We Survived the Salone… An LA Design Duo Reflects on the Milan Furniture Fair

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Sean Dougall is an LA-based designer who cut his teeth working on the production design of some of the biggest awards and political events of the last decade (the 2008…

Sean and Andrew Sean Dougall is an LA-based designer who cut his teeth working on the production design of some of the biggest awards and political events of the last decade (the 2008 Democratic National Convention, for example). Andrew Paulson is his partner in life and work who staked his name out here as a literary agent for a New York agency. Now they have formed a partnership melding Dougall’s design and Paulson’s verbal and promotional skills and are about to launch a line of furniture and lighting. To get some inspiration they recently made a “grand tour” of European design, stopping off at this month’s Milan Furniture Fair. Following are their reflections:

Calling the Salone Internazionale del Mobile “big” sounds almost like a punchline. It’s massive. Think 2,500,000 (that’s two commas) square feet, with more than 2,500 exhibitors and 700 SaloneSatellite participants (the under-35 set), all held at the Rho Fairgrounds just outside of Milan. This was our first Salone, and we might have underestimated it. In anticipation of Salone del Mobile 2014, we’ve decided to start training sometime after the holidays. One day of walking the floors leaves your back aching and your spirits needing a stiff drink.

urquiolaOnce you make it through the first few pavilions, though, trends start to emerge. Bold colors (especially pastels) and shapes (geometric ones in particular), a noticeable lack of pattern, plenty of upholstery, and lots of mixed-media work all stood out to us. We noticed a trend among some more cerebral designers to move away from handcrafted work in favor of machine-generated processes, such as extrusions and die-casting. Wooden dowels and aluminum tubular structures abounded. A few designers in particular made their presence known. Patricia Urquiola (her chairs are shown right) the Milan-based, Spanish architect and designer seemed to be more relevant than ever.

Same for industrial designer Konstantin Grcic, who unveiled his uber-industrial (and, admittedly, not the most comfortable-looking) chair for the Parrish Art Museum on Long Island.

Euroluce, was probably the most interesting showcase. It’s more apparent than ever that LED is the future—or, more accurately, the present—of lighting design. Newer technology, such as low-profile LED, has allowed designers to hide light sources more effectively, which enables them to experiment with new shapes, such as ethereal and pencil-thin fixtures. We thought Vibia (left) was a perfect example of that new vision.

The SaloneSatellite is the industry’s breeding grounds for younger talent, usually fresh off design school (and usually with all the high-concept work that denotes a newly minted—or at least academically minded—designer). Very little furniture here, but plenty of gorgeous work all the same. One standout for us was design duo Giorgia Zanellato and Daniele Bortotto, who call their collection Acqua Alta (or, “high water,” named for the phenomenon in Venice where the tides come in and swallow up the city, leaving behind scummy, salt-encrusted foundations and walls). The series of objects—textiles, a marble table lamp, a room diffuser, and a carpet—which all link back to the theme of the lagoon’s invasion of the city, took our breath away. See for yourself.

glassvaseIf the actual fair weren’t daunting enough, the events around town—known as the FuoriSalone—will bring you to your knees. More than 400 events take place around the city, and it’d take an army of fair-goers to do it justice. We loved the MOST exhibition, hosted at the Museum of Science and Technology and instigated by British designer Tom Dixon. There, the “Glass Is Tomorrow” group, a European collective that promotes high-level craft and design in contemporary glassmaking, took center stage for us.

If our assessment of the Salone focuses on European creative work, it’s because the fair itself did the same. And it’s no wonder that, with its long history of craftsmanship in glass, leather, and so many other mediums, Italy is still the point of convergence for designers around the world, who are looking to leverage that talent for their own work. That history, and the city’s almost palpable passion for design, give Milan indisputable primacy as the world’s design capital.

For more images of what we loved in Milan, visit our Pinterest page.

Los Angeles–based designers Sean Dougall and Andrew Paulson are creating a line of bronze, stone, and upholstered furniture and lighting, to be launched this fall.