Having visited Milan for the last 4 years, I have grown to look forward to the young designer events held at alternative venues across the city more than I do the polished commerciality of the vast official fairgrounds at Rho. That said, one of these young designer venues is SaloneSatellite, held in Halls numbers 22 to 24 of the main fair. The work is heavily vetted by an international selection committee to maintain a consistently high standard and exhibitors must be no more than 35 years old and are limited to exhibiting three times.
Started in 1998 by Marva Griffin Wilshire and designed as a platform for designers to make a connection with some of the world’s best manufacturers, SaloneSatellite 2013 seemed to have more promotion than in past years and was probably one of the strongest years to date.
Tortona, nestled around Porta Genoa railway station in the south of the city has been championed by Giulio Cappellini as an alternative to the main fairgrounds since 2000, when he moved his brand’s headquarters there. Tortona was a former industrial area that underwent an unofficial urban renewal programme in the 80’s courtesy of the rise of fashion magazines like Vogue, with a multitude of empty factories being converted into photo studios. Because of it’s proximity to the city’s centre, Tortona is slowly coming under threat from residential expansion but still has a enough large empty buildings to host the types of events required during design week.
In recent years the shine has come off Cappellini’s Superstudio complex and the Tortona area in general. It is now more of a late night party venue with far too many multinational electronics brands and car manufacturers attempting to gain street cred by associating themselves with design week events. More design and less marketing is needed to restore Tortona to it’s former glory but this year still had a few quality events involving small brands and young designers – such as ‘Swedish Design goes Milan’ held at Superstudio and ‘Tuttobene’ – a Dutch group show held nearby.
But it’s Ventura Lambrata, the design event in the north of the city that really gets me excited. Started by Dutch duo Margriet Vollenberg and Margo Konings just four years ago, it has already taken Tortona’s crown as design week’s most interesting destination. Set up to offer a more affordable and appropriate venue for young designers, Ventura Lambrata was an instant success and became ‘THE’ place for young designers, small studios and design colleges from all over the world to show their work. 2013 saw 80,000 visitors come to stroll the streets and discover the work of 795 designers from 30 countries.
While the selection process ensures a high quality of work, it’s also the rawness of the Lambrata location itself that makes the event so inspiring. Most designers spend their working life either in tiny artistic studios in a crowded city centre or in some sort of rough and ready industrial complex. Lambrata’s mix of old warehouses and former mechanic’s workshops seem totally appropriate for the purpose and it enables the designers to feel very much at home. Like other artists, designers don’t seem to fit with the convention centre vibe of the main fairgrounds. At Lambrata, like Satellite (and in a few areas of Tortona) you are able to see products in their early design stages – as prototypes made by the designer themselves – often not completely resolved or perfected and most at least a year away from production. You have the opportunity to talk with the designer directly about their concept, design process and manufacture. What more could a design obsessive possibly want? The good news is that Ventura Lambrata is awash with the interesting, the innovative and at times, the quite bizarre.
Andréason & Leibel are a design duo that formed part of a very impressive line up of Swedes at the Malmö by Proxy show. Their new ‘Babylon Towers’ desk inspired by the Breugel painting ‘Tower of Babel’, uses six timber sections that are stacked to form a tall desk cum bookshelf. Made from Larch wood the desk breaks down to a smallish flat-pack (relative to the assembled size anyway!) Andréason & Leibel also showed their new ‘Woodkid’ armchair and some interestingly 3D printed ‘Inkwell’ vases – which are available to download and print yourself if you have a 3D printer to hand.
Also forming part of the Malmö by Proxy show were designers Ola Wihlborg and Oskar Ek. Wihlborg has designed most of Ikea’s recent top designs including the brilliant ‘Reidar’ aluminium indoor/outdoor chair. What Wihlborg showed at Lambrata was quite different however. His ‘Copper’ lamps in spun copper and his half log ‘Ash’ stools and benches encapsulated a very simple Swedish design sense in a charmingly rustic way. Ek’s work by comparison involves fine metal forms. With a remarkably simple concept and minimalist metal work Ek has created a delicate wall or table mounted oil burner ‘Skuggan’ and a wonderfully whimsical table and floor light called ‘Tails’. The later has a shade made from timber veneer that is cut and gathered – appearing like the tail feathers of a bird. Serge Mouille in spirit but with an organic element.
The Hamburg based duo Besau-Marguerre (Marcel Besau and Eva Marguerre) are known for their interesting work with fiberglass and resin such as their 2012 stool design ‘Nido’. But in recent times they have been busy researching the effects of heat on copper. Their delightfully simple floor lamp ‘Flare’ uses polished copper internally and a contrasting mint powder coating on the exterior. Two large discs that barely join at the top are at once a sculpture and a light source.
In other work Besau-Marguerre have been creating unique pieces for the Stilwerk Limited Edition Gallery in Hamburg. These polished copper ‘Iredescent’ mirrors are applied with substances and heat and forced to discolour, revealing interesting patterns.
Shown at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Kadktype exhibition were 13 wooden chair prototypes by School of Design students. While all of the ‘stick’ designs were interesting, the two stand outs were the ‘Ronin’ chair by Frederik A.Werner & Emil Valbakand with it’s oversized curved backrest and Camilla Aggestrup’s ‘V’ legged ‘Uppersit’ chair.
