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Milan Design Week 2024: The Events and Exhibitions That Stole the Show


From a meditative cocoon that harked back to David Lynch’s celebrated filmography to a Samuel Ross x Kohler collaboration that traced the industrial journey of water through a city, here are select exhibits we loved as Milan Design Week made a return for its 62nd edition.

By Arshan Hussain

12 May 2024

The Fiera Milano complex in Milan was the heart of the 62nd edition of the Salone del Mobile between April 16-21, 2024  | Image by Delfino Sisto Legnani; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

Known globally for its glamorous fashion week, Milan attracts fashion aficionados from every corner of the world. Yet it’s not only its couture alleys that play magnet to design connoisseurs. The Italian city garners equal attention for the Salone del Mobile.Milano or the Milan Furniture Fair colloquially known as the Salone, which offers a variety of exhibitions, installations, events, and parties for the global architecture and design community every year over a week in April.

Around 371,000 visitors flocked to the Salone’s 62nd edition which ran recently in the town of Rho in the suburbs of Milan. The Fiera Milano complex stayed the heart of the event with EuroCucina (a biennial exhibition on kitchen design), the International Bathroom Exhibition, SaloneSatellite (a secondary expo that showcases the work of young designers) and an art exhibit by American filmmaker David Lynch. However, even outside the complex, visitors could explore the latest in design at the Fuorisalone, a set of events and pop-ups put up by different brands and designers, which happens simultaneously across the city during what has come to be known as the Milan Design Week. 

An estimated 370,000 visitors attended the event this year in Milan from countries all over the world | Image by Alessandro Russotti; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

Almost 2000 exhibitors, including veterans, young designers and brands such as IKEA, Hermès, Google, Samsung, Gucci, and Prada presented their work and ideas this year in the form of mega installations, immersive exhibitions, furniture exhibits, and latest product launches touching upon themes such as color perception, human-tech interactions and nature inspired design. The Salone had a particular focus on artificial intelligence and neuroscience as well. Italian furniture brand Kartell, for instance, unveiled one of the first design collections ever created with human-AI collaboration, while pavilion designers studied people’s behavior to remodel walkways for improved visibility and recognisability, and to slow down the pace of the visitors by providing rest areas. Here is a select list of exhibits that made the design week worth the visit for us.

A Thinking Room by David Lynch 

American filmmaker, furniture designer and visual artist David Lynch’s exhibit was no different from his films that take the viewers on a surreal journey into the human psyche. Titled A Thinking Room, the installation comprised a set of two identical rooms meant to be spaces for meditation and quiet reflection amidst the frenzy of the event outside.

The giant meditation chair at the centre of David Lynch’s A Thinking Room exhibit | Image Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

The interiors in Lynch’s films are often treated as characters and his vision for the exhibit exuded a similar atmosphere. The curved perimeter leading to the 50-square-meter space was draped in burgundy curtains, mirroring the dream sequence from his cult classic Twin Peaks, the TV show that catapulted him to stardom in the 90s. The decision to cover the interiors in blue, similarly, was an apparent nod to his acclaimed film Blue Velvet

Screens on the tubular walls of A Thinking Room played abstract videos and images | Image Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

In each room, over a blue ocean-like textured floor, a giant wooden armchair was surrounded by thick blue curtains that looked like tubular walls, with screens showing abstract images and videos; visitors could sit, meditate, write, and sketch on the chair using a fold-out desk. Seven brass tubes rose from the top of the chair and branched out to meet the golden, curved ceiling in an ambiguous pattern. Much like the other furnishings in the rooms, a small crown-like sculpture, placed on each frame on the walls, was left to the interpretation of the visitors.  

Under The Surface by Salotto NY 

A collaboration between data visualization and design studio Accurat, Design Group Italia, and the visual artist Emiliano Ponzi from Salotto NYC, Under The Surface was the prime attraction at the International Bathroom Exhibition this year. The installation was aimed at increasing awareness around the sustainable use of water; visitors found themselves on a submerged archipelago, the effect of which was achieved by placing a translucent blue canvas as a false ceiling. Statistics related to global water consumption were reflected on the islands through light projections. 

Under The Surface was an exhibit depicted as a group of islands submerged under water | Image Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

The installation also sought to educate the bathroom furnishing industry in creating designs that are mindful of their water footprint. Interestingly, the curators highlighted their commitment to the subject of the exhibit by sourcing all the materials for the installation locally and confirming that the materials will be reused after the Salone ends.  

