutter.    

We grab a quick lunch at the restaurant (UK exhibition centres, take note, never again will I settle for Subway at the Excel after this) and head downstairs for round two. It’s clear that this is where true luxury lives. There’s gold leaf everywhere, bronze sculptures and chandeliers, and suites straight out of Versaille. If you’ve ever wondered how much of your furniture could be sculpted from marble, we found out, and it’s all of it. 

Isola: Next, we’re back on the metro for a trip to Isola – and a quick gelato break, of course. Isola is a new-meets-old part of town, once filled with industrial yards but now a cool design-focused part of town filled with students and young professionals, marked by two tower blocks covered in trees as if nature has tried to take them back. There are a couple of smaller exhibits here to have a look at under the theme ‘Together As One’. 

The exhibits are notably different – they focused on students and artists more than brands. It’s rougher but also allows for more hands-on experiences with creators (if you booked in time) and discussions of how cities can become more livable and sustainable for the future.

We head back to the hotel, catch up on some emails, and then head out to meet Silvia, our fabulous client from Natuzzi. 

Wednesday

On Wednesday, we’re up bright and early to visit Natuzzi’s showroom, a few minutes from Duomo, which has been recently renovated to reflect the next iteration of the brand. The theme, Second Life, is the latest chapter in the Natuzzi story, following on from The Circle of Harmony. 

After coffees and pastries at the new Natuzzi bar (aperitifs are also available if only we’d come later), Pasquale (Junior) Natuzzi explains that Second Life as a concept appeals on many levels – firstly, the second life of the brand as he enters into his father’s business. But also, a new sustainable approach, using recycled or renewable materials and creating timeless pieces that will last to be passed on or updated for years to come.

We’re given a tour and told about the new products – our favourite piece is a white marble dining table, or rather two pushed together, with green veins running through the countertop that almost look too perfectly marbled to be authentic. It’s closely followed by the Olive shoots in the courtyard – a tribute to the rebirth of nature, emphasising the close bond that connects us with the environment. An Instagram filter was created for the day, allowing you to place these olive shoots anywhere – even in our home gardens back in England. A little souvenir without the Easyjet surcharges.

Olive trees are also seen in the tre(e)pidation exhibition – a cause that Natuzzi is tackling beyond their own products to protect the Apulian olive trees that are being lost to a Xylella epidemic. Vibrant photos of flaming trees (through long exposure, rather than fire) show a landscape in danger, each one for sale with the proceeds going to Save the Olives.  

After lunch (Pizza, of course), we headed out to some of the other showrooms in the area to see what the other brands were doing. At Galotti & Radice, an art exhibition of fractured glass had taken over upstairs, with images revealed only when you look through your phone. Elsewhere we saw tables made from Petrified wood, a mere 30 million years old (we didn’t dare ask about the price!). 

Some showrooms had some of the joy of Salone, with big retro bubble chairs and bold fabrics designed to spark joy in our homes again after a prolonged period inside. Reconnection was another feature of many of the exhibits, with many rooms clearly designed for socialising with friends and reconnecting with ourselves and our homes.  

Thursday

Our last day in Milan, but still time to head to Tortona for a tour of Archiproducts – a group dedicated to design and architecture showcasing brands worldwide. Innovative design was everywhere, for example, wallpapers made from ceramics to create warmth and texture without actually adding warmth to a sunny Milan room, or shapes and textiles that limit or control sound to allow private conversations in crowded spaces. 

The building is filled with working rooms, each given to a different brand (or brands) to show their products in situ, and in use, allowing visitors to experience the furniture rather than just seeing it. The iconic marble table made another appearance in Natuzzi’s working space upstairs as a coworking desk, in a room that felt completely different to the dining experience at the showroom. 

Finally, there was just time to sneak over to Ikea’s exhibition for a quick look at their creative concepts before heading to the airport, which was, as you would expect, filled with whimsy. Cue giant sensory experiences, ball pits, dens made from cardboard boxes, and a giant disco ball pillow fort. Who could resist? 

By Polly Simonds