Claire Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Design Folio magazine and website, went to Milan for the world's largest design fair, the Salone del Mobile, in search of the directions for the year ahead in design.
Held yearly in Milan since 1961, the Salone del Mobile, the world's largest design fair celebrated its 50th birthday this year. Over this time the fair has established itself as the epicentre of the global contemporary design market.
With each fair the talent pool of designers expands welcoming new entrants into the fold, showcasing the weird, the wild and the simply wonderful ideas for the forthcoming years ahead.
After three less than buoyant years of economic gloom, the organisers of this year's fair made the most of the opportunity to dazzle the crowds with birthday festivities.
With organisers touting that exhibitor numbers were at 2720 this year, up from 2499 in 2010, and with the hordes of people cramming the halls of the fairgrounds, there is a sense of relief that the darker days of previous years may well be behind us.
This year I commemorated eight years of attendance at the fair. After this many visits it would be easy to fall into the trap of feeling jaded by the extravaganza, however, each year I find myself re-invigorated by the diversity and the creativity on display.
And 2011 was no exception, with some excellent examples of unique thinking, cohesive design, and promising young talent.
The relocation of more and more of the larger established manufacturers from the Rho fairgrounds to the once hip domain of the Zona Tortona in an effort to remain fashionable has resulted in the smaller emerging talents moving elsewhere and setting up exhibitions in completely new areas of Milan. Most notable is the Ventura Lambrate area. Launched in 2010, the area has become home to some of the more adventurous and artistically driven designers, and the design galleries that represent them. These burgeoning new zones around the fair only add to the week's already extremely intense schedule, but making the journey to Ventura Lambrate is utterly worthwhile.
Looking back over the week that was, it is a testament to the design industry that this grand event now attracts support from companies whose business is not primarily furniture-focused. Cosmetic companies and fashion brands are all getting on the Salone del Mobile bandwagon in an effort to attract the attention of the 400,000 or more visitors to the event. In many cases these brand collaborations can be weird alignments that lack cohesion, but in more heart-warming scenarios, they can give a sort of financial leg-up to small, emerging design talent that typically would not have the resources required to present themselves at one of the most important events of their careers.
This ability to show and present work in Milan can present them with that glorious moment of attracting attention from one of the larger manufacturers, who in turn can make their design conceptions into internationally recognisable design icons.
* For more of Claire Sullivan's visit to the Salon del Mobile visit the Design Folio website.
1. Domestica Chair by Studio Formafantasma for Dilmos.
Referencing the baskets worn by northern Italian farmers when harvesting cereals, the Domestica chair should be a consideration when planning your next trek up Mt Cook.
2. Chester Moon Sofa by Baxter.
A classic example of "if it ain't broken why fix it?" thinking in design. This sofa was originally launched in 2008 and has been given a birthday of sorts in this new, utterly indulgent brown leather that screams drawing room chic.
3. White Shell Table by Zanotta.
Cristalplant technology is everywhere this year, originally created for the kitchen and bathroom industry as an indestructible surface for baths and benchtops, designers are celebrating the smooth tactile nature of this technology and interpreting it in their own way. This table gives a nod to the 60s with its smooth curves.
4. Luca Gnizio Chaise Longueo.
The ongoing development by large manufacturers into the effective use of recycled materials is put to shame by young designers like Luca Gnizio with his chaise longue. Constructed entirely from recycled materials, strips of iron recovered from a construction site and nylon tyre cord created from scrap-car tyres combine to make this truly beautiful chair.
5. Grinza Chair by the Campana Brothers for Edra.
The Brazilian design duo put on another elaborate show this year with designs that challenge the way you think about furniture. The Grinza chair consists of great expanses of leather draped and gathered over the steel frame of the chair.
6. Optical Wand by Catarina Carreiras for Fabrica.
Designed as a unique take on a food cover that prevents pesky insects invading your delectable treats, the Optical Wand references a butterfly net.
7. Rememberme Chair by Tobias Juretzek for Casamania.
With a focus on sustainability and recycling, the Rememberme Chair is made entirely from old pairs of jeans, making each chair entirely different from the next.
8. D. Manuel Cabinet by Boco Do Lobo.
This stunning limited edition cabinet is named after King Manuel I from Portugal. Constructed entirely from mahogany, the cabinet exterior is covered in copper leaf and finished with an ombre style fading created using a translucent black high-gloss varnish.
9. City Table by Ferruccio Laviani for Emmemobili.
Taking reference from a metropolitan skyline, the City Table has a clear Frank Lloyd Wright influence with its modernist base structure.
10. Grillage Chair by Ligne Roset.
The mesh metal sheet that makes up the seat of this chair is folded to give it a very modern shape.