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Design-hunting is never more fun or hectic than when I’m running around Milan’s Design Week. This year is the 50th anniversary of the event known as I Saloni, which started out in 1961 with 328 exhibitors and has now grown to encompass 2,500 design companies whose booths stretch across massive new fairgrounds, off-site shows in the Tortona and Lambrate neighborhoods, and events in galleries and stores around the city. It is one magnificent designfest, and it starts as soon as you’re off the plane. The first thing I spied on my way to the Temporary Museum for New Design in Tortona were these airborne Mini Coopers, which certainly set the tone for the week.

Photo: Wendy Goodman

Later that day, I spotted British designer Bethan Laura Wood, who is brilliant at making herself into her own design project. (I photographed her last year as well.) She was showing a collection of Moon Rock tables from her company, Wood London, at the Nilufar Gallery.

Photo: Wendy Goodman

Inside the Temporary Museum for New Design, the Swedish designer Maria Westerberg fashioned furniture from men’s ties and called the collection “Designer’s Garden.”

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The show’s themes this year were “Light” and “Office,” but the organizers could have also proclaimed it the Year of the Chair: I have never seen so many wonderful seating designs. These rambling connected chairs are by Swedish designers Tengbom and Gemla.

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Cassina designed these furry beasts for pure comfort and delight.

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The Extension Chair by Sjoerd Vroonland is one of a series of quirkily detailed designs for Moooi.

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Remember last year’s blockbuster debut of the Babel Chair by Marcel Wanders? This year it grew a family of side tables.

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Fashion designer Marni created a garden outside her store with potted plants in polka-dot dress and furniture that was gorgeously wrapped in what looked like garbage-bag plastic.

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Softness and texture were everywhere—even in lampshades, like these Granny pendant lamps from Casamania.

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Tord Boontje declined to go soft with his wood collection for Moroso, but his stitching details added a twist on tradition.

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Kartell dedicated their booth to “Design Icons,” and it was packed! Here, Philippe Starck’s new King Top table, which could be a distant, plumper cousin of Eero Saarinen’s Tulip table.

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A witty puzzle rug, officially called “A Piece of Carpet,” by Dutch designers Anieke Branderhorst and Arjan van Raadshooven of Vij5.

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Last year, Patricia Urquiola’s Comback Chair for Kartell stole the show, and this year she was everywhere. Her designs were seen at Kartell, B&B Italia, and Moroso, where she showed these comfy indoor/outdoor chaises called Biknit. Note the enlarged stocking-stitch design for the upholstery.

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Kartell also showed the famous Joe Colombo chair, originally designed in wood, but here remade in colored and clear thermoplastic.

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Roche Bobois also showed a sleek new molded plastic chair.

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Marcel Wanders’s Cyborg chair for Magis again brilliantly combines the old and new, pairing a plastic seat with a natural wicker back.

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Zaha Hadid’s great wall of, well, anything you care to put in it. This boldly designed shelving unit is for Magis.

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There was a lot of play on materials, as in this Antonio Citterio plank table that at first glance might be thought of as wood but is actually made of metal.

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Dedon always has such playful outdoor furniture. At a fair this huge and exhausting, you need a place to just hang out and rest.

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Roche Bobois used wall-length photographs of a raw loft space to transform their booth.

Photo: Courtesy of Roche Bobois

The store-gallery Spazio Rossana Orlandi is located in an old tie factory that is endlessly inspiring. There I met Omer Arbel, who was showing his copper sculptures along with a video of how they are made. During the rest of the year, these are office spaces, but during the fair, Rosanna opens them up as a gallery space for designers.

Photo: Wendy Goodman

Also at Rossana Orlandi, designs from Ooh La Laa & Co.

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Ooh La Laa also designed a cabinet smothered in buttons.

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One of my favorite all-time designers: Piet Hein Eek. His bold, no-nonsense designs are made with common materials; a poetic and timeless approach. Here, his tube chair made of steel pipes and his One Beam bench in different colors.

