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Claesson Koivisto Rune's HAVEN seating for Paola Lenti.

The movie industry has the Cannes Film Festival and TIFF, fashion has the Paris and New York shows and design has the Salone Internazionale del Mobile (a.k.a. the Milan Furniture Fair). From all four corners of the globe, some 300,000 buyers, dealers, agents and designers descend on the northern Italian city each spring to see what's new, to be inspired and to buy. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the main fair, which concluded on April 17, hosted 2,720 exhibitors; hundreds of related exhibits and installations were held throughout the city. As with film in Cannes and Toronto, deals are negotiated and concluded here; like at fashion's premier events, trends are set. This year's fair was marked by careful optimism, echoing the global economy's slow plodding toward stability. Most companies chose brand integration or the modification of existing pieces rather than launching entirely new collections. Many spoke of "contained pricing" and "diffusion brands."

Since offshore reproduction continues to be a

serious issue, a lot of companies emphasized research and development. U.S.-based designer Jeffrey Bernett for instance, introduced the latest version of his Landscape lounger for B&B Italia. The original, launched 10 years ago, was inspired by a famous Le Corbusier lounger. The new rocking version encourages the perfect 15- to-30 minute snooze - just about the time before your arm falls off the side and awakens you.

The interplay between inside and outside uses highlighted a trend toward multifunctional furniture. Displayed in blocks of ice, Cassina's outdoor version of another iconic Le Corbusier chair accentuated its many tough-wearing features, including fabrics that dry quickly and metals that don't rust, while Paola Navone's ceramic-top table for Gervasoni is made from handcrafted ceramic plates in a Caribbean turquoise but has a steel base treated for the outdoors. Inspired by paragliding and outdoor sports, Konstantin Grcic's Waver chair for Vitra can be customized in any colour, while Italian furniture manufacturer Paola Lenti, known for her unique artisanal approach to knits and felts, introduced HAVEN by the Swedish architecture firm Claesson Koivisto Rune; available in black, white and graphite, the elegant mesh-like seating collection is covered in a durable water- and air-permeable fabric. Patricia Urquiola's Biknit for Moroso, meanwhile, is made from braided knitted rope; for Driade, she created Pavo Real Outdoor, a contemporary version of the traditional rattan chair in aluminum and synthetic yarn.

Lighting continues to be driven by the development of LED technology. FLOS introduced Piani by Rowan + Erwan Bouroullec, a series of lights that attach seamlessly to wood shelves, as if they're one piece. The Dutch brand Moooi launched Heraculeum by Bertjan Pot (also the designer of the famous Random Light, the round ball that looks like spun string); resembling a cross between mistletoe and unraveling rope, the elegant LED fixture works in any type of interior. Fontana Arte's YUMI by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, meanwhile, is made from carbon fibre and LED; the elegant arched light replicates the curves found in his architecture. And German lighting designer Ingo Maurer even launched an LED wallpaper that can be affixed directly to the wall.

In contrast to all this high-tech achievement, however, handcraftsmanship continues to be marketed as the ultimate luxury. Ingo Maurer's J.B. Schmetterling (John B. Butterfly) is a bulb around which life-like "butterflies" flutter; Biotope, a sculptural lighting made from ecologically harvested natural sea sponge, comes complete with its own "eco-system" of (faux) insects. Located in France, Wa De Be works with retired grandmothers to knit the seating for their Share Chair, available in materials from rope to Liberty fabric. Sidreh is a collaboration between Dutch-based and a group of Israeli Bedouin women who handweave each piece. And Studio Schneemann of the Netherlands collects, with a Kenyan-based foundation, discarded flip-flops from the ocean to turn them into home accessories.

Closely tied to the handicraft trend was a strong nod to paper and especially origami. Stephen Holl's plywood chandelier for Horm, for instance, has laser-cut origami-like folding corners, while Ligne Roset's outdoor Grillage chairs in vibrant blue are made of perforated metal. Israel-based Aqua Creations launched a series of paper lamps handmade from origami paper and Copenhagen-based &Tradition showed one made of pressed pulp. And Chrysalis, made of "cocoon resin" by Marcel Wanders for FLOS and resembling paper, is a two-metre-high vase lamp that, like a chrysalis waiting to become a butterfly, scatters beautiful flowers around.

Colour-wise, furniture such as Arik Levy's Lelit bed for Cassina echoed fashion's last season by adopting calming purples and periwinkle blues. Also borrowed from the fashion world was the blending of colours from one to the other. Moroso's BLUR sofa, for instance, gradually evolves from white to a neon orange, while Glasitalia's Faint table by Urquiola transitions from clear glass to opaque white from one end to the other. Much like a previous season's fashion trends, both pieces disappear into oblivion, even if design trends are proving to be slightly longer-lasting.

Special to The Globe and Mail