At the Milan International Furniture Fair the focus is on eco-friendly, more affordable furniture as designers seek to woo green-minded consumers with smaller budgets in tough economic times.
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Wood and metal were the materials of choice, and echoes of nature abounded, such as Vappellini's tulip-shaped chairs and chairs by Sicis evoking four-leafed clovers.
Advertisement"There is a desire for rustic things, for the countryside," said Evelina Bazzo, head of communications for Italian company De Castelli.
"This can't be explained rationally, but it is the taste of the moment. This would not have worked 15 years ago."
The trend has given De Castelli a window for their wrought-iron furniture with many pieces that double as planters. Its sales grew by 27 percent in 2009, even as the Italian furniture sector as a whole saw sales decline by 18.2 percent.
Designers like German Michael Koening of Picto have broken down the barriers between indoors and out. His metal sculptures shaped like trees for the living room offer a way to "commune with nature without having plants," Koenig said.
Eco-friendly furniture is "the only way forward," said Jukka Lommi, designer for Finnish company Punkalive. "That's the future."
Punkalive's furniture is labelled with the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during production and their headquarters are heated with wood shavings from their production.
Prominent French designer Philippe Starck, a leading light in the New Design school, went so far as to say that "design is useless. There are already millions of chairs to sit our cute butts on."
"Ecology, that's where we can still express ourselves," he said.
A trends analyst for the expo, Marco Romanelli, said people were looking for "a welcoming interior as a refuge" from the outside world, which was evident in rugs and designs using wide-mesh fabrics.
The six-day Milan expo ending Monday also showcased fashion powerhouses Armani, Missoni, Versace and Bottega Veneta proposing signature luxury interiors.
The global economic crisis however has led most consumers to prefer more affordable, practical and durable furniture.
"Some things, strangely, have disappeared. Everyone's grandmother had a dresser, and its usefulness is obvious, but it's hard to find them even at flea markets," said Starck, who designed one for Italian company Kartell.
"Two years ago, many people were still buying fun, fanciful things, but now people want something more practical and durable," said Marco Serralunga, head of the eponymous Italian company.
"Consumers have learned a great lesson from the crisis," Romanelli said.
"They are much more careful and they want things whose value matches the pricetag. It's a very positive effect of the crisis that objects have become smaller and less out-of-reach."
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