Secret City: Milan During the Salone

As Salone del Mobile 2016 draws to a close, six designers and CEOs of leading design brands reveal their favourite spots in Milan

Ristorante Rigolo,  Via Solferino, Milan
Ristorante Rigolo, Via Solferino, Milan

Milan is transformed in the week of the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. The industrial, financial and commercial capital of Italy, as well as the base for most of the country’s well-established design ateliers, Milan really comes alive in late April for the largest furniture and design fair in the world.

Although the Salone is focused on the Fiera Milano exhibition hall in Rho, a few miles north west of central Milan, the city bustles with the nearly 400,000 visitors to the fair, and there are many exhibitions and events worth seeing elsewhere. Such is the impact of the Salone on Milan that it can sometimes be hard to get away from for respite from the hectic schedule of launches and exhibition openings. With this in mind, we asked six leading designers and CEOs of influential brands for their tips on where to eat, relax and get away from it all during the fair.

Ristorante Rigolo – Massimo Orsini, CEO of Mutina

“I like typical Milanese restaurants that aren’t too fancy or contemporary; the old ones like Rigolo. These places don’t change, they haven’t changed for years. There’s a timelessness to them.”

Read Massimo Orsini’s comments on Mutina’s latest collaboration with British designers Barber & Osgerby here.

Park Hyatt Hotel – Vincent Van Duysen, designer

“I always have a very intense program when I go away, so I tend to stay in the same hotel, the Park Hyatt. When I’m not at the fair I go to my room and rest. Every year, when I’m here for the Salone or working on projects in Milan, I always have the same room and it has become my home away from home.”

Here, Vincent Van Duysen speaks to PORT about his new collections for lighting brand FLOS.

10 Corso Como is one of the main attractions on Corso Como, Milan
10 Corso Como is one of the main attractions on Corso Como, Milan

Corso Como – Mette Hay, co-founder of HAY

“This year we were so busy that we didn’t have much time to get out and explore, but I have always loved visiting Corso Como. We also have a few friends in Milan we like to visit when we are here, it’s a good way to have a quiet moment away from the exhibition.”

Read our interview with Mette and her husband Rolf Hay, who discuss theSalone del Mobile 2016 and their relationship with the heritage of Danish design.

Di Gennaro – Moritz Waldermeyer, designer

“There’s one place I always like to go to – it’s a pizzeria and a bit of a hidden gem called Di Gennaro. It’s quite close to the Duomo, but most people don’t know about it. What’s lovely is that it’s completely undesigned, it’s never really been refurbished. It’s refreshing to hang out there; it’s a complete antidote to the whole of Milan Design Week.

Here, Moritz Waldermeyer takes PORT on a journey through Milan to visit the three installations he created for Officine Panerai.

Hotel Milan Scala, Via dell'Orso, Milan
Hotel Milan Scala, Via dell’Orso, Milan

Hotel Milan Scala – Ora Ito, designer

“Since I’ve been coming to Milan, I’ve always stayed at the Hotel Milan Scala. It’s very central – you can watch the Milanese going about their daily lives and take in the elegance of Milan. It’s the best place to meet the big guys in design because they all go to this hotel.”

Read our interview with Ora Ito, where he explains how his new design for Cassina is the realisation of a childhood dream.

Giacomo Bistrot – Martin Andersson, head of menswear at COS

“I particularly like to go and have dinner at Giacomo Bistrot, it’s one of my favourite places in Milan. It’s always a treat: there’s amazing food, it’s a really beautiful place, the interior is superb, it’s quite buzzy, and just somewhere I love to hang out.”

Read our feature on COS’ collaboration with architect Sou Fujimoto here.

Illustration Katie Roberts

Salone del Mobile 2016 Review

PORT’s design editor Alyn Griffiths reflects on the best collections, exhibits and events from Milan’s Salone del Mobile 2016

Credenza – a collaboration between designer Patricia Urquiola and artist Federico Pepe for Spazio Pontaccio
Credenza – a collaboration between designer Patricia Urquiola and artist Federico Pepe for Spazio Pontaccio

Trying to summarise the best events and new releases at Milan’s annual design week becomes increasingly difficult as the volume of shows across the city continues to escalate each year.

At the city’s main exhibition centre, the 55th edition of the Salone del Mobile brought together all of the biggest furniture and design brands, while accompanying satellite exhibitions popped up in grand palaces, museums (Tom Dixon), disused shopping arcades (Wallpaper* magazine) and even custom-fitted delivery vans (Lee Broom).

Some of the biggest names seemed to be everywhere at once, with Patricia Urquiola, Neri&Hu, Nendo and the Bouroullec brothers designing products, stands and overseeing the creative direction for multiple brands.

Companies not typically affiliated with furniture design also had a strong presence during the design week, with Mini, Airbnb, Panasonic and Nike among the many aiming to showcase their creative credentials. It all made for a diverse and exciting event, and here, I pick a few of my highlights.


