Milan 2016: this was a bumper year for the Salone del Mobile, with a record-breaking number of visitors. Dezeen editor Anna Winston rounds up some of the best product launches from the furniture fair, including new work by Jasper Morrison and Claesson Koivisto Rune, the standout piece from Patricia Urquiola's Cassina revamp, and a minimalist Japanese kitchen for small homes (+ slideshow).
Salone del Mobile organisers have reported that this year's event attracted 372,151 visitors between 12 and 17 April.
The 55th edition of the furniture fair at the Rho Fairgrounds was renamed as Salone del Mobile.Milano, underneath the umbrella of the newly branded Milano Design Week. It also included the annual young designers exhibition SaloneSatellite, and the bi-annual Eurocucina kitchen show and International Bathroom Exhibition.
Launched in September 1961, the Salone originally focused on showcasing Italian furniture and manufacturers, with 328 exhibitors over 11,000 square metres of exhibition space. Held in the Fiera Campionaria exhibition centre in Milan, it grew quickly and became an international exhibition in 1967.
In 2006 it moved to the Massimiliano Fuksas-designed Rho Fairgrounds exhibition venue outside the city, and now covers over 230,000 square metres.
But in recent years, the Salone has been overshadowed by the increasingly popular design week installations, events and showroom openings in the city centre.
According to the Salone organisers, the presence of a large number of international buyers this year suggested that the fair was finding a renewed strength as the centre of the European import and export markets.
"With 67 per cent of attendees from abroad, most of them high profile and with robust spending power, according to comments from exhibitors, this edition has yet again confirmed the strong international vocation and importance of exports as a crucial segment of the sector today," said Roberto Snaidero, president of the Salone del Mobile.
Read on for our pick of the new launches from the 55th Salone:
Cassina unveiled its first collection under the creative directorship of Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola to widespread acclaim. This limited-edition version of one the brand's iconic 20th-century designs by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld, with a non-repeating upholstery pattern designed by Bertjan Pot, was the absolute standout piece in the revamped range.
London studio Industrial Facility created an aluminium and ash table, bench and shelf system for American brand Emeco, based the idea that individuals and groups can share the same surfaces for multiple activities.
"The way we use tables is changing," studio co-founder Sam Hecht told Dezeen in Milan. "We could be having a conversation or a meal and someone could be sat next to us working on their laptop, and we wouldn't feel it's weird."
Coloured glass was one of the key trends at Milan design week, so it was perhaps inevitable that Glas Italia would offer its own take this year.
Building on the popularity of its frosted glass tables with coloured edges from 2015, Japanese design studio Nendo responded to Glas Italia's 2016 theme "illusion" with a bookshelf featuring moveable layers of coloured glass that can arranged to create different effects.
After being dominated by purveyors of cheap Scandi-chic Ikea for decades, flat-pack is finally catching on with higher-end brands as they cotton on to the possibilities of cheaper shipping. Other examples in Milan included the Can sofa designed by the Bouroullec bothers for Hay.
Jasper Morrison unveiled a series of new designs for Swiss brand Vitra. The All Plastic chair, which is made entirely from plastic but designed to look like a wooden chair of a kind that has long been popular in Europe, was the highlight.
"Utilising a new material, the chair represents a significant advancement in the appearance and functionality of this typology," said Vitra.
Italian brand Magis celebrated its 40th anniversary year with a large exhibition at Salone, featuring highlights from its various collections arranged on stark white bleachers, plus three new ranges.
The standout was the suggestively named Happy Endings, a collection of lightweight aluminium stools and tables by German designer Jerszy Seymour, with white splatters across the black surfaces.
Magis was also among the brands to recognise the potential in the newly-emerging market of high-end furniture design for children, unveiling the adjustable Little Big Chair by Swiss studio Big-Game.
A lot of brands unveiled designs for kids in Milan, but Kartell launched an entire range, including transparent cars by Piero Lissoni and a swing by Philippe Starck.
Nendo's H Horse offered an intelligent update to the tradition rocking horse as part of the range.
Bergen Chair by Hallgeir Holmstvedt for Offecct
One of the more elegant stacking chairs in Milan this year was the Bergen, originally created by Oslo designer Hallgeir Homstvedt for the refurbishment of Bergen University's 1894 auditorium. Supported on slender metal legs, the square back and round seat – both upholstered in leather – appear to hardly touch each other.
Generic chairs A and C by Philippe Starck for Kartell
As well as kid's furniture, Kartell debuted new products by some of its longest-standing collaborators, including prolific French designer Philippe Starck. These two chairs are intended to be so archetypical that they become almost unnoticeable.
"'Generics' are things that we no longer see because they have become hidden or so integrated into our lives, our culture, that we have almost forgotten they exist," said Starck. "We need things that no longer speak, in other words, things that exist, nothing more. Being, being, and no longer speaking. But also a bit of comfort and a bit of tenderness."
