Global Design Trends in Chicago

Fresh interpretations of international material and design trends make their North American debut at NeoCon.

09/01/2011 By Kenn Busch


Where was the best place to see some of the latest materials and design concepts from Europe this summer? That’s easy—at the Materials Pavilion on the 8th floor of NeoCon 2011, sponsored by Interiors & Sources and Material Intelligence.

The Pavilion presented hundreds of samples of the latest offerings in furniture and interior finishes to thousands of visitors in a curated, educational format. Designers and students alike were inspired to browse, compare, play and ask questions. 

Part of the Pavilion’s draw was surely the presence of some of the latest ideas and materials innovations from some of the top European materials suppliers, showcased previously at Italy’s i Saloni and Germany’s Interzum. The following are some of the most salient trends from both overseas shows that you’ll soon be seeing here.

milan furniture fair: ‘i saloni’ skips the status quo
Unique amongst the major international fairs, the Italian exhibition known as i Saloni (Salone Internazionale del Mobile) isn’t afraid to mix commercial and residential furniture. As the lines between work and home continue to blur, the
differences between the design and materials found in these once very different markets are fading fast. This year, the fair showcased Italian furniture designers bent on forcing their markets to take an honest look at evolving materials and applications.

Lorenzo Damiani’s New Life installation, an impressive focal point in the conceptual design show-within-a-show, Salon Satellite, was a house-sized construct of composite wood, shown as panels, bowls, flasks, vessels and furniture. Damiani’s message: “Demonstrating the worth of ‘worthless’ materials in alternative ways, with the aim of protecting resources.”

“This is why I chose to use pressboard [composite wood panels] in a different way,” Damiani writes in a release. “In the future, the distinction between valuable and less valuable materials will disappear, because they will ALL be valuable. Why not get ready now?”

As if working from the same playbook, office furniture exhibitors had an equally earnest message. “Help us show people how much TFM [thermally fused melamine] surfaces have improved and how well we use it in high-quality furniture!” said one representative. “People still have old ideas about laminates.”

The idea of lightweight panel furniture construction has taken off, in principle, anyway. It will surely catch on as a practical solution for conserving wood fiber and easier installation, but in Milan it was still largely a novelty, employed to grab attention and start conversations.

interzum: a global design laboratory
Interzum is the world’s largest materials fair, held in Cologne in May, every other year. The 2011 event marked a significant increase in events geared toward the international A&D community, with special presentations, exhibits and even an entire hall (“Innovation of Interior”) dedicated to exploring current and emerging design and materials trends. Among the highlights of every Interzum are the presentations by the major décor printers, whose creative teams source, interpret and distill the designs we eventually find in wall coverings, furniture and flooring.

Interprint, a company with printing facilities in Pittsfield, Mass., shared designs that were derived from its “Werkschau” (German for “Exhibition of Works”) exhibit concept. Oak, larch and elm are the main highlights of the new Interprint décor collection. The modern wood surfaces have a natural effect—and great potential for furniture design.

Süddekor, with printing facilities in Agawam, Mass., believes there is a growing desire for the real, the authentic, the constant, the familiar. The challenge is to return to a coexistence of all elements—“stop”—and to restore harmony to the “go” chaos.

Schattdecor, with a brand new printing facility in St. Louis, says consumers yearn for a return to essentials and traditional craftsmanship, as embodied by three main themes: Pure Essence (standing for simplicity, authenticity and attention to detail); Tomorrow’s Souvenir (a reinterpretation of classic ‘50s and ‘60s design); and Industrial Heritage (a reflection of interest in the pairing of traditional skills and artisan crafts with modern design and functions).

Simplicity and attention to detail typify the spare and muted Pure Essence style, in which angular and geometric forms play an important role. Finely-worked natural fabrics and materials that express comfort and lasting values form a contrast to the heavy, cubic shapes that embody the theme. Surfaces make a handcrafted impression for heightened sensory appeal, and patina effects, whitewashed wood and irregular 3-D texturing add a touch of quality.

In Tomorrow’s Souvenir, a reinterpretation of the well-known furniture styles of the ‘50s and ‘60s, the focus is on finely-textured wood with a particularly natural look. The warm nuances of color typical of elm and heat-treated ash typify the theme. Pale woodgrains such as birch, maple, beech and oak also play a role in the reflection of current Scandinavian influences. Surfaces make a natural or silk matte impression, and there is a noticeable preference for natural, fine-grained wood.

The Industrial Heritage theme reflects interest in artisan skills paired with innovation, creativity and modern technology. The focus is on roughly-worked materials with artifacts of machining and like metal seams. Improvisation and imperfections are preferred over considered compositions. Black, dark gray and rust, alongside steel, iron and used-looking wood, are offset by bright interpretations of classic primary yellows, reds and blues.


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