Ren collection by Neri&Hu for Poltrona Frau (pictured above)

For its first collaboration with venerable Italian furniture producer Poltrona Frau, Shanghai studio Neri&Hu chose to focus on an often underused domestic space – the entryway – though the pieces can also be used throughout the home. Rather than designing an addition to the brand’s existing range of fully upholstered leather furniture, Neri&Hu used leather to add tactility to the surfaces of tables, coat racks and a valet stand.

Rockwell_Valet collection for Stellar Works

Valet collection by David Rockwell for Stellar Works (pictured above)

Under the creative direction of Neri&Hu, Asian design brand Stellar Works launched American architect and designer David Rockwell’s debut furniture collection called Valet at the fair. Rockwell’s studio developed 14 pieces distinguished by their simple functions and luxurious details, including matte brass and leather cord. “The collection merges expressive materials, craftsmanship, functionality and elements of surprise to activate transitional spaces in residential and hospitality environments,” said Rockwell.

NUDE_Chamfer by Philippe Malouin

Chamfer by Philippe Malouin for Nude (pictured above)

Within an arcade colonised and curated by Wallpaper* magazine, Istanbul-based design brand Nude presented its latest glassware products, including pieces by Inga Sempe and Joe Doucet. London-based designer Philippe Malouin created Chamfer, a series of glass jars with lids featuring edges cut at 45 degrees so they can be lifted without requiring a handle.

Makers & Bakers, curated by Ambra Medda for Airbnb (pictured above)

As well as fulfilling the role of official “hospitality sponsor” of the Salone del Mobile, Airbnb engaged in its own creative project by inviting curator Ambra Medda to create a pop-up eatery at Ristorante Marta. The project was titled ‘Makers & Bakers’, and featured products designed for a shared table by creatives from 13 different countries. A 3D-printed titanium bread knife by New Zealander Jamie McLellan and a bread board made from wooden blocks by Study O Portable were among the highlights.


Apparatus (pictured above)

At its showroom in the Cinque Vie district, New York design studio Apparatus showcased new products including a marble version of the existing Portal table and two new lighting collections. Utilising the studio’s signature palette of on-trend materials including leather, marble, aged brass and etched glass, the pieces have a robust yet tactile quality combined with classically influenced forms.


Credenza by Patricia Urquiola and Federico Pepe for Spazio Pontaccio (pictured above)

Patricia Urquiola and artist Federico Pepe combined colour and craftsmanship in their Credenza collection for the Spazio Pontaccio design boutique. The cupboards, screens and low tables feature stained glass surfaces that recall traditional church windows, given a modern twist by Pepe’s graphic patterns. Beautifully detailed and produced using ancient artisanal techniques, the sculptural pieces looked stunning in the Milanese sunlight.

Studiopepe_Out Of the Blue_photo by Silvia Rivoltella_1

Out of the Blue by Studiopepe (pictured above)

Of the more conceptual works on show, I enjoyed Studiopepe’s series of geometric plaster volumes that had been brushed with a cyanotype solution and then left in the sunlight. The angle of the sun, the length of the exposure and the forms themselves all contribute to the appearance and hue of ‘shadows’ cast upon the objects. This exploration of the relationship between form, light and colour, embodies architectural principles of light and architecture on a compact scale.

Mutina: 10 Years of Innovation

Massimo Orsini, CEO of innovative ceramics marker Mutina, discusses the brand’s new collection with Barber & Osgerby


It seems that 2016 is an important year for Mutina. The Italian ceramics brand had already existed for 30 years when, in 2006, it was bought by Massimo Orsini – the current CEO – and three other investors, with a clear and simple plan: to elevate the humble tile to an important object of design.

Now 10 years on and celebrating a decade since Orsini came to the helm, Mutina has built a core group of prestigious designers – Patricia Urquiola, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, Rodolfo Dordoni, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Tokujin Yoshioka, Yael Mer and Shay Alkalay of Raw Edges, Inga Sempè and Konstantin Grcic. Working as a tight-knit team, these designers have successfully managed to push the standard and standing of ceramic tiles within the design world.


“It was very important for me to try and bring high-end design into ceramics,” Orsini tells me at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, where Mutina exhibited ‘Puzzle’, a new collection by the English designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. “Ceramic is a fantastic material and we came to Mutina to try to convince other designers to use it to its full potential,” he adds. “We are the only ones in the design world to have a product like this.”

This latest addition to the Mutina collection came about after Patricia Urquiola, the first designer to work with the brand, introduced Barber & Osgerby to Orsini in Milan. “We immediately got on very well,” Orsini says. “I love to work with the people I like, and Edward and Jay’s passion and savoir faire is fantastic.”


Almost three years in the making, ‘Puzzle’ is described as a “game with infinite possibilities”. Based upon simple geometric shapes, the set of six graphic patterned tiles, three plain tiles and two symmetrical tiles, can be arranged in a variety of configurations. Each permutation forms a pattern that ebbs and flows with every new tile – sometimes abstract, sometimes growing into figuration.

