Highlights from Milan Design Week 2017

By Penny Craswell

This year, for me, Milan Design Week is all about The Milan Report 2017, a self-publishing venture that I’m launching along with the excellent Giovanna Dunmall (London design expert and writer) and Marcus Piper (multi-talented graphic designer, designer, typographer and writer).

We’re currently putting together a range of design week Q&As, themed features, diaries, picks, contributions from experts, as well as original photography, graphic design and typography – to see for yourself, pre-order here.

And, while I dedicate my time to that, check out a few highlights in picture form as follows – all photos taken by me.

A string quintet plays in the garden of Casa degli Atellani, where Da Vinci lived while painting the last supper – really! – thanks to AirBNB.

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Memphis: Avant-garde and the celebrity designer

By Penny Craswell

The news that David Bowie was a big collector of Memphis (over 100 items will go on auction at Sotheby’s in London on 11 November) makes sense – both were on the cutting edge of style in the 1980s and there is a little something of Ziggy Stardust in many of the designs.

Metropole clock, Memphis, designed by George J. Sowden, 1982
Metropole clock, Memphis, designed by George J. Sowden, 1982

Reflecting on Memphis, the Milan-based collective led by Ettore Sottsass that launched onto the international design stage in 1981, it is interesting to note its place in design history.  Read more

Milan 2016: Ex.t thinks beyond the bathroom

By Penny Craswell

Based in Florence, Italy, ex.t has always pushed boundaries when it comes to bathroom design, striving for simplicity and elegance while thinking outside the basics of bath, basin and bowl. This year, they launched two new ranges, in both cases commissioning a non-bathroom designer to create something different to go alongside their bathroom products.

Plateau and Raso designed by Sebastian Herkner for ex.t. Image: supplied
Plateau and Raso designed by Sebastian Herkner for ex.t. Image: supplied

In the case of the new Plataeu and Raso collection, German furniture designer Sebastian Herkner was approached to design a range that includes mirrors and pendant lights in addition to washbasin, console and bathtub. An architectural language is created through the use of a shelf that sits just behind and below the rim of the basin, console and bath, creating a functional space to rest bathroom items, while also adding the illusion of a shadow or extra dimension. The mirror features the same shadow, an extension to the oval shape by way of a transparent frame on one side only. Meanwhile, the Raso lighting pendants in pink, grey, white and transparent glass offer a complementary design object that softens the bathroom interior. Read more

Review: Connect(us) light installation by Warren Langley

By Penny Craswell

A ribbon of light twists and turns above a pedestrian street in Perth’s latest urban renewal project, Kings Square, this is Connect(us), the latest light installation by Sydney-based artist Warren Langley.

Connect(us) by Warren Langley, Perth, by night. Photo: Trent Baker
Connect(us) by Warren Langley, Perth, by night. Photo: Trent Baker


Warren has been working with the medium of light and glass for over 30 years, creating individual light installations for the Shanghai World Expo in 2011, as well as more permanent lighting displays and public artworks such as a tower made of glass and light at the Canberra Glassworks and Aspire, a forest of sculptural trees in light under the underpass in Sydney’s Pyrmont, as well as major project for Parliament House Canberra, the Maison de la Opera, Amiens, France and the Centre for Contemporary Art, Tacoma, USA.  Read more

Five designs from Milan (from afar)

By Penny Craswell

This year I’m reporting on the fair from home in Sydney, but thanks to email and social media (hello Instagram), there is plenty filtering through already from the world’s largest furniture design event, the Milan Furniture Fair. Here’s five designs that have instantly caught my attention, from designers near and afar, even before the fair begins.

1. Ross Gardam’s Polar Desk Lamp

Since launching his studio in Melbourne in 2007, Ross Gardam has launched several furniture and lighting pieces and his Polar desk lamp is being shown at Ventura Lambrate in Milan this year. These photos by Haydn Cattach show a variety of colours and backdrops – it will be interesting to see how these translate to different environments.

Polar desk lamp by Ross Gardam. Photo: Haydn Cattach
Polar desk lamp by Ross Gardam. Photo: Haydn Cattach

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Interview with Rolf Hay at HAY Sydney store

By Penny Craswell

Rolf Hay visited Australia at the end of January to open the new HAY Sydney store with retail partner Cult. Here is my interview with Rolf Hay on communicating design, the pros and cons of storytelling and what sets Danish design apart.

