Milan Report: Obama Design

Among the sofas and settees at the furniture fair, a scattering of design for social change.

According to Google translator, this is how you say “Yes We Can” in Italian: sì, siamo in grado di. But don’t expect to hear any Obama slogans shouted from the rooftops at the Milan Furniture Fair.


It may be the most important showcase of new design, but more than anything the fair is about business. Earth Day be damned. Old-line Italian manufacturers like Poltrona Frau and Cappellini are in no rush to embrace sustainability or other initiatives, especially while business is lagging. And the Dutch are too preoccupied with their poetic musings, much of which looks like the work of children dosed with ecstasy, to contribute to pressing issues of environment and infrastructure.

On the other hand, the fair acts as a sensitive barometer of culture shifts, and design for social and environmental change is inevitably popping up on the margins. Here’s a sampling:

pandora design

Pandora Design, which grew out of a Milan catering service, is exhibiting a disposable glass tapas plate and other hors d’oeuvres tools made from a biodegradable corn compound. They’re handmade, and the resulting imperfections distinguish them from anything you’d find at a condiments station.

eggshell stationary

Nicolas Cheng of Studioroom906, compresses discarded eggshells to make this stationary set (pencil, pencil holder, eraser and paper). It takes 100 recycled eggshells to make one set.


The most conceptual Obama Design comes from his hometown of Chicago, appropriately enough. Exhibiting at the Salone Satellite, an exhibition hall reserved for student work, a group young designers from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are showing household objects created “through the lens of the Obama promise and its problems.” The Thrift Potbelly Piggy by Mingli Change represents our new appreciation for savings. As the coins accumulate, the pig grows fatter. To spend the coins, a person must “slaughter” the pig by cutting the stitched along its belly.


Another student concept: News is New by Chin-Yu Fu is a stool made of recycled newspaper and two leather belts.

Read more coverage of Milan 2009.