Visiting the Salone del Mobile in Milan, I came across some trends of the last few years: reuse, natural materials and flexibility. I spotted tables and desks that can easily be transformed into benches, paper tubes reused as pendants, and waterproof paper made of calcium carbonate extracted from material recovered from quarries and building industry waste.

This smart approach that combines original materials and digital techniques turned several designs into experimental concepts. Take for instance the fishline chair by Nendo, in which fishing line is wound tightly around the surfaces of a wooden chair to give it a fine unevenness. Nendo: ‘This chair is an exploration into ways of finishing wooden surfaces that go beyond the usual application.’ This reuse of existing materials or innovative use of traditional materials was also evident in chairs made of sustainable composites consisting of wool or PET felt from recycled PET bottles.

Man Made Designs

But what really caught my eye was the exhibition by New York City-based industrial designer Stephen Burks and presented by Dwell magazine. In his work he tries to connect the worlds of ground-level craft and high-end design.

A few years ago Burks started a co-production with Senegalese basket weavers that focused on their creativity instead of controlling the designs. Though this was a challenging collaborative experiment for him, the mix of artisanal techniques, industrial production and contemporary design is also visible in his work for Dedon in which outdoor furniture is made by weavers from the Philippines. In both production processes, the opportunity for the artisans to use their own creativity in a delicate and authentic way makes each piece a unique one.

At the Salone del Mobile, Dwell presented the ongoing Man Made project and Burks’ collaborations with The White Briefs, Calligaris, Parachilna, Roche Bobois and Dedon. Dwell magazine: ‘For years there’s been a divide between manufactured first-world luxury items and handmade third-world crafts, but industrial designer Stephen Burks believes that the future of design lies within that diminishing void.’

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