Interactive experiences dominated this year at the 56th edition of Milan’s Salone Del Mobile.

Furniture and design was once enough to lure attendees by thousands, but this year visitors thronged to experience-oriented events. The Ikea Festival hosted live bands, food stalls and morning yoga; Airbnb took visitors on excursions around hidden locations within the city; and COS invited visitors to catch bubbles.

Ikea Festival
Passeggiata: An Airbnb experience of Milan curated by Martina Mondadori,
New Spring designed by Studio Swine for COS

Experience first

A series of experience-first installations made for show-stopping and unmissable sites for visitors. With over 2,000 exhibits scattered around Milan during Salone Del Mobile, brands were fighting for visitors’ attention more than ever before. Two of the most Instagrammed installations were by Swedish fashion brand COS and Korean consumer tech brand LG.

COS teamed up with British-based artist duo Studio Swine for “New Spring,” a hypnotic and multi-sensory experience in the form of a white, tree-like structure that continually emitted scent-filled bubbles that dissolved into a white mist as they burst. Visitors could either observe from a distance, or enter the structure. For those who went inside, COS distributed gloves with special textured fabric that allowed visitors to handle and manipulate the bubbles in midair without causing them to burst.

New Spring designed by Studio Swine for COS

“The inspiration for the installation was nature and the changing of seasons,” Studio Swine said in a statement. “We wanted to create an installation that could offer a moment of contemplation.” The installation created so much social media hype that people started hashtagging pictures of the extensive queue that formed outside the 1930s cinema venue.

LG collaborated with Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka for “S.F Senses of the Future,” a lighting installation that showed off LG’s latest technology in the form of an artful and futuristic immersion. “Wall of the Sun,” a wall covered with pulsating lights, emulated natural sunlight, offering a natural sense of comfort in a tech-filled environment. In addition, seventeen OLED-lit S.F chairs filled the space at Milan’s Superstudio, inviting visitors to take a seat and be immersed in a light spectacle reminiscent of a sci-fi movie set.

Sense of the Future by Tokujin Yoshioka for LG

Discovering Milan with Airbnb

Airbnb gave visitors access to Casa degli Atellani, a historic 15th-century house that was home to Leonardo da Vinci while he was painting the Last Supper. Curated by Montine Mondadori, “Passeggiata: An Airbnb experience of Milan” included a variety of intimate experiences.

Inside Casa degli Atellani visitors explored personal collections from designers including Dimore Studio and Faye Toogood, as well as works by emerging designers placed strategically within the home, providing a modern touch to the well-maintained historic setting. Live classical music by the Filarmonica Della Scala played in the garden on the opening day.

Passeggiata: An Airbnb experience of Milan curated by Martina Mondadori,

In addition, Airbnb invited design influencers to take guests on tours throughout Milan. The tour guides included Fabrica’s creative director Sam Baron, who took guests to Noberasco 1908, his favorite dried fruit store in the city. Meanwhile, fashion designer JJ Martin guided visitors to her boutique La Double to meet jewelry historian Deanna Farneti.

At the end of 2016, Airbnb launched a new Trips platform, which offers travelers a series of tours and excursions of certain cities. The guided tours as part of “Passeggiata” felt like a test run of Airbnb Trips, which will launch in Milan later this year.

Passeggiata: An Airbnb experience of Milan curated by Martina Mondadori,

Invisible tech

Consumer tech products departed from the traditional tech aesthetic and to incorporate the look of home furnishings at Salone Del Mobile this year. “When you talk about ‘invisible tech,’ it’s not about the tech needing to be invisible, but that it needs to feel like it belongs to the home,” Marie Kristine Schmidt, vice president of brand and product design at Bang & Olufsen, told the Innovation Group.

BeoSound Shape speakers by Bang & Olufsen

Danish consumer electronics company Bang & Olufsen launched the Beosound Shape wireless speaker system ahead of an August release. The modular sound system is made up of hexagonal shapes with varying colors, and looks more like wall-mounted artwork than a traditional sound system.

