The Surface Guide to Milan Design Week

Our editor’s recommendations to enjoying the weeklong whirlwind of showroom tours, product debuts, and pop-ups include a visit to Alcova’s takeover of Villa Borsani, a pit stop aperitivo with Marimekko, and an energizing conversation with Formafantasma.

Salone del Mobile. Photography by Delfino Sisto Legnani

Milan Design Week is again upon us, and soon tens of thousands of designers, collectors, enthusiasts, and professionals will descend on the Italian design capital for a weeklong tour of everything that Salone Del Mobile and the swelling cluster of Fuorisalone activities around town have to offer. Making the trip is always rewarding, but the inbox-clogging headache of trying to get it all together in the whirlwind weeks leading up verges on futile. (We certainly don’t recommend making showroom visits while recovering from a post–Bar Basso negroni hangover, either.)

Seasoned connoisseurs know that it’s simply impossible to fit everything in, so our editor cut through the noise and rounded up an admittedly non-exhaustive guide to the activations, installations, and product debuts that shouldn’t be missed. 

Casa Borsani. Photography by Piergiorgio Sorgetti

If you’re anything like us, design weeks provide a high-octane venue for discovering emerging talents to grace both our living rooms and our Instagram feeds. By far the best place to do that in one fell swoop will be at Alcova, the roving showcase masterminded by designers Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima that champions unorthodox ideas in unexpected locations. This year’s edition is held at an essential pilgrimage for any design lover: Villa Bagatti Valsecchi and Villa Borsani, the Varedo residence that enshrines Italian Modernist architect Osvaldo Borsani’s singular vision.

By-the-books aesthetes may find the mélange of free-flowing collectible design and Borsani’s right-angled restraint somewhat jarring, but we think the results will surprise and delight. Look out for Anthony Guerrée’s transatlantic-themed collection for Atelier de Troupe in Villa Borsani’s staircase, a preview of Objects of Common Interest’s Torsi collection for Bitossi Ceramiche in Villa Bagatti Valsecchi’s intimate gardens, and Junya Ishigami’s intervention with Maniera in the icehouse. 

In a similar vein, Lionel Jadot is once again bringing the winning formula of his Brussels design collective Zaventem Ateliers to the city. In 2022, he transformed a disused Necchi factory in Milan’s industrial Baranzate district into a crossroads of exchange between vanguard Belgian design talents and the rest of the world. Jadot plans to scale things up this year, this time in a mammoth ‘50s industrial building near Linate. Watch for solid Iroko wood furniture by Arno Declercq, bronze hand-sculptured luminaires by William Guillon, and exquisite monochrome wall sculptures by Marijke De Cock. If you haven’t yet seen Objects With Narratives’ fanciful new gallery in Brussels, a taste awaits through a solo showcase of Laurids Gallée’s dazzling resin pieces, whose hazy materiality dances with glints of light. 

(FROM LEFT) Thick Collection by Mark Grattan at Unno Gallery; photography by Marcos Castro. Valentina Cameranesi-Sgroi at the Bocci Apartment; photography by Paola Pansini

Elsewhere around town, opportunities to discover work by vanguard designers abound. Make sure to stop by the Bocci Apartment, where the Canadian lighting mainstay’s mind-boggling chandeliers are joined by cinematic glass sculptures by Valentina Cameranesi-Sgroi and marble planters by Orior. If you missed Anna Caradeuc’s stellar Contributions festival at Paris Design Week this past fall, make time for its outing with Sophie Lou Jacobsen and the newly launched design publication COSE Journal at Spazio Martín, where they reinterpret objects as emotive conduits for memories through transparent glass. More time for reflection awaits at The Clearing, an installation of totemic sculptures devised by stone purveyor Van Den Weghe and Milanese design nonconformist Hannes Peer that toys with Martin Heidegger’s philosophical insights on existence and truth. 

Over at UNNO Gallery, the acclaimed Brooklyn designer Mark Grattan makes it clear that he has even more tricks up his sleeve. There, he adorns undeniably sexy furniture with stretching, Dalí-esque elastic forms that transport you to a decadent Manhattan apartment party in the ‘70s. For more sex appeal and surrealism, Georgian up-and-comer Rooms Studio is revealing six of their first-ever bed concepts at SIAM. If that leaves you in the mood for some stargazing, Christopher Boots has you covered—the Melbourne lighting studio is debuting a lustrous luminaire inspired by the geometries of the five stars forming the Southern Cross. 

“Design Walk in Budapest” at Triennale Milano. Photography by Kata Balogh

Milan Design Week wouldn’t be whole without a visit to Nilufar Depot, collector and dealer Nina Yashar’s influential emporium of contemporary collectible design on Viale Lancetti. Taking over the atrium is a theatrical showcase of 12 meditative chairs and a mosaic piece by Andrés Reisinger, who notably had to teach himself industrial design after his Instagram followers pined to have his dreamy, petal-clad Hortensia Chair in their living rooms. You’d also be wise to pay a visit to Spazio Rossana Orlandi, the former tie factory where the beloved curator and Surface cover star’s latest collectible design obsessions await. She also helped piece together “Design Walk in Budapest” at Triennale Milano, an intimate showcase where some of Hungary’s most promising yet overlooked design talents will come into full view. 

