Milan Design Week 2018

Milan Design week 2018, a playground for grown ups delivering a feast for the senses.

By Roisin Lafferty

I love visiting Milan, and when I was kindly invited to travel to Milan Design week with the DFS design team I jumped at the chance. It was a wonderful opportunity to see where the inspiration for their collections come from, but it was also a chance to gain an appreciation for the quality of the materials they work with while gaining a deeper understanding of how they translate design concepts into reality. Two of their most exciting new designs stemmed from last year’s Milan adventure, the DFS Melody Corner Sofa and the DFS French Connection Hoxton.


DFS Melody Corner Sofa
DFS Melody Corner Sofa


DFS French Connection Hoxton
DFS French Connection Hoxton


Roisin Lafferty and Philip Watkins, DFS Design Director


It is safe to say that  Milan Design week 2018 reached new levels of imagination and creativity and having spent four days in the city, I went home with renewed energy, stimulated senses and an excitement for the endless design possibilities.


Technology has completely transformed the world and with our new fast-paced lifestyles and constant social media habits, desire and demand of the ‘experiential’ has become tantamount.


There is now a constant stream of international design inspiration imagery readily available on the likes of Instagram and Pinterest. Simply put, there are just some things a photo can never do. To stand out, it is more crucial than ever for brands to do something different in this highly competitive and saturated market. People want and expect more. They seek the unusual and the unexpected.  Consequently there was a significant focus on creating encapsulating environments that made the visitor tap into their emotions and feelings as an atmosphere gives so much more and leaves a longer lasting impression than a photo ever will.


Emotion was palpable throughout the city. This new approach has appealed to a much wider demographic, bypassing the, often elitist, design approach and subsequently offers a more inclusive atmosphere. There was a real sense of  whimsy, nostalgia and dream like imagination. It reminded me of the passion and infectious energy that good design can ignite! One of the exciting things about this approach is that every visitor has a completely unique experience and feels and reacts differently.


Battle for Your Senses

Of particular note was the immersive nature of the installations and the wonderful assault on all the senses. It was a symphony orchestra of music, colour, material,  and tactility. It was like a grown-up playground that instilled the wonder of a child into all who explored and absorbed the visual and sensory feast surrounding them. The best part is that they were all open to the public and free of charge.

Nilufur Gallery with installation bar from India Mahdavi

Giant toy-like sculptures, oversized mid-century lighting and vibrant jewel tones fabrics greet you when entering this renowned treasure chest.

India Mahdavi at Nilufur Gallery
India Mahdavi at Nilufur Gallery Photo: Mattia Lotti


India Mahdavi took over the first floor, providing a shaded and cozy bar space, further pushing the rich, jewel colour palette. Her trademark curves and shapes flooded the walls, custom furniture and free standing bar, cocooning you and providing a visual treat.


Gubi at Palazzo Serbelloni

Gubi furniture and designs from throughout the brand’s evolution were showcased in the most breath-taking backdrop, the Palazzo Serbelloni. The historic 18th century building featured intricate plasterwork, hand carved joinery, inlaid brasswork, polished marble and terrazzo floors and sky high ceilings… and that was just the backdrop.

Gubi at Palazzo Serbelloni. Photo: GUBI
Gubi at Palazzo Serbelloni. Photo: GUBI


Framing sets of Gubi pieces, this wonderful display sought to show off the timelessness of the Gubi designs, combining collections from different eras in carefully considered roomsets, each view and vignette exquisitely styled. I could not help but appreciate the ageless quality of the products. The best part of all was that we were encouraged to touch and sit on the pieces. This lack of preciousness made the whole experience more accessible, a much better sales approach in my opinion!


Life in Vogue’ – Vogue Italia offices reimagined by a selection of international designers

Life in Vogue Patricia Urquiola. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani


Without a doubt, one of my major highlights. Combining beautiful fashion photography with creative inventiveness, a collection of some of the world’s most inspiring designers were tasked with transforming the iconic offices.

Designers include Faye Toogood, Patricia Urquiola, Muller Van Severen, Sabine Marcelis, Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel, Quincoces-Drago, Mario Bellini and Michael Bargo.

This gave me a feeling of being somewhere I shouldn’t, a fly on the wall experience and the thrill of seeing into other people’s worlds. Blurring real and imagined, the Vogue Italia staff worked in half of their office, whilst the rest was taken over by design enthusiasts and designer installations.

Each designer had a unique approach of depicting the offices evolution, resulting in a juxtaposition of unique interior styles, from hand painted wall coverings by Faye Toogood to mouth-watering furniture design by Quincoces-Drago. The sighs of awe echoed through the building.

Bulgari Labyrinth Installation

Bulgari Labyrinth
Bulgari Labyrinth. Photo Bulgari

Mind blowing; a full-sized snakes and ladders meets Tetris installation, to climb over, under, through and on. This was pure fun and play. Neon endless tunnels and signage, haunting soundtrack, mirrored ceilings reflecting monochrome pattern, chiming bells of copper, brass and chrome stimulating every sense in this absolute beauty.

