The Making Of
Process at the Milan Furniture Fair

Tom Dixon, Bram Boo, e15, and Thomas Eyck all showed products in copper at the 2010 Milan Furniture Fair, which closes today. There was also a minor strain of fur-covered chairs — plus one hairy, Cousin It–style storage unit by the Campana Brothers for Edra — and a tendency toward LED and OLED lighting. But as far as Sight Unseen is concerned, the only trend worth writing home about was the diaristic glimpse into process that so many designers chose to offer this year, supplementing their finished products with sketches, models, and real-time demonstrations. Droog, Tom Dixon, and the Belgian gallery Z33 turned manufacturing into a spectator sport, churning out saleable objects on the spot, while the young Berlin duo Studio Hausen decided to forgo actual products entirely, outfitting their Satellite booth with a vitrine full of experimental bits and bobs from recent research projects. Certainly in some cases the conceit helped mask a lack of new production pieces, an economic consequence that plagued the fair in general, but mostly it celebrated curiosity, storytelling, and a growing interest in where things come from and how they’re made — Sight Unseen’s raison d’etre, of course. Here are just a handful of the examples we spotted over the past seven days.


In the new Ventura Lambrate neighborhood of Milan, Niels van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe mounted a retrospective of their work from 1998 to 2010, the bulk of which was represented by a pictorial timeline of process shots, sketches, and models.


Pictured here is a tiny scale model of their 2008 Bibu Bench for van Esch.


Upstairs, where the duo showed a new series of beautifully crafted low-tech everyday goods called "Usuals," they also screened a video of stills from their production process.


Next door at the "Ten Small Atlases: Ten Processes Behind Ten Objects" show, designers like Jo Meesters, Julia Lohman, and Studio Glithero exhibited projects from a fall workshop in Torino by telling the story of how they were created. The Coiling chair by Raw Edges — pictured above — was made from a single strip of felt coiled and dipped in acrylic resin.


The London-based designers displayed 1:3 mock-ups and molds to demonstrate the process of hardening the seat's shell with the colored resin.


Photographs depicted the many trials the two went through to get the resin to set properly.


A view of the "Ten Small Atlases" show, with a mass of metal wire used to make Philippe Malouin's Gridlock lamp in the foreground.


Tom Dixon launched a chair, bench, and two lamps at his booth inside Superstudio in Zona Tortona, but members his staff were also put to work constructing gold-mesh flat-pack lamps in the shape of dodecahedrons, which were then sold on the spot for 100 Euros.


The staffers were made to don white Wellies and jumpsuits with "FACTORY WORKER" stenciled across the back. They used a whiteboard to keep track of their productivity and sales over the course of the show.


The so-called "Flash Factory" also produced a smaller candle holder made from the same material as the lamp. Both objects will soon be available for purchase through Dixon's website.


After some consideration, the boys from Berlin's Studio Hausen decided to forgo their usual product showcase at the young designers' section of the fair in favor of an exhibition about their recent design research projects, including a honeycomb chair made from fabric tubes shot through with a hardening foam.


They built a large vitrine and filled it with small experiments, inspiration objects, and materials samples, including — pictured here in the upper-left corner — two rods printed in color on a rapid-prototyping machine. They depict the color-coding scheme that 3-D modeling programs use to show points of strength and stress in furniture designs.


An accompanying catalog captured the content of the exhibit; shown here is the materials used for the honeycomb chair prototype.


For "Saved By Droog," the Dutch design producer purchased lots of unwanted items at auction and asked 14 designers to do with them what they would; graphic designer Marian Bantjes chose a simple brown folding chair and envisioned hiring nail artists to decorate them with tiny floral patterns.


The nail artists were hired from a nearby Milanese beauty school and painted the chairs on-site from sample patterns provided by Bantjes. The Droog staff reported that each chair took about two to three hours to fully decorate (there were 80 in total), and that the artists enjoyed their assignment but felt odd at first working in a scale so much larger than that of a fingernail.


The materials used to paint the chairs, including actual nailpolish at left.


The Belgian design studio Unfold specialize in unique production methods, and they built this contraption — which rapid-prototypes objects by extruding layers of wet clay — for the Belgian gallery Z33, who exhibited it in Ventura Lambrate during the fair.


It was bought as a kit from Bits From Bytes and built based on the open-source RepRap project. After it's extruded, the clay can be fired in a kiln normally.


Just for the exhibition, Unfold collaborated with interaction designer Tim Knapen to create a virtual pottery wheel with which visitors could create their own mini-vessels. These were then printed at random and displayed on the shelves.


At Rossana Orlandi's gallery, the basement was parcelled into small showcases of young designers' work. Recent Eindhoven grads Formafantasma didn't just exhibit their Autarchy vases made from 70% flour, 20% agricultural waste, and 10% natural limestone. With a bit of help from the legendary French bakery Poilâne, they built an installation showcasing the natural ingredients and the "recipe" used to turn them into design objects.


A chunk of the bio-material Formafantasma developed, milled, and dried for the project. It felt soft and spongy to the touch.


When the designers arrived at the space to begin setup, they threw open a set of windows only to discover this brick chamber behind them. It became part of the installation, representing the drying ovens they used to bake the vases.


The vases were colored using natural dyes, which the pair obtained by dried, boiling, or filtering a selection of vegetables, roots, and spices.


Another natural material — paper pulp — was pressed into molds and trimmed to form the W101 lamp for Swedish brand Wästberg, designed by the agency CKR. At their booth, the company showed not only the finished models, but these prototypes in various stages of production.


You can read more about the development process for the lamp over at Dezeen.