Top European Trends to Watch

enLIGHTenment Magazine asked renowned home décor trend spotter Elaine Markoutsas to be our eyes and ears at the recent Salone del Mobile/Euroluce show in Milan.

It’s no surprise that lighting played a starring role at the 58th edition of Salone del Mobile, even outside of the Euroluce portion of the event. As in theater, light can be dramatic. Lighting was incorporated into furniture design, most notably in LED-lit acrylic tables, and RGB remote-controlled color-changing mirrors in Baccarat’s new furniture collection. At the Aqua exhibit honoring Leonardo da Vinci, an enormous LED screen towering over the Conca dell’Incoronata canal (the artist who designed the locks) showed the future city, during the course of a day, while below, in a blackened room, light enchantingly illuminated strategically placed waterfalls. At the Versace installation, candy-colored furniture vignettes created by New York designer Sasha Bikoff were bathed in pink and turquoise lights.

LEDs Take the Lead

The advent of LED lights has been a gamechanger, and its impact was no better demonstrated than at Euroluce, the biannual unveiling of what’s new on an international stage in lighting (alternating with Eurocucina, kitchens and baths).

“LEDs have made design possible that wasn’t in the past,” says Stefano Bordoni, President of Assoluce, an association of lighting producers and CEO of Italian manufacturer Kundalini, such as design flexibility and taking heat away from the light source, both of which he says generates more creativity. That artistic freedom also allows a blurring of the lines between art and light. Is it sculpture that lights up, or light that is sculptural? Architectural forms outlined by lights, or lights imagined as architecture?

Much of the impetus seems to be coming from the idea of creating magic with light. Ever since the French brand Blackbody dazzled at Maison & Objet a few years back with what looked like glittery constellations in mesmerizing installations that stretched out over the entire booth, the possibility for drama kicked up exponentially.

One way to achieve the Wow Factor is with scale. Ramping up dimensions is a purposeful design to occupy large spaces such as rooms and stairwells in commercial as well as residential installations. Another way to beef up impact is with multiples. This, of course, is based on modules, which have become a force in kitchen and residential furniture design. The idea here is to gang three, five, seven (or at shows like this, dozens) at staggered heights.

Make It Your Own

A huge influencer in lighting design is one repeated throughout Euroluce: Customization. This is noticeable in contract work as well as residential — from track, where linear or curvy connectivity also allows cool pendants to be placed anywhere, to the up-the-wall art installations that are spread out however the user wishes. For example, at Italian manufacturer Pallucco, a painted metal design named Totem grabbed immediate attention with its colorful, playful geometric form. Upon closer examination, however, it’s apparent the backlit magnetized parts are movable, allowing the lighting to be changed along the wall horizontally or vertically with ease.

Grow Some Greenery

A surprising new category that fits into the notion of making it your own is more of a hybrid: light + planter. This is a logical extension of what was seen at Eurocucina last year with elongated lights over counters, often propped with herbs, for a nice green touch. The most stunning display was at Kundalini, where the entry to its booth was populated with Vice Versa floor, table lamps, and sconces by French designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance. The cylinder vase-shaped, amber-colored glass held a light source on one end, and a “planter” on the other.

At Canadian manufacturer Bocci’s booth, a small table orb had an opening for plants; its pendant cousin featured several openings, and depending on what kind of greenery you pop in, it’s reminiscent of air plants and spider plant babies.

Italian architects Ludovica+Roberto Palomba featured a square or rectangular vase shape in milky white with light shining through, topped with a small pocket for a sprig of green or an orchid.

Expect the Unexpected

Table lamps were especially strong, provocative in shape and unexpected materials. At the booth for Portuguese manufacturer Vista Alegre, the festive and colorful Cocar was inspired by the headdress of Amazonian chiefs. More minimal is the simple black frame called Curiosity presented by Italian manufacturer Artemide, which can house whatever you wish to spotlight — from olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottles to a basil plant.

Globe and dome forms are still are very much a part of the lighting landscape, with egg silhouettes emerging as a fresh alternative. These rounded shapes were distinguished by materials such as colored glass (Czech Republic-based Brokis is one of the few makers who can use bare Edison bulbs and still look fresh, not faddish) and lunar inspiration. One striking example at Davide Groppi – part of Italian Design Brands Group – was crafted with a skin of Japanese paper, and at the booth for Italian firm Knikerboker, the entire sky was suggested with lights as stars.

There was plenty of inspiration from jewelry as well — especially where you might expect it, like Swarovski of Austria. Its newest pendant styles feature droplets of solid crystal with burnished gold crowns. One of the most compelling designs, especially for its simplicity and construction, was Davide Groppi’s ChainDelier, which looked like a ginormous necklace with large links of gold suspended 3 meters from the ceiling; they were joined by a proportionally smaller black housing for the pin-spot light that shone above a table.

Nature and biofilia continues to be a muse for organic shapes in lighting as well as in other areas of home design. At the booth for Portuguese design firm Serip, hand-blown glass swallows perched on gold-finished bronze branches that climbed up walls and across ceilings – plus adapted as a linear pendant – turned heads as a decorative element. Renowned designer Marcel Wanders created a porcelain fixture called Nightbloom for the Spanish brand Lladro, using its large flower petals to communicate the idea of motion.

