Factory Office

Factory Office

As this year’s Orgatec comes to a close and local airports shepherd battle-hardened armies of salespeople and creatives back to their respective hubs, I reflect on some themes from this year’s show.

20406721The Office: a place of industry.

Vitra have been presenting an industrial feel for a couple of years with Jean Prouve and the Bouroullecs leading the way. This show very much continued where they left off. Unfinished metal frames, warehouse style plastic doorflaps to divide spaces, metal mesh side panels and screens hanging from pulleys that would usually be found on a factory floor. The ‘start-up feel’ is still flavour of the month as everyone wants to work at a coworking desk wearing jeans and trainers with no socks, whilst sipping lattés and eating carrot cake…

The industrial feel echoed through the fair this year with many brands acknowledging a factory floor setting, either with a new modular mesh shelving product or simply with the backdrop of their set design. If the Hacienda was still around I’d tell Tony to stick some big ply desks on one side and a coffee barista next to the DJ booth and Fac51 would become a coworking mecca.

img_2054Modularity… 

An important feature in architecture and interiors; the ability to create a grid format of interchangeable blocks allowing users the flexibility to increase or decrease in line with changing requirements. The latest modular trends at Orgatec include space dividing screens suspended by a ceiling mounted rail system, allowing screens to be slid around continuously to carve up spaces (see my Office 2030 blog). Black metal styled storage systems such as Wiesner Hager’s Cage product (below) and boxy storage modules with integrated desking, acoustic panels, soft seating and other features industrialised an office planning theme made familiar by Herman Miller’s Living Office, where soft seating peels off desks, which in turn peel off a modular storage system.

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The use of modular systems on exhibition stands (whether product or prop) firmly illustrates a desire to split up a large open plan commercial space with towering high storage as both a feature and a facility.

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In general, workplace furniture fashion is beginning to look like commercial exposed ceilings: stripped back to bare boned essentials, bolts and fixings proudly on display rather than hidden from view. Solid, rigid, mesh and modular. Carefully considered, then intentionally styled to look a bit rough round the edges. A bit like Jason Statham.

And Tom Dixon’s getting in on the act, with his first foray into the workplace. Aside from a promising chunky wooden trestle-legged team desk, his Boom task light makes no secret of its industrial DNA.

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With all this harsh, technology driven metal framed office furniture, we need some softness to compensate. And following in the footsteps of Verpan, Walter Knoll – and more recently Gubi, there was a lot of dark opulent velvet upholstery and mid century vibes. Buzzispace seemingly had a personality transplant and you’d be forgiven for thinking their stand was actually of Danish heritage, with wooden framed easy chairs and muted velvet fabrics, long curtains and screens. Large numbers of plants and foliage are also needed to offset all that tough metal, so expect even more biophilic integration in the new wave industrial workplace.

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In spite of a return to metal frames, there’s still a strong appetite for wooden furniture. Soft linoleum (or linoleum effect) meeting table tops with wooden underframes are as popular as ever, with huge numbers of wooden frame breakout chairs, tables and bar stools launched. Hussl quietly slipped in a nice family of wooden framed chairs and barstools with a rather unique linoleum backrest. Nicely done.

The Scandinavians are still doing what they do best: beautiful wood and hand stitched leather combinations, with Fredericia looking the part. Meanwhile Poltrona Frau impressed with exquisite quality leather meeting and waiting furniture for high quality interiors.

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Swoon chair in velvet

Walter Knoll displayed a range of succulent leather and velvet furniture, with a great new linking meeting table system. In addition they tapped in to another theme which was large executive V shaped electric sit stand meeting tables, perfect for group discussions and ideal for video conference.

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Aside from these themes there’s still plenty of marble, black chrome, copper and brass – plus a wave of 3D style fabrics, tiles and textiles sweeping through. As ever, halls were awash with hundreds of clever stacking, folding, flipping and collapsing solutions- and the race is well underway to embed ever smarter data gathering hardware within furniture. ‘Millennials’ and ‘Digital Nomads’ are mainstream topics now and brands like Samsung, Google and Swisscom are developing IT products to optimise the way current and future generations use buildings and furniture.

But that wraps up my general thoughts on Orgatec this year. Ultimately wellbeing, communication and technology remain centre stage in the modern office and the stripping back of office design only emphasises that. With the fourth industrial revolution looming, it’s ironic that office design chooses a factory style design backdrop to personify itself. The creation of the Factory Office, the rise of smart tech, metric data harvesting and coworking means the future of the workplace is cool, edgy and exciting. And definitely not dead.