Statistics related to global water consumption were projected on the surface and through screens in niches | Image Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

Formation 2 by Samuel Ross x Kohler 

Fashion designer and visual artist Samuel Ross collaborated with Kohler to reinvent the lavatory with a loud orange toilet seat, which was exhibited as a part of the installation Terminal 02 (an ongoing collaboration between Ross’ design studio SR_A and Kohler on bathroom fixtures) that took the visitors through a labyrinth of industrial pipes at the courtyard of the Palazzo del Senato. The mega network of pipes was created to show the journey of water as it travels across a vast area with the help of industrial engineering. 

Terminal 02 presented a network of industrial pipes laid in the courtyard of Palazzo del Senato | Image Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano 

The design of the toilet seat itself, named Formation 02, offered an artistic way to look at one of the most mundane of everyday objects through its brutalist angles. Random cuts were chiseled into the composite resin surrounding the porcelain bowl of the seat to make it look like a natural rock and a cutting-edge bathroom fixture at the same time. "It has such an intensity that pulls you in by use of the color and by use of the asymmetry,” said Ross about the design, ”it's actually closer to a sculpture, it just happens to have an incredible function."

Formation 02 offered an artistic way to look at one of the most mundane of everyday objects through its brutalist angles | Image Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

1st by IKEA

Swedish furniture brand IKEA transformed the Padiglione Visconti venue into a playground with a dynamic exhibition intended to portray the experience of a person’s first steps in life through furniture. Conceptualized by architect Midori Hasuike and spatial designer Emerzon, the exhibition was designed such that visitors entered through an illuminated maze depicting the confusion of first experiences such as setting up a new house. Packed boxes and photo frames filled this space to lend the effect of transition and change. Walking out of this maze, visitors found themselves in an open area, at the end of which was a multi-level stage with different exhibition spaces placed over and next to each other. These different rooms filled with furniture seemed to show the opportunities and avenues a new life opens up.

1st by IKEA made Padiglione Visconti venue look like a color-splashed playground | Image by Jane Englefield; Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

What kept most of the visitors hooked to the venue was its flexibility. During the daytime, people could explore IKEA's latest products (such as the brand’s first inflatable chair from the Brännboll gaming collection) alongside limited edition merchandise, newsstands, and curated events; after sundown, the venue morphed into a music hub with memorable performances by local music crews like Burro Studio and Slipmode.

At night the venue transformed into a party hotspot with illuminated stages | Image Courtesy of IKEA

Re/creation by Lasvit

One of the most mesmerizing sights of this year’s Fuorisalone events was the Re/Creation exhibition by Czech glass-making brand Lasvit at the Palazzo Isimbardi in the Porta Venezia district. An installation titled Porta, part of the exhibition, featured glass panel arches, which seemed like doorways to another dimension, installed in the courtyard of the historic Baroque-style building.

The magic of fused glass, with the effect of smoke machines, in Re/Creation by Lasvit | Image courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

The panels, produced in the largest European kiln and designed by Lasvit’s art director Maxim Velcovsky, showcased the brand’s latest designs of fused glass based on the concept of letting go. To create fused glass, heated glass is allowed to flow in a molten state and embrace the form of the custom design molds. This way, it adopts unique textures within the material while also showcasing the flexibility of glassmaking in terms of size and versatility. Re/Creation went on to win the audience award as the most memorable event of this edition at the Fuorisalone Award 2024 program.

Whispers of Nature by Nendo

Japanese design firm Nendo showcased their nature-inspired product collection at the new Paolo Lenti space, a reinvigorated industrial complex. Named Whispers of Nature, the collection took inspiration from everyday, natural occurrences that are often paid little heed, such as the formation of clouds, passing of time, light and shadow etc. The exhibition bagged a special mention in the communication category at the Fuorisalone Award program 2024. 

Clustered Clouds, new shelf designs by Oki Sato, are part of Nendo’s collection Whispers of Nature | Image Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

The visitors were greeted with five product collections. Clustered Clouds is a series of translucent shelves that are based on how we see and experience clouds — how they look like white volumes from a distance but hazy when looked at closely or from within. In Passing Rain, five bowls showcased the different stages of rain, capturing the passage of time; the bowls seemed to be held together by rain streaks that were illustrated through stainless steel rods. Another collection called Light and Shade featured products like armchairs, side tables, lamps, and a clock that work on the concept of cast and mold, with the designer highlighting the need to pay equal value to both light and shadow, and cast and mold. 

Passing Rain, a part of Whispers of Nature, presented a moment frozen in time through five bowls showing different intensities of rain | Image Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano


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