Act III: The Stunning, the Surprising, the Spectacular

Milan teems with beauty. We are three days into the biggest celebration of design on the planet; the stunning, the surprising, the spectacular await around every corner.

Old stories abound, looking no worse for wear. New stories arise, breaking with the past and paying homage to it all at once. Together, the old and the new look ahead, preparing the way for what comes next – and looking great as they wait.

Oliver Eitel, Haworth International’s Digital Marketing guru – and cameraman extraordinaire – was impressed with Reflaction, the exhibit by Audi and BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). ‘The surprising – and the unsurprising! – is that no one dares to show fossil fuel cars anymore,’ Oliver said. ‘They show all the elements of the electric vehicles of the future – and to have brands like Audi working together with BIG is quite interesting.’

(An interesting side note: both Future of Joy by BMW and Reflaction by Audi & BIG included lemons or lemon trees as decoration – a trend this writer would describe as ‘zesty’. Keep an eye out for our upcoming Salone 2024 Trend Report – lemons may or may not be included.)

Today’s interviews took place at the beautifully arranged showroom of Zanotta. We started the day with Franco Bianchi, the President & CEO of the Haworth Group.

Over the course of three decades, Franco has made many decisions that affected the trajectory of Haworth – the first being the move from his native Italy to Holland, Michigan, where Haworth is headquartered. With the ‘trust of the [Haworth] family’ Franco became CEO in 2005 – and the rest is history. Today, the beloved brands within the Haworth Group are regular headliners during Milan Design Week.

Franco’s optimism is indomitable. ‘You know me. I’m an optimist,’ he told us. ‘I always think – no matter what difficulty I have in front of me – that I can find a way around it, above it, underneath it, to skirt it and sort it out.’

The world of workplace has faced many stunning challenges – and yet, in this difficult context, Franco believes Haworth is in a position to thrive. ‘Like never before, the clients of workplace need us,’ he says. ‘This moment of uncertainty is where our leadership – our design leadership – comes into play. And that’s my optimism. I believe this is our time.’

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After catching up with Franco, we took a quick coffee break at Manchesi 1824. The company has been in continuous operation for over 200 years – and the proof was in the coffee, which was – without exaggeration – spectacular. (It may not need repeating – but Milan has really good coffee.)

Our second interview of the day was with Luca Fuso, CEO of Cassina and Zanotta. (Zanotta should belong in the heroic pantheon of every owner of a PlayStation, Xbox, or gaming PC worldwide; Sacco, the world’s very first beanbag, is a Zanotta product from 1968.)

Luca’s thoughtful responses to our questions touched on many themes, including the inherently inclusive nature of design. The best design needs no interpretation, Luca explained. This seemingly simple idea becomes more rich the longer you think about it – especially when in terms of designing for the neurodiverse.

Good design – thoughtful design – has the potential to create a world where people don’t wonder what they are supposed to do in each space. (Such thoughts give this writer hope in Milan Design Week’s potential to impact people – especially all the young designers reading in ‘smaller’ markets.)

For the neurodiverse, the world can be a bewildering place – and Luca reminds us that good design can be an orderly, settling influence for everyone. Good design can help people intuit where it is alright for one to talk aloud and where one is meant to do focus work in peace.

With two industry legends filling us in with foreknowledge about the future, it’s difficult not to be inspired about what’s to come. We’ll share more content soon from both Franco and Luca – keep an eye out!

We ended the night with visits to Cassina and Kohler – and the celebrations were spectacular. (Milan’s renown in the beverages category deservedly goes beyond coffee – and reality exceeded our already lofty expectations.)

All good things must come to an end. With heavy hearts, we’ve already begun our goodbyes – because with the end of Act III, there is only one day left.

Come back tomorrow for Act IV: Beginnings (and Endings), the dramatic conclusion to the four act saga of Salone 2024.