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Milan show mixes design, fashion, architecture

Sunday - 4/14/2013, 6:10am  ET

Suspension lamp called 'Flying Flames' designed by german designer Ingo Mauer is displayed at Milan's Design Fair, in Milan, Italy, Friday, April 12, 2013. The Milan furniture and design week fair is a six-day event which ends next Sunday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

COLLEEN BARRY
Associated Press

MILAN (AP) -- Bathrooms that beg indulgence. Tiles that reduce pollution. Lighting that mimics a rainbow.

Extravagance, social consciousness and innovation are strange, but alluring, bedfellows at the Milan Furniture Show and the myriad side events dedicated to design that wrap up Sunday, ending a weeklong celebration of domestic bliss in its many forms.

The burgeoning event was originally conceived to promote Italian furniture making, which is withstanding the recession better than many industries, and now encompasses also design, fashion and architecture.

And as all these disciplines converge, so does utility. More and more, pieces can be shifted from room to room, and from home to office.

Global sales of luxury furnishings last year rose 3 percent to 18.5 billion euros ($24 billion), according to a study by Bain&Company for the Altagamma association of luxury designers. That's behind the 10 percent growth of the luxury industry as a whole, largely because emerging markets like China still haven't gotten around to redecorating their interiors, which Bain says gives great growth potential to the sector.

The sprawling event gives ample space for everyone from established designers like Phillipe Starck and Ingo Maeur to unknown newcomers to showcase their new creations.

LIGHTING

Inside a darkened room, tiny LED lights create halos that seem to bend when a hand reaches through. The effect is one of a rainbow, this one manmade with by the Tokyo/Milan design studio IXI with technology by Toshiba. Here, crystals mimic water droplets and the LED lights the sun. The one-off installation created for design week is called "Soffio," Italian for breath.

Lighting fixtures remain a central theme during design week, from the elegant to the fanciful.

The prestigious French crystal maker Baccarat engaged some of the industry's luminaries to interpret lamps, chandeliers and lighting fixtures for this year's furniture show.

Brazilian brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana incorporated rattan, bamboo and silk in a series of exotic lamps. For their Fusion collection, the encased a greenish blue crystal bulb within bell-shaped rattan shade that suggests the Maghreb. And a clear crystal bulb nests within bamboo cocoon in a table lamp that evokes Asia. Phillipe Starck designed a series of elaborate 24-light chandeliers, one featuring three glass deer heads in full antlers, while Arik Levy created a modernist 4-level frozen pattern chandelier.

Munich-based Ingo Mauer had a wholly modern interpretation on the chandelier. His "Flying Flames" evoke floating candles fashioned from red or black circuit boards with an electronic flame rendered in LEDs, each suspended from the ceiling. The 32-light creation was shown spectacularly in front of a reproduction of Leonardo's Da Vinci's "Last Supper."

BATH

No more is the bathroom strictly utilitarian. Increasingly, it is a sanctuary for indulgence, more spa than pit stop on the way to the office or out for the evening.

Design firms are taking note of trend, and have begun to enter one of the fastest-growing luxury furniture sectors, worth 2.8 billion euros globally last year.

Kartell, the Italian design leader, launched its first-ever collection intended for the bathroom, teaming up with the Swiss fixture maker Laufen and designers Ludovica and Roberto Palomba.

"I noticed more than two years ago that the bathroom is becoming more and more important," said Kartell president Claudio Luti. "Now, people want to find the comfort there that you have in the rest of the house. It becomes total living."

The Palomba design team used Laufen's latest technology, a ceramic called SaphirKeramik that is 30 percent lighter and easier to shape, to create graceful bathtubs and washbasins and sanitary fixtures.

The tub and sinks are freestanding and floor-mounted for a clean and spare look. Overflow drains can be hidden, and Kartell has designed colorful disks that fit over external faucets to incorporate utility.

The fixtures are paired with transparent cabinets, shelves, stools and towel racks in Kartell's signature transparent plastic -- also in warm colors like orange and blue -- that allow many configurations to customize the space.

SUSTAINABLE LIVING

Design is getting more ecological. Consider that it may not be the family car that is contributing the most to pollution. Buildings are responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption and one-quarter of carbon gas emissions, exceeding industry and transport sectors when it comes to pollution.

Architect Mario Cucinella has been pushing the agenda of sustainable buildings and this year presented a conceptual project with tile-maker Marazzi aimed at focusing attention on the importance of clean air. Titled "Pure Air," the 6-square-meter (7-sq. yard) cube installed at Milan's state university was filled with purified air and covered with hexagonal black stoneware tiles produced with an energy efficient process. Inside, both air and noise pollution are filtered out.

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