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Stripes, Industrial Chic and Zebras

Stripes, Industrial Chic and Zebras

As I work on projects searching for the right products, trends can gently (or sometimes not so) present themselves. In the run up to joining over 50,000 trade visitors at Orgatec in Cologne next week, I’ve recently felt my ‘furniture nerd antennae’ twitch to a couple of design styles which I’ll share with you.

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Zeitraum

There’s a movement within certain design circles of simple, chunky legged, childlike design. Mathias Hahn has developed a number of pieces for Zeitraum in this style and I like the playfulness of it. He makes it look easy and effortless, but the proportions are very carefully considered and well executed.

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Okapi chair by Perez Ochando for Missana

Meanwhile Missana recently launched the Okapi chair, designed by Perez Ochando. The design studio based in Valencia describe ‘the front side of the chair reminding us of a giraffe and the back of a zebra’. Ok. That’ll be last orders at the bar guys…

Bla Station have been on this theme for years, with tele tubby forms, oversized upholstery buttons and simplified shapes. Sometimes our subconscious is drawn to a design style as it reminds us of something. If we have an inner child, then Bla Station have been waving Kinder Eggs and Alcopops at it for a while now.

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Bla Station

But there’s another theme that has caught my eye. A more grown up theme, based upon simple clean lines, 3D shapes, industrial materials and graphite shades. And I have a feeling Orgatec – and 2017 – will be awash with it…

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Zeus: Slim Irony

Zeus have been creating cool iron furniture for decades. Their ‘Slim Irony’ range is a culmination of their time-served expertise. They call it ‘Industrial Chic’. With a blend of minimalism and urban Milanese cool, the range includes rusted top finishes and a glass option that reminds me of school windows… Rusted metal finishes have been a regular feature in external architectural design for some time – perhaps they are finally creeping indoors.

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Zeus: Slim Irony

But that’s not all Zeus are known for. During Milan Design Week the lovely food served in their showroom (a converted car garage tucked away in an unassuming Milan side street) has also gained notoriety. So much so that old folks from the local neighbourhood suspiciously shuffle through the showroom doors en masse around lunchtime, hoping for a free bowl of risotto. The lovely folks at Zeus usually oblige.

Back to what Zeus do best – furniture. The pure, simple form of Slim Irony is nothing new as far as shapes go. But this cubic semi transparent ‘3D’ linear theme is something we’re going to see a lot more of.

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Zeus: Slim Irony

“Handcrafted furniture from the Industrial North…”

From downtown Milan to down the Toon (that’s Newcastle, UK if you didn’t know). Nestled amongst and inspired by faded crumbling industrial heritage, a furniture brand called Novocastrian is emerging with a style of their own. Acknowledging modern trends, with hints of art deco and inspiration from the industrial revolution, a group of metalworkers, designers and architects with a self-confessed obsession with metal are steadily growing their furniture collection. And fanbase.

I love how Novocastrian present themselves: Handcrafted Furniture from the Industrial North. In an era of Brexit, declining industry, fear and propoganda, this is a brand bursting with northern grit to turn it all on its head. Go on lads and lasses.

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Novocastrian’s Straiths Unit – inspired by industrial architecture

Aside from a growing product collection, Novocastrian turn their hands to one off commissions and bespoke products. Whilst retaining their flavour and classic style, they deliver unique elegant forms echoing Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in fabulous materials such as blackodised or bronze patinated steel.

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Novocastrian tables (above and below)

Light years ahead…

But this theme of dark lines and stripes isn’t exclusive to furniture. In recent years we’ve seen lighting designs hit the trade fairs, perhaps illuminating (sorry) this dark linear trend. Michael Anastassiades’ String lights (below) were inspired by electricity wires as seen through a train window…

A recent favourite of mine is Arik Levy’s playful Wireflow collection for Vibia which adds a decorative Gothic touch to a project. Great for a large reception space or gallery. This would look really cool over a bespoke Novocastrian Blackodised steel boardroom table.

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Wireflow by Arik Levy

In both of these lighting collections, the clever twist is that the actual light itself isn’t the main event. The power cord cuts a stripe in thin air, allowing a 2D or 3D shape to be created and make its presence known.

Another related example is Lee Broom‘s Opticality exhibition from LDW last month. With 80’s undertones, Broom plays with the senses to present his latest lighting product ‘Optical’. This is where the playful linear trend crosses over to 3D graphic design, visual perceptions and perhaps even fashion.

