The Milan Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo.
Ian Volner The Milan Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo.

This year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan, Italy, was as erratic and bustling as ever. We fought through the crowds to see a range of (often obscure) exhibits and plenty of shoes, and watched as emerging designers took a rightful spot in the show’s main hall—all that, of course, and products, products, products.

What else happened?

… Design entrepreneur Yves Béhar—in Milan for SodaStream, the high-tech bubble-bottler he’s been collaborating with of late—opined about parenting over a roasted branzino. “One plus one equals one,” he said. “It’s easier to have more.” Then again, he adds, “With current technology, you can get a robot that would do it better.” He wasn’t kidding: He’s actually working on the idea.

… Framed by views of the Milan Cathedral at a lunch on the Piazza del Duomo (shown above), Design Miami executive director Rodman Primack announced that the fair’s satellite in Basel, Switzerland, will feature a series of designer-made pavilions curated by hotelier André Balazs when it opens in June. From the looks of things, he said, projects in stone will be a major highlight of the fair, though he wouldn’t call it a trend. “I hate that word,” he said. “It makes me think of Seventeen magazine.”

… There was excretion. It’s a rather tender subject (ba-dum ching), but whatever Primack’s objection there was one definite trend in Milan this year, and it was, well, poo-poo. Design Academy Eindhoven staged a show called “Eat Shit” dedicated to it; Pin-Up. a brilliantly satirical design zine (of which the writer is a contributor), staged an opening night event called Shit Show; and the Museo della Merda, whose name translates in English as The Shit Museum and that helped design the Pin-Up show, has just opened in nearby Piacenza. Why the theme should emerge this year we’re not certain. Perhaps the design world has simply run out of every other aspect of the human experience to explore and thus has landed on this one by default. A process of elimination, so to speak.

From Michele De Lucchi's "La Passegiata" at SaloneUfficio.
Ian Volner From Michele De Lucchi's "La Passegiata" at SaloneUfficio.
A shot from "Aesthetics of Misery" by Michele De Lucchi with Andrea Branzi.
Ian Volner A shot from "Aesthetics of Misery" by Michele De Lucchi with Andrea Branzi.

  … Michele De Lucchi was Michele De Lucchi. The mad monk of Italian design’s “La Passegiata” installation at the workplace-focused SaloneUfficio artfully undermined the somewhat stodgy, corporate air of the satellite event. Visitors trooped over a giant quatrefoil loop, like a freeway cloverleaf, arching over four idealized office environments, each one suggesting that the future of work should look more like play. Back in the city proper, his exhibition with Andrea Branzi, “Aesthetics of Misery,” presented 16 beautifully wrought models of the kind of architectural environments—among them favelas and bombed-out houses—that are rarely discussed around Salone. It was a strong and welcome tonic.

… In short, Salone was Salone. It is too unbelievable to recount, and too painful to recall, the thousand-and-one insanities, hassles, and surprises that can befall the visitor just getting from the subway to the fair to an internet café and on to a dinner function. Maybe one day they’ll work out the kinks around here and create a design fair that actually feels like somebody designed it. On the other hand, what would be the fun in that? 

A cocktail party in Milan's Palazzo Clerici.
Ian Volner A cocktail party in Milan's Palazzo Clerici.