The Frame TV, created for Samsung by Swiss designer Yves Behar, aims to redefine how the visually obtrusive television could blend into the home. In a press statement, Behar explained that his design approach for this project was “to think about the television not as a consumer electronics product, but as part of our home and our daily life.”

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The Frame by Samsung

Smart lighting for all

In March 2017, Ikea launched the low-cost Home Smart lighting system, with prices starting as low as $11.99. The collection was at Salone Del Mobile this year and showed off a creative flair to the affordable range.

Home Smart lighting system by Ikea

Lighting company Flos displayed the Smart Control system, which officially launched last year. In Milan, Flos staged a theatrical light performance that showed off the versatility and precision of the smart system.

The launch of new smart lighting systems shows rising competition in this sector. The Philips Hue range is a leader for now, but as Ikea’s Home Smart and Flos’s Smart Control ranges move in, Philips will need to up their game to stay relevant.

The future city home

Urbanization and the changing architectural structure of the home was a topic that many brands tackled this year, notably furniture giant Ikea, auto company Mini, and quartz manufacturer Caesarstone.

Ikea: The future living room

“We believe that the living room is the heart of the everyday life,” Sabine Berntsson, manager of product development for Ikea’s Living Room project, told the Innovation Group. “Many activities take place there, and at the same time you’re wishing for the personal space. It’s a public room, but also a private room. It has functional needs but it has an emotional component to it. That is our definition of the living room.”

Ikea Festival

Ikea’s future living room is designed to address increasing urbanization. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, according to the UN. “It will mean people will live in smaller living spaces, and we have to find a solution to this,” Berntsson continued. “It may mean that we may not even have a traditional living room as we know it and that our homes will become more fluid.”

One key focus was on multifunctional furniture that allows consumers to adapt according to their space and needs. “One product needs to fulfill many wishes,” explained Berntsson, as consumers living more urbanized lives increasingly want multi-purpose furniture.

Caesarstone: The future kitchen

“The living room is almost dead,” Raanan Zilberman CEO of Caesarstone told the Innovation Group. “The first place [guests] go to is the kitchen now. It is the place to entertain guests, and so we are going to see the kitchen become more maximalist, full of enrichment, and a place to express your personality.”

Caesarstone's Stone Age Folk designed by Jaime Hayon. Photography by Tom Mannion

The quartz manufacturer teamed up with Spanish designer Jaime Hayon this year for Stone Age Folk, a playful and innovative approach to showing off the versatility of quartz. “The way Jaime has crafted the material is actually an ancient technique but the result is very futuristic,” explains Zilberman in reference to the colorful installation that puts a refreshing perspective on how to bring quartz to life and potentially add personality to a kitchen.

Mini Living: The future home

Mini collaborated with New York architects SO-IL for “Breathe,” a prototype compact house that puts sustainability first. The “resource-conscious” project features a mesh exterior to filter polluted city air, a roof garden to improve air quality, and interior space which focuses on enhancing the wellbeing of dwellers with relaxation areas and a mini gym.

Breathe installation by Mini Living

“Breathe calls into question conventional living concepts and introduces a creative problem-solving approach for future challenges in urban areas,” explained Esther Bahne, head of brand strategy and business innovation at Mini. “The installation shows what happens when we view houses not only as a space in which to live, but as an active part of our environment—one that plays a positive role for the environment and the people living there.”

Wellness design

Designers and brands reflected consumers’ growing interest in wellness with a new emphasis on spaces that promote physical and mental wellbeing.

American office furniture company Humanscale collaborated with designer Todd Bracher for Re:Charge Café, a pop-up space designed for visitors to recharge and find respite. Designed to enhance visitors’ wellbeing, the café included lighting that follows circadian rhythms, air-purifying walls, and healthy food and drink offerings throughout the day.

