There is nothing quite like the wild experience of a visit to the Salone del Mobile in Milan. If you relish in the latest in modern design, or decorating is your thing, or your home is the center of your life, then a trip to the Mecca of all things visually delicious is a bucket-list must. But beware — this trade show is not for the faint of heart. There are rules. First, one cannot just turn up, whoever you are. This is the Italian equivalent to arriving at the Chanel fashion show in Paris without an invitation. (But like everything in Italy, there is always a way.) The last day of the show is open to the public so that we mere mortals too can be inspired. You cannot buy a thing at the Salone except a ludicrously-priced glass of prosecco and a dry panini from the upscale vendors that surround the show. Still interested? Read on.
Every April thousands upon thousands of furniture and lighting buyers, dealers and press from every corner of the globe battle their way through the turnstiles that guard the entrance to one of the world’s largest interior design shows. It’s a frantic vision to behold. Europeans, especially Italians, are not fans of any notion of lining up and queueing is not in their nature. At precisely 09:30, all the chic, Prada-clad bodies mob one of four entrances, rather like stylish piglets fighting to get to the trough, waving their passes in the faces of stern, but glamorous looking Italian security guards. Once through the barrier, you are in.
You are now part of an elite crowd about to encounter what designs we will be sitting on, switching on, eating at or lounging on over the coming years. You are privy to a glimpse of what materials we will snuggle up in, what colours will adorn our walls, what technology will light up our homes. Surrounded by so much forward-thinking newness, you are experiencing the future, and this is so tremendously exciting.
In over twenty giant pavilions, each easily quatruple the size of a Costco big box store, some with three levels, the most important design companies launch their new gems: Armani Casa, Minotti, Knoll, Paola Lenti, Gervasoni, DEDON, just to name a few in this luxury chocolate box of the very best in leading edge creations. Then there are the designers themselves who strut their stuff, Starck, Alessi, Mendini, Navone, who come down off their sleek, modern pedestals to meet the worshipping crowds, to chat about their genius creations, and to accept their annual awards. And geniuses they are.
Whatever produces the most buzz at these shows will be on the high street months later. Last year, much of the world’s press and I were in awe of a vegan stool made from salt, but I doubt it will ever become a fixture at Home Depot.
Perhaps that is more an example of what we can do, rather than what we will do. However, also launched at Il Salone, furniture made from woven string or rope is now about to become mainstream. A perfect example is DEDON, the innovative company that specializes in outdoor furniture. Remember the white plastic mould chairs that sat outside every café or backyard? They were replaced after Bobby Dekeyser, founder of DEDON, invented a new type of woven exterior furniture. I have been a massive fan of this company for years because of the high quality and design aesthetic. It did not take long for every white plastic chair to be replaced with a less expensive version of this woven material. This company still leads the way by using modern technology and craftsmanship.
The lighting pavilions had the most cynical among us drooling. Here is where we witness innovation at its best. This year I saw miniature spots the size of the end of your thumb that can be pressed into a ceiling producing moonbeams of light across a room. Just like the furniture these advancements in clever and practical lighting will be in our own homes at the flick of a switch.
The show is on for five days. I have seen exhibitors sob with exhaustion and visitors carrying their shoes as they limp back out into the world at the end of this marathon of intense design. It is exhilarating, inspiring and every year I vow ‘never again’ … until next April!
P.S. I discovered the chandeliers in the above photo three years ago at Il Salone. Now they are a main feature of our Wisteria Pergola at Villa Reniella, turning a passage way into a glamorous outside dining room.