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Piet’s Chunky bench is one of my all-time favorite pieces from the fair.

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I loved the enthusiasm of Thomas Eyck, also showing at Rosanna Orlandi.

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Eyck’s designs are solid and joyful and hearken back to homes where tradition was honored.

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Another designer at Rossanna Orlandi, Nika Zupanc, made a sophisticated desk and filing system using the idea of accordion folders. She calls the line Selfdisipline.

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Rossana Orlandi also had a show of student work from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Valerie Dekeyser’s beautiful steel hanging lamps were lined, respectively, in peacock feathers, wild-stallion horsehair, and sable made from iron dust and powdered sugar.

Photo: Courtesy of SAIC

These simple wood freestanding and wall lights from Room at Moooi were my favorite lights at the show.

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Another great Marcel Wanders moment: the Eyes of Strangers couch for Moooi.

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Moooi always nabs the best designers, as illustrated by these plastic Gothic chairs by Studio Job.

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For surreal charm, you can always count on the designs of Barnaba Fornasetti. This installation was shown at the Nilufar Gallery.

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Gaetano Pesce is never afraid to push the envelope. His installation at the Triennale Design Museum created quite a stir. The melting object on the cross is meant to mimic the shape of Italy, and the shadow it created looked like the body of Christ (from where I stood, anyway).

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Also at the Triennale, Maurizio Galante’s Luigi XV Go to Sparta wing chair, which is upholstered in marble-print fabric.

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Another incredible show at the Triennale was called “Yii Design.” I loved the Rococo Plan mirror made of motorcycle parts by Rock Wang, a Taiwanese designer.

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That show also featured this bent bamboo chair by Fernando and Humberto Campana.

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More from Rock Wang: the Brick Plan tray and vase.

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Never one for understatement, Versace created a runway for its new furniture collection in the courtyard of the Versace showroom and home on Via Gesu.

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I had barely any time to enjoy Tom Dixon’s pop-up restaurant in the Tortona district, but I had to take a snap of his typically gorgeous new lights.

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On to Lambrate, where there were so many fantastic things to see. Here, a design company called Castor presented a table with four different cast-metal legs.

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Castor also created these fallen-pillar lamps, with fluorescent tube lights purged of their usual ugliness.

Photo: Wendy Goodman

Li Edelkoort, the design goddess and former professor at the incredible Dutch design academy Eindhoven, curated a show called “Talking Textiles,” where I found the work of British artist Ella Robinson. She collects driftwood and embellishes it with colored threads.

Photo: Wendy Goodman

Another of my design heroes, Diederik Schneemann, created a company called A Flip Flop Story. I loved his window.

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Diederik figured out a way to salvage discarded flip-flops and transform them then into small pieces of functional art.

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Current and former Eindhoven students had a big presence at the fair in Lambrate. They also had the most perfect café-on-wheels.

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This wall is decorated with paint, right? Nope, it’s just plain old masking tape atop Sheetrock.

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The brainchild of another Eindhoven grad, Dirk van der Kooij: a machine from a Chinese factory that’s been reprogrammed into a furniture-prototyping machine.

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Here’s Dirk explaining his machine and handing out his original cards.

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Lotte de Raadt’s glass jars are called An Ode to Tap Water; the meaning is self-explanatory.

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The big buzz at the Fair was the launch of Hermès’s furniture collection, collaborating with Enzo Mari, Antonio Citterio, and Rena Dumas Architecture Interieure. Shigeru Ban designed the cardboard-and-paper structure that housed the new pieces.

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Hermès also teamed up with the elegant Italian fabric company Dedar for its new collection of textiles and wallpaper.

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On my last night in Milan, I took a moment to appreciate the murals at the famed restaurant Bagutta on Via Bagutta 14. Bliss.

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One last moment of surprise: walking around the miraculous Duomo at night and catching the surreal sight of artist Mimmo Paladino’s wild horses sledding down a mountain of real salt.

Photo: Wendy Goodman
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