Salone del Mobile returns to its old self

The Great Refresh

Salone del Mobile, the world’s largest contemporary furniture expo, hasn’t been itself for some time. After canceling the event outright in 2020, organizers mounted a more modest iteration, paradoxically called Supersalone, in 2021. COVID fears persisted, however, and much of the design world continued to feel adrift.

With its 2022 edition, to be held in Milan from June 7 to 12, the event is reclaiming both its venue at the Fieramilano fairgrounds and its role in creating connections between designers, architects, and other industry professionals. At a press conference in mid-March, president Maria Porro celebrated Salone’s return and that of sister exhibition series Salone Satellite, which highlights newer talents. She also hinted at changes in the program direction that respond to consumer preferences, cultivated over the course of the pandemic, as well as to the growing climate crisis.

“It was a big stress test for our houses,” Porro told AN. “Functions that were usually done outside, like working, studying, cooking—we are now doing them at the same table, sitting at the same chair. We understood that maybe we didn’t dedicate the right attention to the objects surrounding us.”

In that vein, the designs teased at the March launch centered upon spaces for caring for the self, like the kitchen and the bathroom. Speaking on behalf of Gessi, a 30-year-old brand based in Serravalle Sesia, northeast of Milan, commercial director Diego Romano described the bathroom as an “emotional space” where “people regenerate every morning.” EuroCucina, a subset of Salone that will coincide with this year’s event, promises to explore the theme in greater depth. Erika Rastelli, corporate manager of Italian furniture manufacturer ARAN World, described the company’s EuroCucina exhibition (a collaboration with renowned chef Davide Oldani) as a response to a spike in home cooking brought about by the pandemic.

Italian Architect Mario Cucinella's "Design with Nature" installation reflects Salone's commitment to sustainability. (Courtesy Mario Cucinella Architects)

Other companies stressed the importance of backyard patios, terraces, and other domestic exteriors. Monica Pedrali, CEO of the nearly 60-year-old Italian furniture company Pedrali, spoke about “paying particular attention to design so as to give even outdoor spaces a special quality”; she said the company’s history of manufacturing metal furniture has informed three new outdoor collections to be unveiled at the fair in June, including one designed by Italian studio CMP Design. On behalf of Baxter, exporter Gloria Cazzaniga presented new furniture collections designed to coordinate in style and color scheme across indoor and outdoor spaces.

In addition to reacting to the new conditions created by the pandemic, presentations by Salone organizers as well as manufacturers and designers highlighted how the looming climate crisis is changing the furniture design landscape. At the press conference, Porro emphasized Salone’s new guidelines that encourage exhibitors to use recycled and upcycled materials for their booths; she noted how such measures helped to shrink Supersalone’s carbon footprint to nearly zero. Architect Mario Cucinella unveiled his design for an approximately 4,600-square-foot educational installation meant to showcase circular economy concepts as well as sustainable materials. Comprising thin layers of wood cut into undulating shapes and stacked to resemble topographical lines, the platform is both architecture and furniture, giving people a place to sit and subdividing the space into exhibitor stalls.

Meanwhile, companies made sure to highlight the measures they have taken to reduce their environmental impact. Marianna Fantoni, technical director of Fantoni, shared the company’s extensive energy-producing and energy-saving practices, including eight hydroelectric power plants that generate 60,000,000 kWh per year and three biomass incinerators that cover over 70 percent of the Fantoni plant’s heating needs. Dirk Wynants, CEO of Belgian furniture and design company Extremis, spoke of a different kind of sustainability, more focused on the longevity of furniture pieces. Referring to a new product for which there is no obvious market yet—a changeable-height table called AMAi—Wynants said: “Something like this will take a lot of time to be accepted by the market, but I think it’s worthwhile when it comes to discussions of ecology. We don’t want to make products that last just three years or five years—we want to make products that stay relevant for a very long time.”

Porro hopes that this year’s Salone, its 60th edition, will act like a “great piazza” and help designers, architects, and the public build bonds. The overall ethos feels optimistic and refreshed, which might be a product of Porro’s background—she is the youngest-ever president of Salone, the first woman to hold the position, and, crucially, a designer herself.

“There are great expectations about Salone,” Porro told AN. “In years past, Salone was becoming bigger and bigger, with more and more people coming, bigger spaces, and bigger parties. It was more a matter of quantity and size. The past three years have changed our point of view, and I think the right point of view in this moment is to think about quality and to build on the value of quality.”