Seven Australian designers name the exhibitions and experiences at Milan Design Week that inspired and moved them.

THE SALONE INTERNAZIONALE del Mobile, otherwise known as Milan Furniture Fair, is the largest trade fair of its kind. Tying into a series of design-led events and exhibitions, known as Furiosalone, which takes place across the city in hundreds of venues, the week-long mash-up of ideas and innovation is widely known as Milan Design Week.

Usually held in April, this year the program was held in June due to pandemic-related setbacks. More than 260,000 attendees converged on the Italian city to celebrate the program’s 60th anniversary. For one week, Milan thrummed with creative energy as the world’s best and brightest admired new techniques and creations, and pondered the future of design. The city itself came alive with an explosion of creative output and collaboration — often in unexpected places.

Here, seven Australian interior designers and architects at the forefront of their fields share the highlights of their week in Milan.

CHRIS McCUE

Managing Director, Carr architecture and interior design

“Perhaps it was the change of scenery after spending two years in Australia, but there was a vibrancy and energy to Milan that was palpable from the moment I arrived. It’s a city steeped in history, with a focus on design at every facet of urban intervention. I came to be energised, inspired and fed. The Italians put great emphasis on the importance of design at every level, regardless of utility. From the pop-up calamari vendor on the streets of Firenze to the mobility hub (parking structures) on the outskirts of the CBD, detail and the importance of designing with brevity was always evident.

“The streets came alive on a hot day, with people drinking Aperol spritz on the broad pavement and spilling onto laneways. There was a wonderful balance between people, cars and nature. Centuries-old cobbled laneways are wonderfully tactile, and the sounds echoing off the architecture reminded me exactly where I was in the world — a mere 23 hours from daily life in Melbourne.

Buildings sported shuttering systems of all colours, materials and mechanisms to prevent the heat from entering the thick masonry edifices. Australians could learn a lot from this, with the extremes of our climate.

“Standouts at Milan Furniture Fair included entire spaces designed by my design hero, Vincent Van Duysen for Molteni, the concept kitchen systems by Belgian star architect Nicolas Schuybroek for When Objects Work, and authentic tailored works by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma for Gandía-Blasco.

“Anchored by my own interests in- monumentality and lightness, authenticity and utility, I was drawn to masters of craft and the objects and buildings that had been refined to their core, but still surprised and delighted.

“Most of all, I felt energised through the reinforcement of my long-held belief that if we’re truly to make a difference in the world, we should design with purpose and longevity, and make beautiful buildings that advance the typology.”

 The CC-Tapis stand at this year’s Salone

SIMONE HAAG

Director, Simone Haag interior decoration

“An unexpected highlight was visiting the home of Carwan Gallery co-owner Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte.  The designer, art director and curator co-founded the Beirut gallery with architect Pascale Wakim in 2011.

Bellavance-Lecompte travels the world, sourcing modern collectible design objects, and lives near the 5Vie design district—an area in the centre of town named for its five tiny traditional Milanese streets.

“Essentially a home gallery, Bellavance-Lecompte’s apartment was a little reprieve from the madness of not wanting to miss a thing during Design Week. Taking time to have lunch and to really absorb the pieces is what Carwan is all about, and it’s easily done in the inspiring domestic environment. There’s also something very voyeuristic about being in someone’s home when you’re not a local.

“We have four new projects in Melbourne about to start, and there’s something so amazing about seeing great pieces and then actually having somewhere to home them.”

MADELEINE BLANCHFIELD

Director, Madeleine Blanchfield Architects

“The highlight of my Milan trip was a visit to a former Necchi sewing machine factory on the outskirts of Milan. There, Baranzate Ateliers put on a new show featuring 21 emerging and established designers’ work in an incredible old warehouse space. The designers were there to chat about their pieces and processes. It was bold, unique and very inspiring. Arno Declercq and Ben Storms were standouts for me.”

FIONA LYNCH

Director, Fiona Lynch interior design

“Hermès is always an inspiration at Milan Design Week. The installation this year featured leather and wood objects, textiles, furniture and tableware collections, both in keeping with and exceeding Hermès’ traditional style. The leather ornaments and additions to different furniture pieces rang true to the heritage of the brand, as did the geometries and vibrant colours of the quilts on display and the dishes, bowls and cups in patterned, muted yellows.

“The absolutely impressive scenography of the installation was further enhanced by the use of upcyclable materials, such as the gargantuan stacks of rough-cut paper acting as plinths for the objects; or the series of large exhibition rooms, constructed as translucently colourful tent-like builds with exposed wooden infrastructures on their interiors. “The innovation and level of detail energised me, and it’s the type of experimentation that I’m excited to translate into our clients’ spaces. The foil between tradition and modernity, and the brilliant use of material, shape, scale, texture and ultimate presentation made Hermès one of my favourites from an exceptional week in Milan.”

KATRINA MACKINTOSH

Principal, Hugh-Jones Mackintosh interior design

“I’m still thinking about Loewe’s ‘Weave Restore, Renew’ show, which celebrated woven craft, ancient techniques and the inventive ways craftspeople breathe new life into found objects or surplus materials. Woven materials, wicker, cane furniture and joinery all feature in our projects.

“But the absolute highlight of my trip was seeing and meeting Patricia Urquiola! It was a serious fangirl moment. I’m in love with everything she’s designing, from rugs and furniture to homewares.”

Baskets fixed with leather featured in Loewe’s “Weave, Restore, Renew” installation

JUSTINE HUGH-JONES

Founding Principal, Hugh-Jones Mackintosh interior design

“The highlight of my trip was to betravelling again and seeing beautiful design. The Italian passion and exuberance that is Salone inspires me every time I visit. “I can’t wait to share the return to handmade workmanship in products and furniture with my clients. The Italian artisanal aesthetic is clearly seen in their stonework, furniture, glass and ceramics.

“In particular, CC-Tapis’ latest rug collection is original, creative and textural. Floor rugs are now considered collectable art pieces for the floor or wall.”

Vibrant Stroke rugs by CC-Tapis are akin to art.

JESSICA COULTER

Head of Interior Design, Cera Stribley architecture and interior design

“One of my favourite experiences was visiting Dimore studio’s gallery in the bohemian Brera district. We stumbled across it by accident. The space was filled with a curated collection of eclectic antiques and contemporary pieces.

Classical music played, while a smoky haze filled the air and curtains stirred in the breeze. I felt as if we had been transported to another time. There was a sense of forbidden magic, as if we shouldn’t have been there, which made it all the more enticing. I walked away thinking what a great example of design it was, as it had transcended space and time.

Milan Design Week is the world’s most influential design event. Our Head of Luxury Strategy was on the ground for the Kay & Burton X NAB Private Wealth Luxury Report – enjoy all the highlights from some of the world’s most pioneering brands and designers.