Emmanuel Babled Studio has been showing Babled’s limited edition work in Milan for several years and each year the boundaries seem to be pushed just that little bit more. French born Babled opened his studio in Milan in 1992 but moved to Amsterdam in 2010 (he is a visiting professor at Design Academy Eindhoven). He has worked for dozens of top-flight companies over the years including Vistosi, Kundalini, Waterford Crystal, Baccarat, Rosenthal and Covo, both on production projects and limited edition pieces. The work presented at Lambrata this year by Babled has combined the precision of digital marble cutting with the looseness of hand blown glass in an extremely expressive way.
I came across Dante Goods and Bads, in a tiny hole in the wall space in Lambrata last year. The brand/studio presents a unique style right down to it’s photography and promotional materials. Based around the talents of artist Aylin Langreuter and industrial designer Christophe de la Fontaine, with other designers coming on board as required, the range has an industrial elegance like the Flatiron building or an old passenger liner. This year’s show ‘Admit One Gentleman’ was set around the theme of sophisticated old world elegance. A collaboration with world famous barman Charles Schumann has resulted in an elegant champagne bucket and mint julep vessel produced by silversmiths, De Vecchi.
The main attractions for me however, were the quirkier ‘Come as you are’ deco-style drinks trolley, the scientific looking ‘Scintilla’ glass lamps and the ‘Memoir’ accordion hat and coat rack. These were designed by Christophe de la Fontaine, Pietro Russo and Jakub Zak respectively.
Diederik Schneemann is nothing if not full of surprises. Two years ago the Rotterdam based designer produced an installation of furniture and lighting items made from recycled flip-flops to highlight the amount of this world staple that float around the seas and garbage dumps of the planet. This year his ‘Mash up’ collection consisted of a 3D printed chair and pendant light made by amalgamating parts from very famous chairs and objects to show how easily this can be done on a 3D printer. Schneeman is not advocating this type of blatant design theft, rather he is attempting to highlight the impending likelihood of intellectual property wars when domestic 3D printers become a reality.
Fred & Juul (Frederico Minarelli and Julie Janssen) are an architecture and design studio based in Florence. Previously known for star-like cast brass metal pendant lights, this year they added a one-piece cast brass bistro table ‘Jean’ which has a top made up of hundreds of tiny cast butterfly shapes ‘melted’ together. Their ‘Cornelius’ candleholder is highly refined by contrast and combines black Marquina or white Carrara marble with Italian Cypress wood in an intriguing multi-functional package. The candleholder also acts as a board for the game Pentalpha with the marble or timber balls stored in the turned timber base. The base can also be used as a serving bowl.
Studio Roso (Danish designers Sophie Nielsen and Rolf Knudsen) was another striking small studio among the countless quality exhibitors at the Ventura Lambrata Warehouse. This cavernous concrete hall provided over 60 designers from all over the world the opportunity to have their own – albeit small – bit of floorspace in Milan. Studio Roso’s ‘Circus’ sideboard uses graphic motifs on it’s sliding glass doors to create a colourful moiré pattern effect as the doors overlap.
The melding of Japanese and Mexican cultures is an interesting concept but one which Laura Noriega has found surprisingly harmonious. Her ‘Your skin’ woven Igusa fabric and turned birch chair was developed while living in Japan on a 6 month scholarship – as were her ‘Empathy’ porcelain vases produced in the traditional Kiyomizu style. Both the chair and the ceramic forms, reflect a delicate Japanese aesthetic filtered through the mindset of a sensitive Mexican designer. Iguso weaving is how Tatami mats are made. The refined yet exceptionally simple frame supports a small independent Tatami fiber cushion that can be removed and aired or used on the floor separately as a floor cushion. These prototypes were made with the support of Japanese master craftspeople: Hanagoza (Tatami) craftsmanship by Tatami Tokura+Ohashi. Wood craftsmanship by Miyazaki Mokuzai. Kiyomizu vesssels by mastercraftsman Suzuki Tomonari.
Studio WM is a young Rotterdam based design studio established in 2010 by Wendy Legro and Maarten Collignon – both graduates of Design Academy Eindhoven. The work of Studio has a lightness of touch where the work always seems soft and delicate. Perhaps this is due to their very subtle way with colour and their understanding of how light reflects from different materials. They have previously released high precision porcelain and glass pendant lights and fine wire chairs but this year have launched a Corian™ side table called ‘Troche’ and the charming pendant light ‘Circular’ – offered in a black rubber or Kvadrat Hallingdal fabric finish. Two table lamps ‘Gradiant’ and ‘Reflector’ utilising a disc as reflector and diffuser were also released.
Jeroen van Leur is a Dutch designer based in Amsterdam. His ‘Woodstock’ clothes rack showed in the same group show ’010 – 020′ as Studio WM along with a number of up-and-coming designers, Phil Procter, David Derksen, Lex Pott and Mae Engelgeer. His clothes rack is a clever loop made of six oak timber rods with metal elbows that join the rods together. The wardrobe leans against the wall and four little rubber ‘O’ rings prevent if from moving and stop coat hangers from falling off the ends. The whole thing neatly disassembles into a carry bag. Available in three sizes with metal parts either powder coated or in copper.