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Milan Furniture Show puts whimsical designs on display


This would be a car fanatic's dream room: an exhaust-pipe chandelier hanging over a crystal dining table top resting on Formula One tires.

The creations embody the identity of their designer: Lapo Elkann, an heir to the Fiat auto empire, whose latest foray into the world of design was on premiere at the Milan Furniture Show earlier this year.

"It's not only about automobiles. It's also the concept of recycling, which today is essential," Elkann said.

Probably no one can tap into the Ferrari tire supply chain more easily than Elkann. He also has taken shock absorbers from trucks and tanks and made them the base for side tables, with a crystal top or one of fine, wooden kite board.

Elkann's designs are being realized by the Italian company Meritalia.

The chandelier Wroom Wroom costs about $13,163, the dining table Roll Roll is $9,400 and the shock-absorber side tables start at $1,343.

Elkann's entree into Meritalia was thanks to Gaetano Pesce, a New York-based Italian designer of whimsical furniture.

Elkann, 32, and Pesce, 70, each had a storefront window of Meritalia's central Milan store to show their creations in the hottest opening of design week, paparazzi bulbs flashing. Pesce's was a green carpet-covered sofa with brown cushions draped with oversized fabric flowers. "Fiorita," the sofa, starts at $8,730.

"I thought to make a meadow where flowers have been planted, and some have already grown," Pesce said. It was the natural segue to his "Montanara" modular sofas of last year, featuring winter mountain scenes. Expect to see Pesce's vision of summer next year and fall the next.

Pesce said he saw in Elkann a creative power and did what he had done for other friends: suggested that Meritalia work with him. The pair of Italians with New York roots met in 2004 when Elkann opened a Fiat cafe at Milan's Triennale design and modern art museum.

There was much interesting of note at the Milan furniture show.

Folk art flair

The designing Brazilian brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana have taken inspiration from cloth dolls handmade by women in the remote Brazilian village of Esperanca for their latest creation: a white Murano glass chandelier featuring glass figures of the folkloric dolls dressed in red and black.

The white base of the chandelier, which is called "Esperanca," creates a cloudlike atmosphere, from which jut the torsos or legs of the dolls. The chandeliers are made on the glass-blowing island of Murano for Venini.

While the Esperanca dolls sell for about $10 in Brazil, the chandelier is pricier — about $53,000 for a large version, $39,600 for a small. Each are in a limited series of five.

For the more price-conscious, the brothers also created limited-edition vases with the figures, at $6,580 each.

The glasswork is the second project they have made based on the Esperanca dolls, after a chair, "Multidao," that featured dozens of the dolls sewn onto it. That chair brought the dolls national attention in Brazil, Humberto Campana said.

A versatile choice

The "Bend Sofa" by Milan-based Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola is understated and contemporary and could fit anyone's living room, if not budget. Its undulating modular forms allow maximum versatility. A brown, three-section, L-shaped model runs about $11,760. Another layout nearby showed just how versatile the design is: The long white sofa alternated backs, allowing one sofa to serve many spaces.

B&B Italia's sofas are made in the Brianza area near Lake Como. Their classic styles have a long life, even 25 to 30 years, with the possibility of changing the velcro-attached fabric.


Designer Daniele Basso, who once worked for Versace in Italy and the United States, presented stainless steel mirrors by his Glocal Design company. This year's novelty: a mirror panel shaped like the Berlin Wall, starting at about $1,070.

Recognizing the connection between design and fashion, Basso displayed his mirrors in the Via Manzoni showroom of the Italian outdoor-wear maker Napapijri. After all, fashion needs mirrors.

"Design is not about beauty and aesthetics. It is a way to resolve problems," Basso said.

And more to come

One thing that won't be going on sale soon but would appeal to any former kid who loved slime or rubber worms: Pesce's armchairs made out of silicon tubes. They look as if they were molded out of thick spaghetti, colorful garden hoses or glowing blue worms. Pesce has been experimenting with the material since 1996. The first chairs weighed about 172 pounds; they're now down to 40 pounds.

"To experiment with design is very important because design is the art of our time," Pesce said.

Milan Furniture Show puts whimsical designs on display 05/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 4:12pm]
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