There were striking combinations of materials, such as fluted glass and leather in slim tubes at Articolo. While the latter are very modern and minimal, and other more tailored examples at the U.K.-based Bert Frank reflected Art Deco styling, many sconces were more ambitious and, dare we say, flamboyant — kind of straddling the line established by those art pieces.

One introduction clearly in the art category – and in fact, the Spanish company Arturo Alvarez even lists it that way on its website – is Leria. This Instagrammable display consisted of suspended mesh faces, staggered and lined up for several feet. They are not the light source, rather they are lit by strategically placed slim black spots that create intriguing reflections that constantly change as the faces move.

Materials were statement-making in themselves with a wide range including aluminum, stainless steel, wire and mesh, bronze, concrete, copper, gold and silver leaf, glass, leather, bamboo, and wood. Malleable LED tube-like forms intrigued show visitors, particularly at Artemide, where one can “draw” the shapes desired.

Finishes favored the matte – especially in black, which, again, follows trends in home décor – and in burnished gold. Some mixes were a revelation, such as the unexpected combination of light natural ash with crystal. Designed like branches inspired by the Moselle forest that surrounds the Saint Louis factory, the company calls it “an ode to creative folly.” With its brass-centered “flowers” of geometric-cut crystal (in clear or chartreuse), contrasting with the smooth wood, it’s a fresh note to traditional more Baroque-like style, whether climbing a wall or in a circular chandelier.

The same is true at the venerable Italian manufacturer Barovier & Toso, where a fabulous massive chandelier called Hermitage was the centerpiece of the space. The multi-layered dimensional fixture consisted of 1,350 pieces and, as shown, weighed more than 2,000 pounds. As impressive as that was, the installation over a circular stand with a pair of simple white rocking horses at Czech Republic-based Preciosa – with its undulating globes in gold and white designed as a “carousel of light” – was a showstopper. The Chihuly-like illuminated art glass composition from the Czech maker Lasvit is part of the brand’s “Theory of Light” presentation, where the vibrant, eye-catching hues are derived in part from uranium green, a radioactive element added to the glass.

Trendy Textiles

Textiles continue to change the face of some lighting designs, some in the simplest shapes — again, defying convention, as with Babu, a collection of 3′-high footed circular floor lamps that resembled decorative tables standing on end. The pieces, by Massimiliano Raggi for Contardi, are for outdoor use; the pairing of black and white Sunbrella fabrics in houndstooth and herringbone patterns are complemented with velvet trim. While the designs feel modern, the inspiration is African archaic tribal symbols.

The lampshade style that became ubiquitous – especially in hospitality or residential dining rooms with large-scale pendants – took a different turn at Servomuto, with the playful rectangular Bikini series, which combine rattan with colorful cabana-like striped fabric.

The use of textiles or stretchy polymers has also been trending, furthering sculptural possibilities. They may add acoustical values (like Stephen Burks’ Trypta for Italian lighting company Luceplan, which was introduced at NEOCON last year. Its architectural panels in an acoustical knit are shown in subtle hues.

Fringe added a flirty look; a trend that also is kicking up in home design, in evidence at Maison & Objet especially in ottomans, was seen both in table lamps and pendants at Contardi. Gold or silver banding topped the veiled light, which had a matching standing for the tabletop version.

At iconic Italian brand Missoni, its own lighting reflected new product as it blended with printed fabrics and backdrops. The brand identification with proprietary lighting is a growing force. Fashion and home design brands are producing lighting that naturally complements their own furniture collections in scale, mood, and materials.

At Poltrona Frau, a towering floor lamp in bold blue glass with leather complemented a new leather sofa by Ludovica and Roberto Palomba. And at Seletti, lighting designs are every bit as whimsical and irreverent as its product. Last year it was monkeys; this year, an unmistakably phallic banana, sassy in chrome yellow peels or glitzy in gold.

Smarter Design

Sustainability and smart technology are no longer simply buzz words, but part of the extended vocabulary in lighting design. For example, at Foscarini, a system called MyLight is available for a wide range of models with built-in and retrofit LEDs. Controlling and personalizing light from a smartphone or tablet is possible, thanks to a dedicated app that allows turning lamps on and off, plus adjusting light intensity and color temperature in an effort to personalize space.

Out Is In

Another niche ramping up is that of outdoor lighting. Many lighting brands showed outdoor-safe product and outdoor furniture, and conversely manufacturers such as Dedon, Kettal, and Gloster have added lighting to their lines. While the styles are generally Modern, they take on different vibes depending on the materials. Some have the feel of baskets, as they are woven in outdoor rattan; others in metal can be more Minimal, such as Luceplan’s low-profile Finiele.

Overall, while there still might be a divide between Traditionalists and Minimalists, lighting product and innovative installations touching on all genres dazzled the 400,000 visitors who walked the show as well as the streets of Milan. 

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