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Once you tune in to these themes it’s hard to stop noticing them and I could literally go on and on throwing related products at you. But I won’t. If like me you’re jetting off to Cologne next week for Orgatec, look out for cubic linear shapes, black stripes, 3D frames and industrial black metal. Oh and keep your eyes peeled for the occasional zebra or giraffe lurking in the background…

Furnishing the future

Furnishing the future

A little over 11 years ago I was involved in bringing Vitra Design Museum’s world renowned 100 Years 100 Chairs exhibition to Manchester – with a fantastic team and supported by an enthusiastic Architecture Community. It was the acclaimed exhibition’s first visit to an English speaking country. Another first for Manchester, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Joy Division, the Post Punk music movement, the Hacienda, the worlds first Computer and the city where Rolls met Royce. This exhibition at CUBE Gallery was its most successful ever, with between 12-14000 visitors during it’s 10 week stay and national press coverage. One architect simply referred to it as ‘Chair Porn’. Suppose it’s a bit snappier, but google search results would vary.

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The exhibition further ignited my passion for furniture design. Cleverly curated, with a chair to represent each year of the last century, a walk through the stands took you on a journey through an evolving, humorous, odd, weird and wonderful world. From Hoffman’s Sitzmachine to Breuer’s Wassily Chair. From Le Corbusier’s LC4 to Eames Plastic chairs. As you progressed through decades of design, you were immersed into the roaring 30’s, post World War austerity and the beginnings of globalisation, progressing to the freedom of the 60’s, funky 70’s fashion, 80’s pop culture and 90’s acid house.

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Aside from visibly evolving trends, fashions and design styles, one of the leading influences in the evolution of furniture design is advances in production methods and discovery of new materials. The exhibition underlined the Eames’ thirst to understand and conquer new materials -from plywood, to metal, to fibre glass. Later, designers like Martyn Van Severen and Philippe Starck would further this progression with with aluminium, plastics and polyurethane.

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Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge chair (1986)
I was reminded of the exhibition recently when I saw Jorge Pensi’s Toledo chair – previously made (and featured) in cast aluminium – now produced as a single piece of injected polypropylene following manufacturing advances. A fantastic chair, that was often priced out of projects – the redesign in polypropylene gives a new lease of life to a cult classic.

“like trying to write a book in one continuous movement with your pen never leaving the page”

One of the biggest global influences of modern and future furniture production is 3D printing. There are a growing number of design studios developing furniture and interior products to be produced solely by 3D printers. Due to the continuous nature of the 3D printing process -like trying to write a book in a continuous movement with your pen never leaving the page –  the designs are still very much evolving. But it’s here, it’s happening and it’s progress.

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Barber Osgerby’s London 2012 Olympic Torches were 3D printed
Back in my home city of Manchester there is a wave of new Government backed University buildings full of scientists pondering over Graphene, the new wonder material that is more solid than steel and a better conductor than copper. Terence Woodgate and John Barnard already explored the inherent rigidity of carbon fibre to design a table up to three metres in length with an ultra thin top and just four legs, using state of the art autosport and aerospace technology.

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Surface table by Terence Woodgate and John Barnard

“Maybe we just haven’t had the lightbulb moment yet…”

‘So what’s next?’ I ask. Factory capability, new innovative materials and production advances means furniture factories are more advanced than ever. But maybe the material is already here, in front of our noses, in disguise and being utilised for another purpose. Maybe we just haven’t had the lightbulb moment yet.

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Think about this. Arne Jacobsen’s original proposal for the Ant chair was laughed at and expected to fail with its ‘little spindly legs’. Marcel Breuer borrowed the idea of bent metal for his Wassily chair from hospital furniture and bicycles. Charles and Ray Eames initially steamed wood to create leg splints for injured soldiers returning from war, before transferring this know-how to create the iconic plywood chair. As we produce and consume more, creating more waste, many designers are turning to rubbish as our next abundantly available material.

Keep your eyes peeled. Sometimes >>>>new ideas<<<<  are right in front of your eyes.

 

 

Alamak! Asian Design Invasion

Alamak! Asian Design Invasion

European design fairs used to be dismissive of Asian furniture companies; confining them to Hall Z where the tumbleweed blows. Meanwhile Western brands in swankier halls complained loudly about Chinese photographers getting too close to their precious chairs. But the landscape is changing fast. Asia has upped its game and the Western design community is reconsidering its position like a stuttering politician.

