The Milan Furniture Fair  opens next month, and with it, the design world’s annual bacchanal of hype and hoopla. More than any other event on the design calendar, Milan sets the agenda for the year ahead, and not just for furniture. But will the economic downturn derail the prevailing design movements? Which way, design?
At the sprawling fairgrounds on the outskirts of the city, visitors will mill around new works by design’s boldface names. By night swarms of editors and bloggers will search for the next cool thing (and the next cold Peroni) at impromptu shows tucked in the back of cobblestone courtyards in the Zona Tortona. The most discerning observers pick up signals from the white noise. The trick is to identify the design currents of the day and figure out what they mean. What follows are five design trends that have been percolating since last year's fair. We can't wait to see how they shift or veer, go mainstream or fizzle out, at this year's event.
A conspicuous number of European furniture manufacturers have been reissuing vintage designs, in this case a lacquered trolley  designed by Bruno Mari in 1962. Faced with the downturn and competition from China, they’re playing their trump card: the venerable tradition of European design.
As the design world looks for alternatives to the sharp lines and clean surfaces of mass-produced modernism, a new genre of rough-hewn furniture has come to the fore, like this chair by the Brazilian designer Hugo Franca .
Chalk this up as another reaction against the austerity of modernism: We've been seeing a breed of squat, stumpy furniture with wavy lines, much of which looks like it belongs in Fred and Wilma Flintstone's living room. This example is a liquor cabinet by Josef Blersch and Mander Liefting .
The big bang at last year’s Milan fair was the arrival of “design art,” a new category of furniture and other pieces sold as fine art (and with art world price tags.) The wardrobe above, for example, was designed by Dutch designer Tord Boontje  for Mallet , a venerable antiques dealer based in London. The biggest question at this year’s fair: Will design art wilt in this economic climate?
When the British designer Jasper Morrison  created this simple pine bedside table three years ago, he was calling for design to put aside frivolous and fantastic preoccupations and return to its utilitarian roots. Finding beauty in austerity will likely be a predominant theme at this year’s show.