It is important to be present where networks are formed. That is why Pernille Stockmarr, a Ph.D. scholar at the Danish Centre for Design Research, and Nicolai de Gier, an associate professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture took part in the Milan Furniture Fair, 22-27 April 2009. The furniture fair has provided them with inspiration and invaluable knowledge about their respective fields of research within contemporary furniture design.
By Anna Krarup Jensen
“Studying and reflecting on contemporary furniture design can’t be done only through books. I have to be where the action is and feel it intuitively; feel the pulse.”
In Ph.D. scholar Pernille Stockmarr’s own words, this was her reason for going to the Milan Furniture Fair.
|At the Milan Furniture Fair, corporate stage-setting is as important as the furniture on display. Featured here is Normann Copenhagen’s stall at the fair. |
Photo: Pernille Stockmarr
Pernille Stockmarr’s Ph.D. project addresses the aesthetic value of design, using furniture design and furniture industry as her case material. She went to Milan in part to gather empirical findings and images for her research. But she took home much more than that.
“As a researcher, I can’t put a quantitative measure on my benefits from participating in this kind of trade fair. You meet a lot of people that you wouldn’t otherwise have met, have interesting discussions and see what makes the world of furniture design tick. How it is staged, and what the interaction between designer and manufacturer is like. That’s essential knowledge, and it’s not something that one can experience by studying pictures or reading books,” she explains.
Associate Professor Nicolai de Gier also takes home essential inspiration. He studies various types of joints in a project on chair tectonics. As a researcher, he keeps his eyes and ears open while visiting the fair.
“At the furniture fair, I see examples that add to my research, and I find answers or inspiration for new research issues,” he explains.
Both Pernille Stockmarr and Nicolai de Gier emphasise that although the fair literally covers a lot of ground and is bursting with interesting products, the related events are equally exciting. The main exhibition mostly features the established firms and designers who present their products in grandiose stalls. A different aspect of the fair is found in the so-called Zona Tortona.
“Here, you find the avant-garde of furniture design. Zona Tortona presents innovation and interesting experiments,” says Nicolai de Gier.
Pernille Stockmarr found it interesting to witness the hierarchy that is expressed at the furniture fair through the exhibitors’ choice of location.
“It’s interesting to see that young but nevertheless established firms such as Moooi choose to exhibit in Zona Tortona – in order to be a part of the experimenting scene. It was also important to see how industrial design was mixed with art, performances and sustainability initiatives in Zona Tortona,” she says.
|The Milan Furniture Fair includes everything from the familiar and established design to the new and playful. Featured here is street furniture, Pit In, from the Japanese design firm Store Muu Design Studio. |
Photo: Pernille Stockmarr
When designers, manufacturers, engineers, journalists, museum staff, researchers and others within the furniture design world meet for six intense days in Milan, invaluable new networks and professional discussions arise. The foundation for new furniture designs is not necessarily laid at the fair or in meetings; instead this often happens at events or parties around the city, as Pernille Stockmarr points out. She draws comparisons to the film world and refers to one of the founders of the Danish film company Zentropa, Peter Aalbæk Jensen:
“Part of the background for his success is that he’s able to party all night. Good film deals are not made during the day at the film festivals but rather at parties after 2 a.m. The same is true in the furniture world. It’s important to understand this game,” she says.
For Pernille Stockmarr, it is essential to note how designers have one experience, and manufacturers have another, while researchers from the humanities, such as herself, walk away with a third experience from the furniture fair.
“During the fair, I have established a strong knowledge bank with input from all the players. We notice different things. And networks are formed at the fair that may provide access to additional knowledge later on. It’s simply important to be there, to be seen and to be considered an ally. It gives all the participants a professional boost,” she says.
Nicolai de Gier also has a range of perspectives on the furniture fair. He is a trained designer and thus finds inspiration on a basic level during his visit to the fair.
“The fair is full of products on a very high level, which may provide ideas for further development. I always see interesting furniture representing an idea that might be twisted in a new direction to turn into a different piece of furniture,” he says.
As a researcher and a teacher, Nicolai de Gier is also keen to see what is going on right now in the world of furniture design.
“The projects that my students and I work on should reflect a contemporary trend. That means it’s important to know what’s going on internationally. The Milan Furniture Fair is simply the most interesting place in the world for anyone who’s interested in furniture,” he says.
It is not for nothing that the Milan Furniture Fair is considered the place for furniture design. In addition to offering inspiration from companies outside the mainstream, the large turnout of exhibitors also enables researchers to spot connections and trends that are otherwise less evident.
“For example, I noticed that many of the sofas on display were pixellated, made up of many individual components, like a screen image. That’s not a trend that I have noticed previously. The same goes for the widespread use of knitwear in furniture. It’s this sort of images and connections that become apparent when one encounters such vast amounts of modern furniture in one place,” says Pernille Stockmarr.
|The furniture fair included many sofas that Ph.D. scholar Pernille Stockmarr calls pixellated because they are made up of square components with inspiration from computer pixels. |
Photo: Pernille Stockmarr
Because the furniture fair brings together people from all over the world, it also serves as an indicator of what is hot right now. Pernille Stockmarr noticed the emerging designers from Japan in particular.
“The young Japanese designers brought many beautiful pieces. Simple and delicate furniture. Perhaps in a few years’ time, we’ll see a new wave of design from Japan,” she says.
Thus, she emphasises the importance for her as a researcher to get away from the desk.
“Of course, it depends on one’s field of research. If one is studying design from the 1950s, one has to rely on sources and records. But I have to develop the records in my field in real time, and I have to be present when all the players get together. Desk, books and conferences are not enough,” she says.
Milan Furniture Fair
The Milan Furniture Fair takes place every year. This year, the city hosted the furniture fair for the 48th time. There were 278,000 visitors from 152 countries. A total of 139 exhibitors participated in the square, which covered 6,679 square metres.
The event consists of three areas:
The date for the next Milan Furniture Fair is 14 through 19 April 2010.
You can find additional information on the Milan Furniture Fair web site.
Cover photo by Pernille Stockmarr from Karim Rashid's stall at the Milan Furniture Fair.