The week-long annual Milan Furniture Fair (or Salone del Mobile) showcases furniture, lighting, and home-wares by well-established designers, big brands, start-up companies, and recent design graduates from around the world. Though there was no over-arching theme or coherent message, partly due to the current economic climate, there was a clear focus on durability and quality.

One of the design companies spearheading the durability trend for a while now is Tom Dixon. He showed at this year’s fair with “Back to Basics – Utility”, a highly robust collection of lights, tables and chairs made out of iron, copper, marble and granite. Their simplicity and high-end finishes gave them a very honest appeal.

In the same vein, new luxury brand Minimalux, helmed by former co-founder and design director of Established & Sons, Mark Holmes, has created a new generation of heirlooms, the sort of gifts that will remain in your family forever. His gleaming and pared down range of salt shakers, egg cups and various boxes and cylindrical containers are made out of brass and plated in 24K gold or silver.

On a slightly different tack, furniture super-brand Moroso’s showroom featured an installation called M’Afrique that included works by African artists Fathi Hassan and Soly Cissé, iconic Moroso items covered in African fabrics, African-inspired seats by Moroso stalwart Tord Boontje, Stephen Burks, and Philippe Bestenheider.

An entirely different design area with genuine energy-efficiency ambitions is the world of kitchens. Instead of just recycling kitchen waste, Italy’s Valcucine have come up with a kitchen that can be easily dismantled and fully recycled at the end of its (hopefully) long life. The stylish and sleek Artematica Vitrum Invitrum (designed by Valcucine managing director Gabriele Centazzo and pictured right) is made entirely out of recycled aluminum, which requires only 20% of the energy needed to obtain primary aluminum, and glass, which does away with the need for glues and toxic formaldehyde emissions as well.

Giant Italian kitchenware brand Guzzini dedicated its Via Pontaccio store to its Re-Nature Numeri Zero project, giving left-over production, imperfect pieces or waste material a new lease of life. It displayed bowls and storage containers with irregular finishes, dripping paint effects and even gaps in color that would have been thrown away in the past. The other part of the project involved art students in Macerata transforming rejected products into a series of decorative tiles by heat-molding and pressing the objects (such as carafes, napkin or tumbler holders, salad forks and knives) into unique works of art.

The Dutch always seem to have a special affinity to sustainability and off-the-wall, thoughtful design. Bo Reudler’s quirky and fairytale-like Slow White furniture line stood out. This range of furniture with outlandish wonky legs made out of real branches was on show in a Milan parking garage. “Dutchness” showed work by students and graduates from Eindhoven’s famed Design Academy, as well as pieces by other designers. The most beautiful contribution was a collection of candles, linen tea towels, a stool, extension cords and hanging lamps made out of Dutch farm-grown flax by Christien Meindertsma, another Design Academy graduate. A forum discussion about the art of repairing -- recycling’s oft forgotten better half -- was held at the same location. Repairing broken and damaged items is of genuine value in the context of the current global economic crisis, the speakers argued.

The current trend for hand-made production and craft was alive and well in Design Miami’s collaboration with luxury fashion brand Fendi. Craft Punk invited 13 designers (including Nacho Carbonell, Raw Edges and Tomás Libertiny) to spend three days straight making products out of discarded materials from the Fendi production process, such as leather, fabrics, metal and plastic decorative items. The massive 750sqm space fast became the place to be and was good to see designers building up a sweat. (After all, there was a fair amount of welding and soldering going on.)

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Interni Magazine’s Design Energies exhibition in the majestic arched courtyards of Milan’s Università degli Studi, their second major contribution to the Salone. This year’s project was devoted to energy generation and was definitely best visited at night when it was lit up. Viewed in the light of day, much of it was a bit pedestrian and hastily put together.

Two pieces that stuck in my mind however, were Patricia Urquiola’s Marbleous Garden, an all-white collection of oversized vases, bowls, flooring and seats made out of marble, stone and onyx (some surprisingly delicately patterned); and Jacopo Foggini’s ‘magic carpet’ (pictured left), made from scraps of acrylic glass that takes on a mesmerizing and chaotic rainbow-like effect once dark.

Lastly, it seems that Milan itself, a famously polluted city, finally seems to have taken to heart the eco message. A new bike-sharing scheme was launched at the end of last year. So far more than 5,000 people have registered for it. And many of those seemed to be using them at the fair. Certainly a good omen.

RELATED ON MNN: For more on green design, read postings from our home blogger, Matt Hickman.