The Glitch Camp. Courtesy Salone del Mobile

The Spectacle of Salone del Mobile

It’s been a month since Milan’s most stimulating design event—here are six activations that left a lasting impression.  

The great design impresario Murray Moss once revealed how he gets through Salone del Mobile, the vast international home design fair held in Milan annually. The key, he says, is hiring a local philosophy student to drive him around all week.

Indeed, there’s much navigating and cause for pondering at Salone that has ballooned in size and ambition since it began in 1961. This year, over 1,900 exhibitors vied for attention at the 4,359,384-square-foot Fiera Milano exhibition grounds and nearly 2,000 adjunct design happenings or fuorisalone, popped up all over the city and nearby towns. A young philosopher could’ve been useful in making sense of the mega event that inescapably recalls Guy DeBord’s  The Society of the Spectacle.

How does one digest such a seemingly endless design buffet? How much can our minds and hearts hold? What remains after the revelry? Here are several spectacles that have stayed with me.

David Lynch’s Thinking Rooms. Courtesy Salone del Mobile
David Lynch’s Thinking Rooms. Courtesy Salone del Mobile

David Lynch’s befuddling “Thinking Rooms

David Lynch’s Thinking Rooms was the marquee installation of Salone 2024. At Fiera Milano, snaking queues led to a dim, single room with a boxy chair with an armrest stocked with art supplies. In a taped interview with curator Antonio Monda, the lionized filmmaker suggests using the space as a place for deep introspection. The reality was most people simply sat on the chair and posed for a snapshot as if they were at a Game of Thrones exhibit. To accommodate crowds, two identical “thinking rooms” were built at the fairgrounds, but perhaps the kernel of the concept was all in the anticipation.

Courtesy Sean Davidson
Courtesy Sean Davidson

Marimekko’s graphic punch

It’s hard to resist a great pattern. Marimekko and Apartamento magazine have collaborated on a dreamy reinvention of a traditional Milanese café on Via Stoppani. From the floors to the flower-shaped focaccia, the Finnish brand’s peppy motif was the main feature at the weeklong pop-up called Bar Unikko. Rebekka Bay, the brand’s creative director, explained that Marimekko’s iconic flower pattern originated from a rather defiant stroke from its first textile designer, Maija Isola. In 1964, Isola’s bold design won over Marimekko co-founder Armi Ratia despite her known disdain for dainty floral motifs that proliferated during that time.

Courtesy Piercarlo Quecchia

Dropcity: A permanent space for design and architecture

Over the years, critics of Salone have questioned the true cost of fabulous but short-sighted brand takeovers. This bid for permanence is exactly what Dropcity aspires for. Its founder, architect Andrea Caputo describes the  new public design center growing in the tunnels behind Milan Central Station as a locus for creative fervor, citing the roster of exhibitions, design markets, public talks, DJ sets, and a permanent maker space for up-and-coming designers and architects.

Courtesy studio.b.helle

Stylish scavengers

Sustainability is ever on Salone’s agenda and plenty of exhibitors offered ideas for beautiful, earth-friendly building materials and processes. At Alcova—the most popular of the fuorisalone—French designer Aurélien Veyrat brought his brilliant sculptures made from salvaged bricks, glass and other materials rescued from construction sites close to his studio in Lille. In Dropcity, timber from downed trees collected from Milan’s devastating 2023 flood served as an evocative material for a new computer-aided wood cutting and joinery machine developed by the German studio, Streev.

Courtesy Salone del Mobile.

The Triennale in transformation

The century-old design and art museum in Parco Sempione is in the throes of a thrilling renovation. Guided by the original vision of its architect Giovanni Muzio, the first new space—a light-filled research archive and study center symbolically named “Cuore” (heart)—opened to the public earlier this year. Another project in the works is the transformation of a mythic underground nightclub that the institution has recently acquired.

Glitch Camp and Salone’s housing problem

The great irony of Milan’s furniture fair is that it can be very hard to find a place to stay. Hotel prices in central districts soared to $2,000 a night, making the fair inaccessible to most designers. This made Camp Glitch a brilliant anomaly among this year’s fuorisalone. Conceived by Riccardo Balbo, dean of the Istituto Europeo di Design, the project offered free accommodations for any student enrolled in a design institution, 30 years and younger.

Camp Glitch also provided a sense of community that can be sorely absent in the hectic and disparate fair. “The shared experience is great,” says Rob Reuland, an FIT student who was among the 300 who got to sleep in a Ferrino tent at the Milanosport – Enrico Cappelli Savorelli Sports Centre. “With so many things vying for attention, it’s too bad we don’t get to invest as much time in social relations during Salone.” Balbo says they are continuing to  experiment with the format and hinted that they may open it up for design aficionados over 30 years old.

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