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Three Facets of Minimalism from Milan: Minimal, Minimalism+, and Elemental

We’ve covered the current trend for wobbly, mottled design at Milan. But the dominant aesthetic is still decidedly minimal: Stripped down and super clean, a perfect fit for that cavernous, $10 million downtown loft. These designs can blur together into a jumble of primary colors, but designers have tackled minimalism in distinct ways. Here’s a roundup of the design strategies at hand.

We’ve covered the current trend for wobbly, mottled design at Milan. But the dominant aesthetic is still decidedly minimal: Stripped down and super clean, a perfect fit for that cavernous, $10 million downtown loft. These designs can blur together into a jumble of primary colors, but designers have tackled minimalism in distinct ways. Here’s a roundup of the design strategies at hand.

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Naoto Fukasawa, one of the design minds behind Muji, remains the acknowledged master of the barely-there. This week in Milan, he unveiled three new lights for Panasonic Electric Works. They might look familiar at first glance, but still bear Fukasawa’s tell-tale (and fanatical) attention to detail–notice the strikingly smooth joinery between the electric cord and lamp bell:

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In two works for Magis, Pierre Paulin took a similar tack, stripping away anything inessential. For a bookcase, that meant elimanating one side from each of the storage cubes; for a chair, he reduced a familiar Art Deco chair design, to a shadow of its former self:

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I personally can’t help but laugh at this witty piece by Matthew Hilton for SCP, which manages to evoke your grandfather’s La-Z-Boy in a totally minimal vernacular:

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More Japanese design. Here, Nendo’s cabinets for Quodes are utterly plain but perky at the same time:

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But there are two other, slightly different takes on minimalism worth noting. The first you might call Minimalism+, which embellishes just a couple details, to great effect. The other I’d call elemental design–laying bare the workings and assembly of a piece, to make it seem somehow more functional.

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Here’s a few examples of Minimalism+. Stefan Diez’s Houdini chair for e15 is made of oak, and seems utterly simple, until you realize the complexity of joining all those offset panels of wood:

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The Nuance chair by Luca Nichetto is both totally simple and extremely bold. The individual bands that form the chair are colored in a grade, like a tiny chunk of rainbow:

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Jin Kuramoto’s pendant
lamps
serve a double function as vases, creating an interesting echo
when the two pieces are paired with each other, while making the colors into a big, bright signature:

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Arne Quinze’s bookshelves are made of parts that individually are fairly bland. The only tweak is that they’re thrown together in a seemingly haphazard way: 

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Peter Marigold is pulling a similar trick here, in shelves for SCP. The finish is intentionally bland, so that it quiets down a rollicking shape: 

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The Satellite cabinets by BarberOsgerby have just enough tweaks in the lines and legs to stand apart from similar designs:

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Last up is the trend I mentioned before, elemental design, which lays bare how the furniture works or was put together. Check out these tables by Konstantin Grcic for SCP, which wear their functional parts like a badge of honor:

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Marina Bautier’s modular seating looks extremely…modular. And purely functional, with a bolted on lamp on the side:

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The Nomad Table by Jorre van Ast is nearly unadorned–except for the threading at the top of legs, where they join with this table top. The threading doesn’t screw in all the way–like a real screw would–so that table always tells you that the owner had to put it together herself:

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Read more coverage of Milan 2009.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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