These are nervous times for the companies showing off their wares at the sprawling Milan Furniture Fair. At the same time, a showcase for luxurious goods is as good a place as any to see how the prevailing grey mood is translating into the objects around us. These works share a common cause: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Maybe the best example comes from Shigeru Ban, in his new line for the Finnish furniture maker Artek. It's really not a furniture line at all. Rather, it's a "10 -Unit System," based on L-shaped units that can be recombined to any piece of furniture you like—much in the same way as the Mekano set we covered here. The material itself is novel—"wood plastic" is rendered from surplus plastic and wood. At the end of life, it can be readily recycled, or—-what's most surprising—burned, without any harm to the environment:
Mental Design's "Reuse Component Optimizer Chair" isn't really a chair at all. It's simply a welded-steel bolster, that lets you make a chair with whatever junk you might happen to scavenge. As the the designers say, with infectious optimism, "It's a tool that will help the human race to save the planet in style!"
Fredrik Färg uses old furniture as his raw materials in his RE:Cover line, first shown last month in Stockholm and being introduced to a wider audience this week in Milan. Starting at flea markets, he finds classic chairs, then revivifies them with construction techniques borrowed from clothing design:
Paris-based design collective 5.5 (pronounced "cinque cinque") has, for a couple years, toyed with similar experiments in making furniture from resusitated odds and ends. This year, they opted for a slightly different direction, in a line for Coincasa. Here, a single table gets multiple uses—from a lamp to a shelf—depending on the owners whim. So, rather than getting bored with your furniture and buying more, the idea is that you can make it new-ish whenever you feel.
The tricksters at London-based design duo Committee took a more ironic stance. They've previously made wild lamps and rugs that look scavenged from stray parts. This time, they started with functional but unused brickabrack that crowds our junk drawers, from pens to USB drives. They carefully reformed these by hand into amusing little found sculptures that almost look useful—but are totally functionless. So it's both a thumb in the eye of design—whose conceit is always usefulness—and a stab at finding new uses for junked objects.
Saving the world? Of course not. But designers are definitely finding new ways to imbue objects with social values—which has always been design's best legacy.