Carlo E Camilla

Carlo E Camille
Carlo E Camilla

The most beautiful restaurant I have stepped foot into. Created by Michelin starred chef Carlo Cracco and art director Tanja Solci; this converted industrial saw mill has been transformed into a theatrical vision: stripped back design heaven of vaulted ceilings, crumbling brick, chalky polished concrete floors and antique chandeliers and furniture. On my last day in Milan, this visit had the feeling of everything falling into place. I managed to get a lunch reservation and wandered around in awe for hours. A complete sensory wonderland from the delicious food, that was as beautiful as it was tasty, the fantastic wild flower arrangements, inside and out and the mid-century delights. I happily stayed for three hours and could have permanently moved in!

Rossana Orlandi Gallery and Gardens

The international style icon Rossana Orlandi set up this eclectic gallery and gardens curating a tapestry of international design items from furniture to jewellery, artwork to garden sculptures in a beautiful overgrown setting. Located in an old Tie factory, crumbling courtyards cascade into undulating buildings with inventive retail displays throughout. The Italians do it better… this shopping experience also has food, wine, entertainment and sun lit terraces to while away an afternoon.

Ventura Centrale

Following the success of last years Central station exhibitions, the vaulted warehouses in the historic building were once again transformed and taken over by a collection of different brands and products including Surface Diner in collaboration with David Rockwell – a neon hipster diner experience, Stephen Hurlemann and his ‘Giants with Dwarf’ installation of the most charming timber crafted, full sized creatures, Eileen Fisher and her beautiful collection of handcrafted wall hangings made from recycled waste textiles, to name but a few.


Exhilarating and humbling

A feast for all the senses, Milan Design week is an overwhelmingly creative experience, exhilarating and humbling in equal measure. It was a privilege to be amongst such beauty and creativity in the Milan sunshine, sharing these unique and transient experiences with fellow designers and kindred spirits. But Milan Design is not just for designers. It is for anyone who appreciates design, innovation and art, and for those who enjoy conjuring their inner child in a playground for the senses. I couldn’t recommend a trip highly enough.

While all opinions are my own, our visit to Milan was in collaboration with DFS and I wish to extend to them my sincere thanks for organising travel and accommodation. And a special thank you to Niamh O’Carroll from O’Carroll Consulting who made all this happen.

Salone del Mobile with DFS

Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the creative team for DFS on their trip to Milan for the world renowned Salone del Mobile design show. This utterly inspirational trip gave me the chance to see how the design team at DFS review trends for the coming year and incorporate them into the ranges sold by the furniture retailer. I have worked as a Brand Ambassador with DFS for a while now and the reason I am so drawn to the brand is for their emphasis on design, craftsmanship and how passionate the team are about bringing affordable design led furniture to the masses.

This trip introduced me to the new Creative Director Alison Hill. Alison’s experience within the realms of furniture design is second to none, having previously worked with high profile brands like Liberty, The Conran Group, Burberry and Habitat.  For Alison and her creative team, trips like these are not about discovering fleeting movements towards particular styles but about distinguishing the movements with likely longevity and separating these from the fleeting fads. Milan is often seen as the show which offers designers a chance to take risks and get a little playful, branching a little outside the normal realms of their brand. With up to half a million visitors each year and 6 days of design inspiration in a city well acclaimed for its dedication to design, for the thousands of exhibitors the Salone del mobile show is not only a chance to be daring, dynamic and different but practically a requirement.

With each stand as inspiring and engaging as the next the show is the design equivalent of Disneyland, a designers playground filled with quirk, fun and delight.

So what did the DFS design team take away from the show and what trends are proving their staying power?



The curve looked to be a key trend in furniture shapes yet again at this years show. This formation has been popular for a while now, as we embrace softer shapes and also marry them with the regularity for clean, linear forms. It is a trend that DFS have picked up on for a while and several of their pieces incorporate the trend really well. One great example is the new Lark Tub Chair, available in a range of colours and fabrics, I particularly like the mustard velvet version. The Athena is a great example of a piece that has been softened by the merge of curves and lines in one contemporary and comfortable seat, and is also available as a sofa.


It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that green was a hugely prevalent colour at the show. With greenery the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2017 and a longstanding conversation on the benefits of natural greenery in the home this colour really is one that so many designs benefit from, in whatever capacity. Whether its a statement green sofa or chair like the Lark Tub Chair, Topaz Sofa or Athena Sofa, this clever Pure triangular foot stool or even an abundance of some indoor planting, the DFS team are still very much on the ‘Go Green’ team!


Rich and luxurious design was a really central theme across most of the stands at Salone del Mobile. Such opulence was really highlighted through the use of highly tactile and opulent materials like velvet. In an array of rich and eye-catching colours velvet was seen across lots of furniture and accessories including beds, sofas, chairs and cushions.  DFS have a number of ranges available in velvet, I particularity love the deep teal Eden sofa and the luxurious zinc two seater in navy blue velvet.


Designers have for a long time drawn inspiration from the natural world and we have seen various types of floral prints, leaves and animal prints come in and out of fashion in the interiors world recently. This celebration of the natural world was rife in Milan this year with a focus on everything from insects, florals and leafy prints. The Botanic four seater sofa by DFS is a beautiful shade of green and has a stylish structure that brings a strong statement to a room.