Milan Design Week was back in full force this year, with luminaries from the interiors, architecture, and fashion worlds convening to get a sneak peak at all things new and noteworthy. Lines stretched down city blocks for hyped exhibits, restaurants in the Via Brera design district hummed with crowds, and foot traffic ballooned at the sprawling Salone del Mobile fairgrounds just outside of town. The reason, of course, is always good design, but some of the crowds can also be attributed to the fact that 2023 marks the first time that Milan Design Week has returned to its regularly scheduled April timing since 2019.
Naturally, team ELLE DECOR was on the ground scouring the city for design debuts, fashion moments, and trends. From the emerging designers found at Alcova to the massive showrooms that line the streets of Via Durini, we scoured the corners of Milan to find the most prevailing trends that both the fairgrounds and the city have to offer. Expect these to appear soon in a living room near you....
Squish Is the New Blob
This year's edition of Milan Design Week wanted visitors to sit down, get comfortable, and stay a while. The oversize, plump seat that looks too cozy to not plop down in was just about everywhere and signals a continued push toward inviting silhouettes. We loved the soft, curvaceousness of the new Macaron armchairs by Israeli designer Gal Gaon at Nilufar Gallery, which embody the plush lines of this trend. Cassina similarly prioritized this look with its Moncloud sofa by creative director Patricia Urquiola; its soft-as-a-cloud cushions are even made with recycled PET. Fendi Casa unveiled its own squishy seats at its flagship store, most notably with the Blow Up modular sofa by Controvento. Comfort, it seems, will always reign supreme.
Outdoor Just Got Technicolor
If 2020 marks the year that everyone embraced outdoor living, then 2023 is the year that painted said outdoors blue, yellow, pink, and just about every technicolor hue in between. Outdoor furniture, long a category defined by neutral hues and the occasional pop of green, has finally embraced all that pastels and vibrants can offer. Perhaps the best example of this was at Roche Bobois, where artist Joana Vasconcelos unveiled a new indoor/outdoor edition of her famous BomBom chairs. Inspired by sunsets in her native Portugal, Vasconcelos’s collection transformed the brand’s showroom off Via Durini into a veritable Candyland of kaleidoscopic hues and paired the various colorful rugs, sofas, and tables with an equally topsy-turvy textile artwork hanging above. Meanwhile at the fairgrounds, Flexform added a dash of these pastels to its outdoor offerings via its Supermax Outdoor lounge chair. Dedon dipped its toes even further into the world of color by developing a new, color-shifting fiber for its sofas and lounge seating that combines contrasting hues like purple and orange.
Those who were tuned in to The Last of Us series will recognize this trend, which sees design not just take cues from nature (hello, mushroom craze!) but become swallowed up by it, à la the mossy, postapocalyptic buildings from the hit HBO show. One example we're still thinking about was Buccellati’s exhibit, which saw the jewelry brand’s accessories nestled in a bed of carnivorous plants curated by landscape designer Lily Kwong. Here, Venus fly traps and pitcher plants combined with bright red Rosso Maraviglia vases in a captivating show that put the beauty and power of nature at the forefront. These moments continued at Alcova, where Forma Rosa paired its ceramics with IRL flora and fauna, and Rinck incorporated undulating vine motifs into its designs. Keep an eye out for this trend in textiles, rugs, and soft furnishings.
This year’s Salone de Mobile saw the return of Euroluce, a biennial lighting fair that showcases all things new and noteworthy in illumination. Our biggest takeaway? That many brands now want you to take lamps with you rather than leave them tethered to a desk or side table. One of our favorite examples of this was at Ginori 1735, where designer Luca Nichetto collaborated with the glassblowers at Barovier & Toso to create a portable light that resembles a group of stylish perfume bottles. Elsewhere, British designer Tom Dixon rendered his popular Melt and Bell silhouettes in miniature, take-it-with-you forms. Italian design house Porada got in on it too with Ekero Move, a small wood lamp that can be paired with the matching Ekero Night nightstand. What’s pushing this trend? Some of it likely comes from the move toward indoor-outdoor living, as portable lamps can be carried inside and out with ease—plus, there’s an undeniable versatility to these playful designs.