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Shin Azumi was the first Asian designer during my career to cause ripples on the Western furniture design circuit. His Lem stool for La Palma (2000) was an overnight success. We’ve since seen a steady rise in talented Asian designers adding quality and flavour to the Western market.

solo_dining_chair_01Neri and Hu quietly sneaked into the fray a few years later from their base in Shanghai. You’d be forgiven for thinking some of their furniture was designed by time-served Scandinavian creators. They managed to absorb some of the finer nuances of modern European furniture design and put their own stamp on it. Their diverse design team speak 30 languages and reflect China’s current generation of cool creatives. Design-aware, well travelled and on-trend.

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Stellar Works (Neri & Hu are creative directors)
They are also creative directors to a furniture producer called Stellar Works. This Shanghai based manufacturer aims to “celebrate the poetry of Japanese aesthetics, the richness of Chinese ornamentation, the playfulness of Italian design, the refinement of French luxury and the less is more ethos of Scandinavian design.” 

NENDO on the other hand have a distinct style of their own – with an unapologetic Tokyo accent. This design team burst on to the scene in 2003 with their exhibition ‘sinking with furniture’ (below). A simple concept, brilliantly executed.

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You can see similarities with their marble tables shown in Milan last week for Marsotto Edizioni. The initial illusion of a wobbly table is dispelled on closer inspection by a perfectly flat and stable high quality marble surface.

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Their Tangled Leg table for Capellini (below) is a playful response to a brief calling for a casual “but not typical” modular table. The designers wanted it to appear that the tables were holding hands. And if these two examples aren’t enough, their 50 Manga Chairs exhibition certainly provided the ‘!’ moment on Instagram during Milan Design Week.

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Asian Design Evolution

‘Alamak!’ translated means ‘Oh my God’ /’What a surprise!’ The exhibition by the same name celebrates Asian craft and design at the XXI Triennale in Milan. It also acknowledges the West’s habit of overlooking – and at times ignoring – the design and manufacturing prowess in this part of the world.

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Loop chair by
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UK readers will appreciate the novel Birmingham Library Side Table above. Designed by Naihan Li, this product epitomises a trend of young mobile Asian generations who travel, explore and study in the West before returning home to apply their ideas to traditional local craft production methods. Made in Asia by Asian Designers: Asia could very well be the driving force of the next global design movement.

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And why not? The West has grown to love and embrace many Asian brands. Toyota (above) are a perfect example. Their Sestina concept car on show at Milan last week was a real head turner. If Lexus (Toyota’s luxury division) can engage Saatchi & Saatchi to successfully penetrate the Western design-led consumer market, then Asian furniture producers can hire European designers to do the same. Or maybe they’ll just use their own. If you consider Asia’s manufacturing capability, emerging design talent, their desire to diversify into new markets and the region’s embracing of cutting edge technology – it seems obvious change is coming.

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Made in China

China has made itself the ‘go to’ country for mass production. Many well known Western furniture brands have (quietly) produced there for over a decade. And there are a growing number of Architects, Brands and Designers emerging from the Far East with a spring in their step and a sense of fun in their design style. What is happening now is a change in attitude – our eyes are finally starting to open.

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Japan Pottery collaboration

A group of European designers has recently linked up with craftsmen from Arita, Japan: an area with 150 potteries and a 400 year history of porcelain production. Overseen by a creative team including Scholten and Baijings, the aim is to support Arita’s craftsmen, who have been going through difficult times. The craft of various potteries was carefully considered before matching a pottery with a designer. What a great story – and a real example of potential future East / West collaborations.

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Milan goes to Shanghai

And the proof is in the dumpling. The committee behind the Milan Furniture Fair announced in February that they will stage Salone Del Mobile in Shanghai on 19-21st November. A shrewd move. They have taken this step to foster relationships between the Italian furniture industry and China. And let’s be honest- they want in.

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I will leave you with a video of Japanese Architect Sou Fujimotos exhibition ‘Shifting Forest of Light’ in a derelict theatre in Milan. Fujimoto was appointed by fashion brand COS to launch their new collection – and wowed everyone with his simple yet effective use of spotlights, darkness and mirrors mimicking a forest at twilight.

Perhaps the lights are finally coming on and our perceptions of Asian furniture design are shifting… Alamak!