The collection’s eight colourways take inspiration from European islands; the neutral colours of northern European islands of Faroe, Gotland, Aland, Anglesey and Skye and the warmer tones of the Crete, Milos and Murano in the Mediterranean add to the playful, endlessly customisable nature of this collection.

Barber & Osgerby’s ‘Puzzle’ is here shown in the Anglesey colourway
Barber & Osgerby’s ‘Puzzle’ is here shown in the Anglesey colourway

Perhaps it’s because it is breaking new ground, without the restrictions of convention or a long tradition of high-end ceramics design, that Mutina’s collections have been so innovative in the first decade since the brand embarked on a new creative direction. And, as Orsini tells me, he and his team will continue to try to push the potential of this ostensibly simple medium. “In the future we have a strange idea – we want to work with a contemporary artist,” he says. “We want to continue to explore new ways.”

Sou Fujimoto at the Salone

Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto talks to PORT about his immersive new installation for COS at Salone del Mobile 2016

Sou Fujimoto's Forest of Light for COS, Salone del Mobile 2016
Sou Fujimoto’s Forest of Light for COS, Salone del Mobile 2016

Cinema Arti, in Milan’s San Babila district, screened its last film in 2007. Designed by architect Mario Cereghini in 1935, rebuilt as a cinema as part of the city’s post-war reconstruction and very much a Milanese institution, the building has been largely derelict for years. That is until a collaboration between the architect Sou Fujimoto and international fashion brand COS transformed the space into a spectacular, immersive ‘Forest of Light’.

In homage to the building’s history, the spotlights emanating from the ceiling, alternately turning on and off in reaction to the movement of the visitors, echo the cone of light that for over 50 years flickered from the projectionist’s cabin. Apart from a few stools and benches, the space is empty and the simplicity of the installation – consisting solely of an ever-shifting pattern of perfect white circles, appearing and disappearing on the floor of a dark room, reflected ad infinitum by the high mirrored walls – speaks of a shared, contemporary approach to timeless design principles.


“We are always looking to collaborate with the people that we turn to for inspiration, and with whom we share the same values and aesthetics,” Martin Andersson, head of menswear design at COS, tells me when I speak with him and Fujimoto. “We really have a similar starting point,” Fujimoto says in agreement, “but at the same time there is a certain distance between fashion and architecture – so I wanted to make something that linked the two disciplines in a new way, that was not quite fashion and not quite architecture.”

The result is a pared down, abstracted interpretation of Fujimoto’s architectural language, inspired as much by the natural world as by the simple forms of modernist architecture. “To the architect, nature can be quite inspiring,” he says, explaining this decidedly organic approach. “It has so much complexity and yet so much simplicity, order and disorder, a whole range of scales of size,” Fujimoto adds. “My work has always been to question these fundamental, natural things and try to translate them into our contemporary way of life.”


It is this approach, articulated in his pavilion for the prestigious summer architectural commission by the Serpentine Gallery in 2013, that first brought Fujimoto to the attention of COS.

“We loved it and from that moment thought it would be great if we could do something together for the Salone,” Andersson tells me when I ask him what he thought Fujimoto’s pavilion – a nebulous structure of thin white poles that appeared to sit, almost weightlessly, in the landscape of Kensington Gardens, in London’s Hyde Park.

COS first approached Fujimoto last summer, as part of its ongoing artistic and architectural program. It has been increasingly common to see a fashion brands collaborate with artists, architects and product designers. In fact, Andersson sees COS’s involvement with areas that provide inspiration for the brand and its customers, as a logical move. “We look to the fields of architecture and design to find shape, texture, colour,” he says. “We feel that our customers – the COS man and the COS woman – share this culturally aware mindset.”


The ‘Forest of Light’, then, fits perfectly with COS’s cultural program, but I wanted to ask how the project evolved to mirror the brand’s minimal aesthetic. “We eventually reached the idea of using light as a material because it’s simple and pure, and yet can be very rich and diverse,” Fujimoto explains. “I like that there is this duality, that there is a both a calm and dynamic situation in the space.”

This sense of duality also extends to Fujimoto’s architectural understanding of the forest, neatly encapsulating his philosophy of the relationship between the natural and manmade. To him, the idea of the forest references both his childhood, as somewhere he would play, and cities like Tokyo – an over-sized, architectural forest. “It is a place where people can behave more naturally, where they can take their time, find inspiration and interact with each other – for me the forest is a really the basic archetype of our living environment.”


Despite its formal simplicity, Fujimoto’s ‘Forest of Light’ is a conceptually sophisticated and self-reflexive architectural investigation into his own practice. Within the context of the Salone – at times an overwhelming bustle of people, products and objects – this installation, in being composed simply of light and negative space, is certainly refreshing. Navigating around the shifting pools of light, visitors can get a sense of Fujimoto’s conception of the forest, this fundamental structure the defines our relationship with our environment.

The COS x Sou Fujimoto installation will be open until 17th April at the Cinema Arti, via Pietro Mascagni, 8 in Milan. Click here to watch a video of the Forest of Light in action.