Murano Glows Up
It’s no secret that the world of Murano glassblowers can be a closed-off one. This time around, in Milan, there seemed to be more designers than ever breaking into the space, a move that means the arrival of fresh, contemporary pieces made with the passed-down techniques of the Venetian island’s finest artisans. One standout exhibit was Barbini Specchi Veneziani’s at Alcova, which showcased traditional Venetian glass designs alongside those by emerging designers, like Lucia Massari’s whimsical Taste Composte mirrors. Massari’s playful experimentation with Italian glass continued at Nilufar Depot, where her confectionary Toppings chandeliers were on full display. Dolce & Gabbana’s showcase, meanwhile, included new work from designer Bradley Bowers, whose enormous, chrysalislike Fiosa vase brought striking geometric forms to the world of Venetian glasswork. Finally, Sofia Zevi Gallery showcased works by Japanese designer Akira Hara, who works in Murano and pulls inspiration both from his native Hokkaido and Venice to create vessels with intricate patterns reminiscent of those found in textile design.
Aluminum Is the New It Material
Steel’s lighter cousin was everywhere last week, in joints, jambs, and full-blown furnishings. At Alcova, aluminum loomed in a straightforward industrial table and stools by Belgian designer Arthur Vandergucht. His simple octagonal design for a table felt like something out of the Wachowski sisters’ Zion. The only adornment was that which function necessitated—grommets along the edges of each leg and the sides of the table. Each stool was a table in miniature, rounding out the minimal set. And elsewhere, Kiki Goti unveiled her first collection of objects: sconces, candlesticks, mirrors, pendants, and a table, each with aluminum components. A modular mirror of her design can hang off the wall, theoretically ever expandable due to hooks and eyes on each individual mirror's top and bottom. Coated foam appendages in green and blue render the design playful. Her sconces, made entirely of aluminum are playful as well, like abstracted masks that glow from within. Offsite at Ordet gallery Ledongil Workshop, a Korean interior design firm, presented its first collection of functional objects. Tables with stainless steel bases were topped by aluminum plates coated in glass fiber giving the appearance almost of a light plastic.
Deception took on a decidedly chic air last week in Milan. At presentations throughout the city, brands played with trompe-l’oeil materials, drawing you in for a visual trick and treat. Rinck, the French cabinetmaker known for exceptional execution in just about everything, presented a precious collection of objects all with the subtly marbled surfaces. A towering umbrella stand and multifunctional console, for instance, appeared to be hewn from the rarest of slabs. But marble they were not. Instead these items were made of a composite, lightweight but still fabulously grand.
Elsewhere, terrazzo—a material made from stone and marble scraps—got a new twist, courtesy, Touch Wood, a duo based in Japan and the Netherlands. Instead of the typical stone flecks, Sho Ota and Yuma Kano developed a terrazzo using wood chips, beautifully deploying the material in stools, shelves, and tables. And N/A, another design partnership between Natalia Triantafylli and Andrew Scott, 3D-printed clay mirrors, vessels, and light fixtures based on scans of the IRL objects, resulting in works that still hold the suggestion of clay but with a decidedly digital sheen.
Textiles Get a New Twist
Warps and wefts were reconsidered last week from a production standpoint and with sustainability in mind. A new, young designer based in Berlin, Goran Sidjimovski, presented a collection of home textiles knit in a wide array of colors under the name BOI. Waste guides Sidjimovski’s work more than visuals do: The items are produced using dead stock yarns, organic cotton, and recycled polyester. Each product is knit directly into its final shape and form, resulting in less than 1 percent waste from the studio. Those leftovers are then bundled up and sewn into seat cushions—perhaps the most intriguing object in the presentation.
For Alcova, Atelier LUMA constructed an inviting wool tent where a working felt machine invited you to consider alternate uses for the underloved textile. The studio also presented delectable floor pillows woven from palm leaves—perfect for any beachside escape, with more thought injected into them than immediately meets the eye. Purely frivolous design wasn’t ignored though. In Alcova’s Budapest pavilion, a “Frozen Textile” chair was presented by Demeter Fogarasi with a burlap-adjacent material floating confusingly in space. To create the chair, several layers of a jute-based biocomposite developed with Meshlin Composites were heat-pressed together to form a stronger material, which is then draped over a metal frame devoid of a solid seat or back, and “frozen” in a comfortable, sittable form. The resulting form is inviting, fanciful, and more comfortable than expected.
Helena Madden is ELLE DECOR’s associate market editor, and covers all things product and trend, from flatware and furnishings to kitchen and bath. She previously worked as a staff writer at Robb Report, where she covered luxury news with a focus on interior design.