Buongiorno from iSaloni in Milan

If the European economy is stagnant, it is hard to tell from the mobs of people who showed up Tuesday for the opening of the 55th edition of the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. And if the economy is stagnant, the furniture industry certainly is not.

More than 310,000 are expected to visit iSaloni this week expecting to see what’s next from the 1,300 companies showing their wares here. Furniture is an important part of the fair, to be sure, but it is not the only draw. In fact, there are several fairs going on at once. Visitors can get a taste of the latest in kitchen designs and bathroom fixtures and gadgetry and also see the work of young designers who hope to make a name for themselves at future fairs.

This is not an event that ends when the show closes. In fact, the streets are full after hours with many companies hosting lectures, exhibitions and parties at showrooms across the city, most clustered in the design-centric Brera neighborhood.

If CIFF in China is the biggest, NeoCon in Chicago the most important, Orgatec the most trendsetting, iSaloni is certainly the most influential. What is happening in the booths at the massive Fiera Milano exposition center will define what happens in home and office furniture for years to come. Found inside the massive halls are the trendsetters in the industry. They define the colors, materials, woods, metals and shapes you will see at shows like NeoCon and Orgatec later this year.

Although this is supposed to be an off year for the office furniture industry -- OfficeUfficio is held in conjunction with iSaloni on odd years, opposite Orgatec -- there are many office designs to be found here, though most of the office furniture makers who are exhibiting also sell home furniture. It is clear that the boundary between work and home continues to blur as well. Lounge furniture found at the fair could be used in a collaborative space, lobby or hotel as easily as it could fit in your living room.

The workplace had its event this year as well. Show organizers set up Workplace3.0/SaloneUfficio2017 in pavilion 9, which focuses on workplaces of the future. Titled “A Joyful Sense at Work,” the exhibition focuses on the changing going on in the office and envisions how work is happening. The installation was commissioned by Assufficio and created by architect Cristiana Cutrona, founder of the ReValue practice. Cutrona has designed some of the best examples of smart offices in Italy. Other prominent artists and designers helped with the installation as well, including: Filippo Riniolo, who was responsible for the video installation; and Roberta Maddalena and Tommaso Melideo of Studio Quantica for sculptures, with artistic direction from Francesco Cascino.

iSaloni not only envisions the future, it creates it through the innovative designs found throughout the pavilions. It is about risk-taking. Some of the designs work while others are more silly than sublime. Design is in the eye of the beholder.

This year’s iSaloni is marked by subdued, creamy hues, walnut and even wicker.

Knoll is certainly a furniture design trendsetter and its stand at iSaloni was sublime. The company tapped OMA, the studio co-founded by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas to design the booth “This is Knoll” and to create the displays in its showroom on Piazza Bertarelli. The showroom in the city will celebrate the centennial of the birth of Harry Bertoia. The stand at iSaloni was filled with created with what Design Director Ben Pardo called “restraint.”

“Restraint is not a new concept for us,” he said. “Restraint is very much a part of what we are showing. There is also this question of comfort -- both visual and actual.”

OMA used a mix of leather, natural stone and a splash of gold metal finishes to make the furniture pop. The company prominently showed off its Pilot Chair, created by the London-based studio Barber&Osgerby. The lounge chair was presented with a selection of updated classics like the Pollock Chair and the Bertoia Chair, now with a seat in polypropylene in different colors to celebrate the centennial of his birth.

At past fairs here, bold colors dominated. Before that, the trend was black and white. This year’s iSaloni is marked by subdued, creamy hues, walnut and even wicker. Vitra’s stand exemplified this trend with warm, homey and dark woods and fabrics in sage and mustard. The stand definitely has a retro feel as well, more 1970s than the 1950s and 1960s. The company was also showing off several new products from designer Jasper Morrison. Morrison is know for his literal naming of his furniture.

The Soft Modular Sofa (SMS) is just that. The comes with nine different seating components to change the arrangement and feel. The black base makes the sofa look as if it is floating. The All Plastic Chair by Morrison is new as well. Vitra understands that buyers expect a lot out of their furniture and created the All Plastic Chair with that in mind. It can be used outdoors, in the home or in the office or cafeteria. It comes in a range of subdued, creamy colors.

Emeco was one of the few true American furniture companies at iSaloni. In addition to its iconic Navy Chair, the company showcased its new line of tables, called Run, and designed by Sam Hecht and Kim Colin. “Emeco is known for its chairs, but chairs need tables,” said Madson Buchbinder, press relations manager.

Several furniture makers displayed woven furniture. Kettal showed chairs made of wicker and woven rope while Moroso exhibited chairs of woven thread and metal tables that had the feel that they were woven as well.

Offecct’s stand was dominated by Jin Kuramoto’s Wind Panels and Membrane by David Trubridge, two products that prove acoustic panels and walls don’t have to be boring to be effective.

Some of the furniture is, well, very Italian. Seaway a & Moroni was showing its B BATS Arm Chair by William Sawaya, an upholstered seat with fingers of fabric protruding from the base to create the back. Adrenalina posted a note on the wall of its booth: “We are different.” And they certainly are. A bright triangular shaped sofa called Micromega and designed by Robert Romanello dominated the booth as did the company’s bright colors.

Some furniture was hard to view at all. Haworth’s Cassina brand was an invitation-only affair. Those who wanted the honor of viewing their furniture had to fill out a form and attach a business card to get past the bouncer at the door. Poltrona Frau was equally difficult to access, which seems to defeat the purpose of exhibiting at a furniture show.

Of course, fashion is everywhere. Milan is one of those cities where you never feel cool enough. Claiming Brevetti used its fabrics to create fashion -- a stunning red dress with folds in the fabric that created waves.

Read more about the show on bellow.press >