Don’t forget about Dimore, either. Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci are famously low-key, but they’ve been keeping busy. Besides their to-be-expected debonair takeover of a historic Via Solferino apartment, the studio is also readying Interni Venosta, a brand-new furniture label with the help of Italian manufacturer Fabbrici Services. Details are under wraps for now, but expect sleek shapes, high craftsmanship, and materials like natural wood, steel, mirrored glass. For another taste of the Milanese masters, book a table at Brera’s Trattoria del Ciumbia and the historic Grand Hotel et de Milan’s ornate restaurant Caruso Nuovo, two restaurants the studio recently finished. Or book a post-Salone 2025 getaway on La Dolce Vita Express, which the studio immersed in sumptuous ‘60s décor inspired by Gio Ponti and Gae Aulenti. 

(FROM LEFT) Residenza Vignale; image courtesy of Artemest. Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin of Formafantasma; image courtesy of Prada and Formafantasma.

An essential stop on any design lover’s itinerary should be L’Appartamento, in which Artemest taps a cadre of prestigious interior designers to reimagine stately Milanese rooms using art and furnishings selected from its network of brands and makers. If the inaugural edition last year made the showhouse feel cool again, this year’s lineup is taking that formula but whisking in a dose of romantic melodrama. It’s all in the location: Residenza Vignale, a charming 1907 residence in the tony 5Vie district, which was once the home of an Austrian prince whose romantic yearnings for a young Milanese woman drew him to move there. Let’s see how Rottet Studio, Tamara Feldman Design, and Gachot Studios keep the lustful grandeur alive. 

Fashion-industry showings at marquee design weeks can feel overwrought, but it seems the most prestigious houses are doing their homework and, for the most part, are eschewing Instagram spectacles. We’re most excited to learn about the insights from Prada Frames, the multi-day symposium curated by Formafantasma’s Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin that delves into pressing design issues at storied sites like the National Braidense Library and Teatro Filodrammatici. This year’s edition, held at the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, promises to dissect how the living environment can be used to address contemporary challenges with prestigious speakers like curator Paola Antonelli, critic Alice Rawsthorn, and designer Dominique Petit-Frère, whose Ghana-based firm, Limbo Accra, will unveil Dante-inspired stools during a discussion on ritual and care. 

(FROM LEFT) A lamp by Zizipho Poswa; image courtesy of Loewe. Villa Planchart Segnaposto by Saint Laurent Rive Droite; image courtesy of Saint Laurent

Loewe usually makes a strong Fuorisalone showing, owing to creative director Jonathan Anderson’s unwavering attention to craft. This year, the Spanish house tapped 24 artists to infuse their creative sensibilities into floor, table, or suspended lamps that will be on display at Palazzo Citterio. Many of the artists involved (among them Magdalene Odundo and Loewe Foundation Craft Prize winner Genta Ishizuka) focus their practices on material experimentation and have never tried their hand at lighting, so expect something new. Don’t miss Saint Laurent’s outing with the Gio Ponti Archives and the Fundación Anala y Armando Planchart, either. In 1953, the Plancharts enlisted Ponti to build a villa on the highest hill in Caracas, so he employed Ginori 1735 to craft custom porcelain tableware reflecting the home’s radiant geometries. That Villa Planchart Segnaposto collection is being reissued in a limited run at Saint Laurent Rive Droite boutiques worldwide and by appointment only this week at Chiostri di San Simpliciano

Elsewhere on the fashion front, Gucci’s newly minted creative director Sabato de Sarno is contemplating the golden age of Italian craft by reinterpreting five design icons—Le Mura by Mario Bellini, Clessidra by CC-Tapis, the Storet by Nanda Vigo, Opachi by Tobia Scarpa, and the Parola by Gae Aulenti and Piero Castiglioni—within a scenography devised by architect Guillermo Santomà. Given the latter’s high-octane outings at previous editions of Fuorisalone, we recommend following that with aperitivo at Bar Unikko, a pop-up café that Finnish fashion mainstay Marimekko took over with the help of interiors publication Apartamento. On offer there are limited-edition espresso cups, mugs, and wooden trays emblazoned with the brand’s iconic floral Unikko pattern in celebration of its 60th anniversary. If you’re in the mood for some shopping, sneak away to Bottega Veneta’s newly opened flagship on the prestigious Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which combines spaceship aesthetics with nods to Italian modernism.

Rendering of a Thinking Room by David Lynch. Image courtesy of Salone del Mobile

That, of course, brings us to Salone Del Mobile. What, you thought we wouldn’t include the galvanizing force behind Milan’s reigning status as the world’s design capital? There’s always an abundance of product debuts and cutting-edge design at the Rho fairgrounds’ seemingly endless expanse of halls, but this year’s edition is throwing some curveballs. During a press conference a few months ago, fair president Maria Porro teased a series of “Thinking Rooms” scattered throughout the fair envisioned by film director and Surface cover star David Lynch. The pavilions, curated by filmmaker Antonio Monda and realized in partnership with Piccolo Teatro di Milano, promise to echo the cerebral stillness of Lynch’s greatest cinematic works. 

It’s certainly not an unwelcome intervention when the fair’s gargantuan scale can cause the introverted among us to go nonverbal after a couple of boisterous booth tours. Picking a few products from the thousands may seem like a futile exercise in choice paralysis, but we’re particularly gunning to see Willo Perron’s pillowy new sofa for Knoll, a bright orange smart toilet by Samuel Ross in Yabu Pushelberg’s glistening booth for Kohler, and a marble dining table for Tacchini that proves Michael Anastassiades can imbue choreography into anything. 

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