We combed the fairs, galleries, and design districts of Milan to find the most original, unexpected, and delightful design of 2018. From literally thousands of exhibitors, we picked a handful of favorites.
It was a big year for Bodil Kjaer, the celebrated Danish architect and designer who helped set the pace in midcentury office furniture. Twenty-five of her archival designs, from chairs to decorative objets, were reintroduced at Salone del Mobile by seven manufacturers, including Fritz Hansen and Carl Hansen & Søn. Kjaer turned 86 last month.
PlusDesign Gallery put on a solid exhibition dedicated to joints—the basic connective tissue of architecture—featuring new and old designs by Pierre Charpin, Konstantin Grcic, Jasper Morrison, and others. French artist and architect Didier Faustino contributed a graphic trompe l’oeil, the Delete Yourself chair.
Continuing a string of Instagram-worthy, site-specific collaborations, Swedish clothing brand COS commissioned architect-turned-artist Phillip K. Smith III to build a mirrored semi-circular installation in the courtyard of the Palazzo Isimbardi. With its angled, faceted forms, “Open Sky” teleported the heavens above the city into the heart of the 16th-century administrative building.
Pavlo Schtakleff, co-founder of Sé, reaffirmed his reputation as one of the most discerning talent scouts in Europe, tapping Swiss-based Ini Archibong to dream up a new line in celebration of his company’s 10th anniversary. Collection IV (also known as Below the Heavens) offers a range of swollen-yet-sculptural furnishings made of lavish materials like lacquered wood and marble. Sé unveiled the first 11 pieces at Spazio Rossana Orlandi and will continue to roll out more pieces over the next two years.
In 1998, trend forecaster Li Edelkoort envisioned a series of gadgets that were warm and plushy rather than cold and plastic. She called it “Softwear.” Twenty years later Google resurfaced the idea for its first-ever presence at Milan Design Week. The tech behemoth took over three rooms at Spazio Rossana Orlandi, exhibiting photos of Edelkoort’s original 1998 series, jacquard-weave wallhangings by textile designer Kiki van Eijk that portray still lifes of tech devices, and of course, lots of its own hardware.
Edelkoort was busy this year. Along with Philip Fimmano, she also curated “Waste No More,” an exhibition of Eileen Fisher’s new upcycled-fabrics line, DesignWork. Wallhangings made of discarded clothes and scraps were displayed in the vaulted tunnels beneath the city’s central station.
Only a former sports arena could contain the history of Vitra. “Typecasting,” presented at Pelota, attempted to tell the story of the almost-70-year-old Swiss brand in some 200 objects, including iconic, rare, archival, and prototype furniture. Curated by Robert Stadler, the show contained enough odd-balls and one-offs—such as Jürgen Bey’s Mars Rover–style mobile workstation Slow Car—to delight even the most diehard design nerds.
For Surface Media’s 25th anniversary, architect David Rockwell and design studio 2×4 dished up The Diner, an homage to greasy spoons and Americana writ-large. The working pop-up restaurant, located in Ventura Centrale, was divvied into fourths, representing regional variations on the casual dining staple: the Roadside Diner, the East Coast Luncheonette, the Midwest Diner, and the West Coast Diner. Marrying high and low, the space featured booths upholstered in Maharam fabric, counters by Cosentino, and a selection of furniture from Design Within Reach.
In design news, 1stdibs—the online marketplace for antiques—took a big leap into new and custom furniture, showcasing 28 exclusive items that blurred the line between functional and decorative. The collection, known as A New Breed, involved a number of notable designers, dealers, and artists, including Jonathan Nesci, Bec Brittain, and Fernando Mastrangelo.
Last year at Salone, Caesarstone commissioned an eye-popping installation by Jamie Hayon. This year, the company invited Snarkitecture to create a more minimal experience in which to explore its signature material. Housed inside a historic palazzo, “Altered States” took the form of a conceptual kitchen island surrounded by an otherworldly amphitheater of quartz pedestals.
Outside Milan, an early-modern villa by an overlooked figure in Italian design opened its doors to the public for the first time. Villa Borsani, located north of the city, welcomed visitors ahead of a retrospective of its owner and architect Osvaldo Borsani next month at La Triennale. To the extent he is remembered today, Borsani is known as the designer of the elegant P-40 lounge chair, produced by the company he co-founded, Tecno. Now, coinciding with a renewed interest in Art Deco, especially the Italian variety, his family is allowing guests to venture beyond its stucco walls to see his sumptuous abode up-close.
What do you get when you mix a co-working giant, a Danish cult brand, and a wireless speaker company in a neoclassical Milanese palace? A vision for the future of live/work, apparently. Hay filled the Palazzo Clerici’s ornate chambers with a pop-up store, new designs by GamFratesi and the Bouroullec brothers, among others, and colorful, limited edition speakers for Sonos. The centerpiece of the installation was New Order 2.0, an adjustable shelving and storage system, created in conjunction with designer Stefan Diez and WeWork.
As part of its Kosmos show, London-based Wonderglass debuted the Alcova line by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. To produce the vases and other objects, master glassmakers in northeastern Italy pour molten material into a wood mould, lending each piece a unique feel.
Speaking of glass, Austrian crystal-maker Swarovski upped its modernist street cred with a series of special collections by Patricia Urquiola, John Pawson, Nendo, and others, shown at the Palazzo Serbelloni.
Beyond the palazzo takeovers and buzzed-about product reveals, Milan Design Week is fundamentally about the way we consume and share design. On that front, Instagram formally announced @design, its official handle for “exploring the culture of design.” The much-anticipated move from the social media behemoth raises a number of questions over what kind of ideas and designers it will promote with its powerful new spotlight. As of now, the account has just over 25K followers, but with the ability to control “Suggestions for You,” Instagram could easily enlarge its audience anytime.