Milan 2016 – A Truly Exceptional Exposition

The highlight of my year is the Milan Furniture Fair in April and this year marked my 28th consecutive visit – and what a fair. The last five Salones have been marked by a reduction in investments with most manufacturers spending less as a result of the effects of the Global Financial Crisis.

However 2016 brought us a surprising wealth of new products and designs which captured the imaginations of what appeared to me to be record numbers of visitors and exhibitors. Along with the Furniture Fair the Biennial events for Bathroom and Kitchen design made it doubly interesting for me and the wealth of new design and technical development makes it impossible for me to do justice to what was a truly great exposition. For this reason I will touch on just a few of the designs and technical advances which took my eye in particular.

The Kitchen stands in particular were special this year and the return of Arclinea to the fair after a five year absence was by far the best of the show for me.

The display of the new technical Steelio finishes that Arclinea have introduced in black, bronze & champagne had crowds of visitors watering at the mouth. The Steelio Stainless Steel physical vapour deposition process is a treatment which uses a special technology to fix colour in steel by means of the evaporation of titanium molecules.The treatment gives steel greater hardness and resistance to wear. An eco-friendly process that guarantees complete safety in contact with foodstuffs.

The new kitchen by Antonio Citterio for Arclinea was a clear favourite. ‘Principia’ utilises a clever range of bi-fold and flush sliding doors finished in beautiful new veneers and glass options encased in gold mesh to provide a stunning uniform and symmetrical look to the kitchen, hiding appliances, sinks and preparation bench space until required.

I was also very impressed with the Team7 K7 kitchen with their patented height adjustment technology. The entire island top, complete with cooktop can be adjusted from 740mm (dining height) to 1100mm (full bar height) with the push of a button.

Bathroom manufacturers also excelled this year with some beautiful new bath and basin/vanity combinations, however from a technology viewpoint Flaminia definitely took the top spot in my view. The flush toilet has been around in its present form for over fifty years with not a huge amount of development.

Enter “Goclean” from Flaminia a rimless toilet bowl which prevents the accumulation of dirt and the proliferation of germs and bacteria. Imagine no more “Germy Jims under the Rim”, because the rim no longer exists and the old “flushing ring” is no longer needed thanks to the powerful patented rear flushing system which clears the entire bowl in a few seconds.


Equally the furniture manufacturers were outstanding this year with two undoubted future classic sofas being released by my two favourite designers and good friends – Antonio Citterio and Patricia Urquiola.

Firstly the ‘Edouard’ Sofa from B&B Italia by Citterio is a family of innovative padded furniture endowed with powerful aesthetic and functional charm designed to create restful areas that suit both the space available and personal taste. The system offers two back heights, namely 90 cm for the armchair and sofas, and 75 cm for the sectional elements. The slight boomerang design of the sofas allows more intimate conversation and the smaller frame widths make this ideal for smaller apartment living


Secondly, The ‘Beam’ Sofa System from Cassina by Urquiola is made up of soft cushions supported by a beam, a sharp line that ‘raises’ the flexible and lightweight back and armrest cushions which meet in a skilful embrace. The ‘Beam’ Sofa System has those hidden qualities that often characterise Cassina’s earlier models and also pays tribute to Vico Magistretti’s work. The project comprises a beam base and a series of enveloping cushions and seating. The result is a non-conformist sectional sofa.


The sudden and untimely passing of one of the true pioneers of Architectural and Furniture design just prior to Milan Design Week sent shockwaves through the Fair. Dame Zaha Hadid, DBE died on 31 March in Miami at the age of 66. Her flair and creativity redefined architecture for the 21st century and captured imaginations across the globe. In her honour, Cassina previewed a project developed in collaboration with Dame Zaha earlier this year.

The diagonal crevasses of ZH One define the chair’s composition, while its subtle details reveal Hadid’s unmistakable signature together with Cassina’s rich history and high quality craftsmanship. A nuanced reinterpretation of the cube, the understated dynamics of ZH One’s design are enhanced with chromatic variations in the upholstery to accentuate its form.


New innovations have been applied even to tables – the Tense Table designed by Piergiorgio Cazzaniga for MDF Italia, is a technology masterpiece. The 35mm thick tabletop is a load-bearing composite board built with an internal frame consisting of either aluminium profiles and polystyrene filler (wood and stone) or an acrylic resin honeycomb and slimline 35x35mm steel legs with internal structural tie-rod.

The tables and legs are then covered in 3mm layers of stone brass or solid wood to provide a fine aesthetic to an incredibly strong and robust frame. The tables are available in 24 sizes to suit all requirements.

As always the range of new chair designs blew me away. It is hard to believe that designers constantly find new ways to present a chair, but gratefully I acknowledge that they always do and once again the examples are too many to present here.

Firstly the Koki Chair by Pocci and Dondoli from Desalto appealed to me as a fine piece of aesthetically pleasing design without compromising functionality and superb support and comfort for a polypropylene chair. The design surprisingly works equally well as a chair and two barstool versions.


And finally an armchair from up and coming Japanese designer Doshi Levien – the ‘Do-Maru’ for B&B Italia

The small armchair ‘Do-Maru’ is named after the ancient armour worn by Samurai warriors, made up of painted and decorated thick leather plates that covered and protected the hero’s body. Like the swivel armchair ‘Almora,’ designed by Doshi-Levien in 2014, once again the shell of the seat is made up of a couple of superimposed bodies, softened by paddings that can be upholstered with either fabric or leather. The cast aluminium back support boldly underlines the conical profile of the small armchair, while the anterior support is in tubular metal with black chromed or pewter painted finishes, studied to match the colours of the body: white, black and tortora.


To give you an idea, the Milan Fair is vast and to see it all in the six days it is open is impossible. Walking solidly daily around acres of halls and nightly through the streets of Milan City viewing showrooms for all six days would not cover 10 percent. I have tried here to present a cross section of design and product to give a miniscule taste of this incredible event which I never cease to be amazed by. I am already looking forward to April 2017.

Alan Bertenshaw
Matisse International Design