Ceragino kitchen by Sanwa
One of the best stands at the bi-annual Eurocucina kitchen show, usually stuffed to the brim with expensive-but-dull worktops and appliances, was from Japanese brand Sanwa, which showed four minimal designs for small homes.
The Ceragino includes both a hob and a sink in its 120-centimetre-long unit, and was designed to sit either against a wall or as an island in a living space.
Ten armchair by Naoto Fukasawa for Driade
David Chipperfield's creative directorship of Italian brand Driade has yet to receive the kind of acclaim that Urquiola experienced this year with Cassina, but the brand unveiled some pieces that suggested a promising future. Among them was this blue velvet chair by Japanese designer Fukasawa, which is meant to offer a halfway house between a full lounge chair and a more sociable form of seating.
Archetto by Note Design Studio for Fogia
Design for small spaces was a recurring theme at Salone. The tiny Archetto shelf by Note Design Studio – described as a "smaller sibling" to the studio's Archetto shelving series for Swedish brand Fogia – offers tiny-home owners a suitably sized surface that can double as a side table or a display surface.
Sag stool by Nendo for MDF Italia
Nendo was one of a number of studios debuting products for a range of different brands at Salone. This stool is designed to double as a table, and features a stiff polyurethane plastic frame – conceived as a single piece of fabric that folds in on itself – instead of legs.
Italian brand Porro also marked a major anniversary at Salone this year. It invited Danish/Italian design duo GamFratesi to create two new products for its 90th birthday, including the Voyage chair, which was inspired by 1950s Danish design classics.
Catifa 46 chairs by Lievore Altherr Molina for Arper
Various shades of pastel pink and blue appeared all over Milan this year, after specific variations were named as the first two-tone Pantone colour of the year.
Design trio Alberto Lievore, Jeannette Altherr and Manuel Molina used the colours as part of the palette for the latest addition to their Catifa chair series for Italian brand Arper.
Another Eurocucina highlight, and perhaps the only really viral design launch from Milan, was the Tulèr kitchen, which featured a disappearing sink, and integrated devices like a scale and phone-charging dock built into the stone worktop.
Control Lamp by TAF for Muuto
There weren't many interesting lighting designs in the main fair this year, but this one by Stockholm architecture studio TAF for Scandinavian brand Muuto offered a refreshingly back-to-basics approach.
The design aims to combine references to hi-fi and industrial machinery, with a dimmer switch that acts like a volume knob, and all the elements arranged on a simple metal plate.
Cirkel wall light by Daphna Laurens
SaloneSatellite offered some fresh takes on traditional products like the wall-mounted uplighter. This version by Eindhoven-based Daphna Isaacs Burggraaf and Laurens Manders was part of their studio's all-black Prototipi presentation of nine prototype designs.
Props by Konstantin Grcic for Cassina
Another highlight of Urquiola's Cassina revamp were these hyper-minimal, thin folded-metal dividers and tables by German designer Konstantin Grcic. The idea was to use them to define different spaces within a larger area, like theatre props.
Hanger coat stand by Neri&Hu for Offecct
Chinese studio Neri&Hu popped up on a number of different stands at Salone, even going as far as designing the a whole space for textile brand Kvadrat. But we liked these compact metal coat stands, which were tucked away at the side of Swedish brand Offecct's display.
"We are always interested in seemingly mundane and anonymous everyday objects," said the designers. "This hanger represents an object that is neglected and ignored in domestic and office environments — not glorified at all but in fact among the most important."
Pod light by Simo Serpola
Another lighting highlight from Satellite was the foldable aluminium and oak Pod light by Finnish designer Simo Serpola, a tripod with an LED strip built into one of the legs, which can be turned and adjusted to create indirect lighting effects.
Bonsai seating by Claesson Koivisto Rune for Arflex
Claesson Koivisto Rune may have launched its own brand with the promise of fairer royalties for designers, but that hasn't stopped the Scandinavian studio from working with more established names like Italy's Arflex.
Inspired by the rounded cultivated bushes that appear in Japanese gardens, the Bonsai seating collection features soft, curved seats and backs that either sit on flat platform-like surfaces like small hillocks, or on very thin legs.
Lofoten furniture system by Luca Nichetto for Casamania
Named after an area of Norway's coastline, the Lofoten system was developed by Italian designer Nichetto with the idea of creating little islands of furniture that can be combined to create an archipelago.
The system for Italian brand Casamania includes seating, tables and planters in a wide varieties of colours, textures and textiles. Backrests are designed to double as sound-absorbing room dividers, reflecting the recent "preoccupation" with acoustics in interiors that originated in Scandinavia.
Pipe chaise longue by Sebastian Herkner for Moroso
German designer Sebastian Herkner said he had wanted to create a piece of furniture that ran deliberately counter to the ongoing trend for thin metal legs and supports. His oversized chaise longue, with its Beetlejuice-like upholstery, uses chunky 80-millimetre-diameter steel pipes for the frame and has a matching round backrest.