Debbie Travis: Huge Milan trade show a bucket-list item for designers

There is nothing quite like the wild experience of a visit to Salone del Mobile in Milan. If you relish the latest in modern design, or decorating is your thing, or your home is the centre of your life, then a trip to the Mecca of all things visually delicious is a bucket-list must. But beware — this trade show is not for the faint of heart. There are rules. First, one cannot just turn up, whoever you are. This is the Italian equivalent to arriving at the Chanel fashion show in Paris without an invitation. (But like everything in Italy, there is always a way.) The last day of the show is open to the public so we mere mortals can be inspired.

Every April, thousands upon thousands of furniture and lighting buyers, dealers and the press from every corner of the globe battle their way through the turnstiles that guard the entrance to one of the world’s largest interior design shows. Once you are in, you are now part of an elite crowd about to encounter what designs we will be sitting on, switching on, eating at or lounging on over the coming years. You are privy to a glimpse of what materials we will snuggle up in, what colours will adorn our walls, what technology will light up our homes. Surrounded by so much forward-thinking newness, you are experiencing the future and it is so exciting.

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In about twenty giant pavilions, each the size of a Costco store, some with three levels, the most important design companies launch their new gems: Armani Casa, Minotti, Knoll, Paola Lenti, Gervasoni, Dedon, just to name a few in this luxury chocolate box of the very best in leading edge creations. Then there are the designers themselves who strut their stuff. Starck, Alessi, Mandini, Navone, who arrive to meet the worshipping crowds, to chat about their creations, and to accept their annual awards.

Whatever produces the most buzz at these shows will be on the high street months later. Last year, much of the world’s press were in awe of a vegan stool made from salt, but I doubt it will ever become a fixture at Home Depot. Perhaps that is more an example of what we can do than what we will do. However, also launched at Il Salone, furniture made from woven string or rope is now about to become mainstream.

A perfect example is Dedon, the innovative company that specializes in outdoor furniture. Remember the white plastic mould chairs that sat outside every cafe or backyard around the world? They were replaced after Bobby Dekeyser, founder of Dedon, invented a new type of woven exterior furniture. I have been a massive fan of this company for years because of the high quality and designesthetic. It did not take long for every white plastic chair to be replaced with a version of this woven material. This company still leads the way, through using modern technology and craftsmanship.

The lighting pavilions had the most cynical among us drooling. Here is where we witness innovation at its best. This year I saw miniature spots the size of the end of your thumb that can be pressed into a ceiling, producing moonbeams of light across a room. Just like the furniture, these advancements in clever and practical lighting will be in our own homes at the flick of a switch.

The show is on for five days. I have seen exhibitors and visitors carrying their shoes as they limp back out into the world at the end of this marathon of intense design. It is exhilarating, inspiring and every year I vow “never again” — until next April!

Written by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Email decorating questions to Follow Debbie at

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