Milan 2009: Moroso's Maxed-Out, Ethnically Inspired Designs

One thing you'll notice at the Milan Furniture Fair is how totally international the designs appear---and I don't necessarily mean that as a compliment. The designs, and the designers could have come from anywhere. Modernist architects used to dream of an "International Style," and that ethos now permeates product design. But one outstanding exception is Moroso, which more than any other design house has put ethnically inspired design centerstage, in a niche dominated by works that all look vaguely related. Here's a sampling of what they presented this year:

Philippe Bestenheider is Swiss, but he presented a series of chairs inspired by traditional African prints. The stubby legs bring to mind Senufo Stools from Ivory Coast:

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Tord Boontje is synonymous with the frilly, flowery trend. But he too picked up the African theme, in his Shadowy Armchair:

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Stephen Burks--a young African-American New Yorker who has frequently referenced Africa in his designs--also presented African-inspired stools, for the "M'afrique" exhibition:

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Nendo, a Japanese outfit better known for minimalism, designed these ottomans, woven from leather:

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Patricia Urquiola has always loved ornate patterns. For these sofas, she borrowed from vernacular designs in a country almost ignored by designers: Uzbekistan:

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In all this work, there is a legitimate benefit to the countries that inspired the designs: Moroso leaned heavily on local African craftsmen to make its wares. That could be as impactful as any "green" initiative--by developing the local economy and building skills, new trades might blossom where few jobs exist. For many years, that's been the impetus behind Design Indaba, a conference (frequently attended by Stephen Burks) that markets African design to the world at large. 

[Images via Dezeen and Otto Otto]

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