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Back to the ’50s. Minimalism RIP.

In the last few days I have been lucky enough to visit Milan 2014, two design shows that set the year’s interiors agenda: Salone del Mobile and Eurocucina.

There really isn’t anything like these adjoining trade shows in England, or maybe anywhere else in the world. Approaching them on a metro line with thousands of others as if we were travelling to a football match, I emerged into full sun, dazzled first by the light and then the exhibits. Incidentally, as an English speaker you feel most of the time that your home environment is advanced enough technologically. But Milan, apparently one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, provides its underground users with excellent wifi (like Shanghai – more to come about that city later…).

Heading first for Eurocucina, it was a pleasure to see imaginative 1950s-inspired kitchens – making for a more interesting show than last year’s. It seems that the minimalist look– often an excuse for boring reductive designs with no emotional appeal – is now exhausted, jettisoned in favour of much more exciting ways of communicating with customers. On display in Milan was a contemporary Italian version of steam punk that uses roughened industrial surfaces combined with rusticity, some modern materials and a bit of New York warehouse ambiance. A key expression of this is Scavolini’s collaboration the fashion brand Diesel (subtitled ‘social Diesel’), a laid back kitchen with draw handles evoking ’50s office filing cabinets, hammered metal finishes as on old machinery, wire mesh reinforced glass, and rubbed oak surfaces subtly distressed and greyed off. More obviously nostalgic, kitchens from the Marchi Group are complete interior design concepts, their remit extending beyond cabinetry to cover the feel, colour and texture of whole rooms. Nostalgia really works when given a new injection of energy, its references put together in a fresh way. As it happens, I too am developing a collection for industry that draws on my long-standing affection for the ’50s and an unbuttoned approach to designing domestic spaces.

In Milan, the innovation continued in the contemporary furniture halls of Salone del Mobile, where Zanotta (through their collaboration with Maserati) showed highly crafted chairs like seats out of classic sports and saloon cars only more capacious.

Outside the shows, the Brera district (Milan’s design quarter –like Clerkenwell perhaps) is a metro ride away. Here designers have a coordinated voice. The industry’s local paper publishes a manifesto – proof of the way Italians love debating design, treating it as a philosophical as well as practical profession. Brera’s old streets full of restaurants, small shops and cafes, bordered by La Scala opera house, have two design academies at their heart. So as history encases modern ideas, the district is thriving, a great place to shop and meet people, and above all a friendly scene.

I’d like to bring some of the glow of this design culture here by giving students at Bucks New University the chance to enjoy the same kind of excitement and depth of thought about the possibilities of kitchen furniture and home design. Our designers need to inform themselves not just to see the kitchen as sales opportunities but as creative experiences that unite many aspects of life – food, design, history, cabinetry – and their design a discipline that connects directly with architecture and culture. Tellingly I hardly spotted a single British product or company at the Milan shows.


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