Image credit: Andrew Habeck
Image credit: Andrew Habeck
Re:Charge Café. Image credit: Andrew Habeck

The Ikea Festival hosted morning yoga sessions for the week led by Martina Sergi and Martina Rando, also known as The Two Martinas. The space also had a recharge area for on-the-go visitors.

And at La Triennale Di Milano, Italian composer Ferdinando Arnò invited visitors to Entrainment: A Sonic Meditation, a 50-minute meditation concept based on sounds by the participants and the composer.

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Yoga at the Ikea Festival

Designing with food

ECAL’s product design graduate Carolien Niebling teamed up with a molecular chef and a master butcher for “The Future Sausage,” which explored alternative forms of sustainable meat consumption.

The Future Sausage by Carolien Niebling

“As a designer now, you have to work on creating new materials and explore different fields,” Niebling told the Innovation Group. “I see my project as design, with food as the material.”

The objective is to not alienate any food types in our diet, but instead to be extremely inclusive. “[The Future Sausage] is about diversity and we’re losing a little bit of that,” explains Niebling. “I decided to try and make us go from Eximius forni-vore (supermarket- eater) back to Omni-vore (all-eater), so we’re not afraid of offal and we’re not afraid of eating plants.” The project also included insect-based recipes.

The Future Sausage by Carolien Niebling

Why a sausage? Niebling explains that the sausage is “one of mankind’s first-ever design food items and remains a cornerstone of our food culture.” She pointed out that in English cooking alone, 470 different types of breakfast sausages are prepared. As a food source everyone is familiar with, if it’s crammed with dietary goodness it may well be a solution to our future food challenges, the project suggested.

Auto companies as artists

Car brands enlisted designers to express philosophical approaches to the automobile that took the form of interactive installations comparable to works of art.

Lexus collaborated with Neri Oxman, designer and professor of the MIT Media Lab, for “YET,” an installation that plays with light and shadow.

Yet by Lexus

Audi commissioned Japanese designer Yuri Suzuki for “Sonic Pendulum,” in which 30 giant swinging pendulums took over an outdoor courtyard to harness a calming and relaxing sound experience for visitors.

Sonic Pendulum designed by Yuri Suzuki for Audi

Japanese company Aisin, which produces components for the auto industry, curated a series of three installations with “The Next Frontier in Mobility.” One notable display was “Visible Motion” by Japanese designer Satoshi Yoshiizumi. Visitors walked into a huge white room with a pool of dark liquid as the centerpiece, and if they looked close enough, they could see tread marks skimming gently across the pool.

The Next Frontier in Mobility by Aisin

“I wanted to express the beauty of motion,” Yoshiizumi told the Innovation Group. “Aisin sees the future of mobility as very clean and silent, so I wanted to express that ideology.”

The automotive brands steered away from car design as we know it for Salone Del Mobile this year, instead opting for a more natural and poetic language.

Circular design

Designers are reinvigorating the conversation around “circular” production, reassessing their materials while continuing to produce affordable, innovative, and high-quality products.

British designer Max Lamb collaborated with Danish company Really to launch their first design collection, Solid Textile Board, which is a collection of 12 benches. The collection uses upcycled end-of-life textiles, in this case cotton and wool, and turns the material into solid textile boards.

Solid Textile Board designed by Max Lamb for Really

American furniture manufacturer Emeco launched 1 Inch Collection at Salone Del Mobile this week. The collection of chairs, stools and tables, which was designed by British designer Jasper Morrison, uses recycled aluminum for the chair and table frames and reclaimed or recycled materials for the surface.

1 Inch Collection design by Jasper Morrison for Emeco

Ikea continues to explore strategies for sustainable growth. In February, the company launched a new circular collection called Ikea PS 2017, which aims to eliminate waste at every step of the production process. In Milan, the collection was shown at the Ikea Festival and included vases by Finnish designer Iina Vuorivirta.

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