 

**  My blog is ‘great to view… even better to share’ 🙂   **

 

 

Salone 16: Sneaki Peeki

Salone 16: Sneaki Peeki

Already a thousand Milan previews have invaded your Twitter and Facebook timelines. A few have even found their way into your inbox. So I’ll be brief. Here’s some cool stuff that has caught my eye as we head towards the 55th Salone…

Salone-del-Mobile-2016-preview-–-Knoll-Gold-edition-1Knoll have gone GOLD. In recognition of Harry Bertoia’s centennial, the Bertoia and Platner collection will be shown in an 18 karat gold finish. Cue Tony Hadley and Spandau Ballet…. “Always believe iiiiin….”

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NENDO: 50 Manga Chairs

Like a bit a Manga? NENDO’s ‘50 Manga Chairs‘ exhibition promises to be action packed. The cool Tokyo design studio have fused Manga with furniture, to create a sense of story. Speech bubbles, emotions and actions have all been interpreted into chairs, produced in a mirror finish to ‘reflect life’ – as does Manga. Go find it.

domus-05-object-fritz-hansenFritz Hansen join a growing number of furniture manufacturers targeting the accessories and homeware market. Objects collection has been created by a group of designers including (the main man) Jaime Hayon and aims to complement the Fritz Hansen furniture collection in terms of design, craftsmanship and quality.

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One Collection

ONE Collection will relaunch the classic Finn Juhl designed France chair, originally released in 1956. It was named after British entrepreneur C.W.France who single handedly kick-started the Danish furniture export market. He came up with his business idea whilst being held captive in a WW2 Prison. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Speaking of Brits, Lee Broom is planning another Salone First. Following ‘Lee Broom Department Store’ last year, he will present his 90’s inspired Optical lighting collection in the back of a delivery van that tours around the city. Cleverly named Salone del Automobile; I hope for Brit authenticity purposes the van will have a half eaten sausage roll and a copy of the Sun displayed on the dash – and will honk the horn at passing female pedestrians.

milan16_invitation_v08_pressreleasewebMarcel Wanders and Moooi are presenting no less than 22 new pieces in what will be a an extravagant 1700m2 space – a mysteriously dark and seductive ballroom. The Unexpected Welcome promises “a universe of sophistication, surprising creativity and rebellious harmony.” Mooi don’t disappoint – this is not to be missed.

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OFFECCT: Hanger

OFFECCT have teamed up with Shanghai-based Neri and Hu to produce Hanger. This understated, beautiful coatstand collection is a fresh look at what is usually disregarded as a mundane everyday object. In line with Offecct’s LifeCircle philosophy the base is made from recycled stone. In the words of the designers, it aims to ‘adorn grace, beauty and usefulness in the household.’ Images don’t do it justice.

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Lievore Alther Molina (known for work with Arper and Andreu World) unveil their clever modular sofa, produced by Spaniards Viccarbe. SISTEMA has been years in the making. It can be broken down into elements: high / low backrests, arms and there’s various leg options including a no leg version (legless?). Mucho possibilities for this one in both contract and domestic markets. Viccarbe will release new components to keep the design fresh and relevant. Great concept, great design team and quality manufacturer.

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Stellar Works

Stellar Works (creative directors Neri and Hu – sound familiar?) will show a brand new collaboration with Architect David Rockwell. The Valet collection consists of 14 different furniture items including lounge seating, customisable shelving, a bar trolley and coat stand. Some really tasteful material and finish combo’s – Look out for the full grain saddle leather versions. This is bang on trend.

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The Restaurant

THE RESTAURANT – a collaboration between Caesarstone and Tom Dixon has to make your dining shortlist this week. Four conceptual kitchens inspired by the elements – Earth, Fire, Water and Air. Arabeschi di Latte food design studio are running the kitchen so the grub promises to be pretty good too.

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Carsten Höller

Not advisable if you’re feeling delicate: Following a major exhibition in London last summer, slightly twisted German artist Carsten Höller invites you to his Fun House (shouldn’t that be das Fun Haus?). Choose your path through the mad hallucinatory adventure. Eventually all paths lead to a blindingly lit room with two hospital beds. And you can stay the night if you want. Alles klaar?

bar basso milan sign detailFrom one madhouse to another. Milan wouldn’t be Milan without late night networking at Bar Basso. So make sure you track down this old fashioned bar at a fairly non-descript and random Milanese road junction. Expect a fight to get a drink, but also expect to meet alsorts of furniture folks. Be warned, it stays open very late… Salute!