Penny Craswell: I’m interested in your approach to communicating design, because I’m writing my Masters in Design on design narratives at the moment.

Rolf Hay: To be honest we have always tried to be quite straightforward with communication. I’ve always had problems in wrapping products into stories. Storytelling is interesting if it’s relevant, the question is what is the important information. It’s different when it comes to communication of the brand and the values of the brand. But for products, we try to do as little as possible.

Reception with marble counter, HAY Sydney store
Reception with marble counter, HAY Sydney store

PC: I’m interested in which stories are told about products – and I have been quite critical of the celebrity designer angle.

RH: I totally agree. I think in the fashion industry and the furniture and design industry, a lot of people perhaps feel a little bit insecure in the fancy salons. The design industry has a reputation for being arrogant and hard to get. This has to do with an overload of information and stories behind how fantastic the company is, and how amazing the products are. For us, it’s important when we meet our clients that we meet them with an open and honest attitude. And of course it has been very important that we meet the client with a lot of knowledge about the product – about materials, about production, about environmental issues. For the client it’s less important if the designer had an idea to do this chair when he was at the beach or on the toilet. Read more

Review: Scented Intoxication exhibition by Lyn and Tony

By Penny Craswell

Lyn Balzer and Tony Perkins are a Sydney-based photography and designer/maker duo with an international sensibility, whose works are nevertheless deeply rooted in Australia. Their new exhibition at Sydney’s Australian Design Centre, called Scented Intoxication, features works made from a range of materials in two simple colours: black and white. But it is scent that is the most extraordinary feature of this exhibition.

Gallery view, Scented Intoxication. Photo: Australian Design Centre
Gallery view, Scented Intoxication. Photo: Supplied by Australian Design Centre

When you enter the exhibition space, it hits you right away, a beautiful, heady perfume that is not sweet or perfume-like in the traditional sense, but is reminiscent of burnt wood or native Australian vegetation or both. Lyn and Tony worked with French-born Australian-based Elise Pioch Balzac of Maison Balzac to create two scents for two scented candles: L’Obscurite (darkness) is a black candle with a scent inspired by one of Lyn and Tony’s photographs of a sea cave in Kiama NSW. Elise interpreted the image in a scent inspired by volcanic rocks using tree resin, birch tar and red cedar. The other scent is L’Etrangete (strangeness), a white candle with a scent inspired by another photograph by Lyn and Tony, this time of a waterfall in a lush rainforest. Elise interpreted this image of sunlight in greenery as a scent with lemon myrtle, native ginger and hemp. Read more

Video: Alphabeta by Luca Nichetto at London Design Festival

Alphabeta is a new lamp designed by Italian Luca Nichetto for Hem, a brand that only launched last September 2014 at the London Design Festival. Hem’s first UK retail store opens this Saturday 19 September as part of this year’s festival, and an installation celebrating Alphabeta will come to life from 21 September at Somerset House.

More about Hem

Try the Alphabeta online configurator

Objects reborn from demolished house in Christchurch

By Penny Craswell

What would happen if you took all the waste from one demolished house and used it to create new objects? This question is the foundation of a new exhibition, book and auction called “Whole House Reuse” in Christchurch, New Zealand. An initiative of social enterprise Rekindle, the project highlights the huge amount of landfill created by the construction industry each year, particularly in Christchurch which is still demolishing and rebuilding after the Christchurch Earthquake in 2011.

Reading station by David Trubridge Design Studio (David Trubridge, Marion Courtille, Mathilde Polmard, Mat Stott)
Reading station by David Trubridge Design Studio (David Trubridge, Marion Courtille, Mathilde Polmard, Mat Stott)


It took seven days for a professional salvage crew and team of volunteers to fully deconstruct the single storey house in the Christchurch suburb of New Brighton, leaving behind only the concrete ring foundation.

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Review: Vivid lights make Sydney shine

By Penny Craswell

One of the most famous and widely visited parts of the annual Vivid Festival of Light, Music and Ideas, is the array of light installations and projections that turn freezing Sydney in nearly-winter into a playground of light and fun (and crowds, the less good bit).

The Museum of Contemporary Art with projection, Vivid Light 2015. Photo: Penny Craswell
The Museum of Contemporary Art with projection, Vivid Light 2015. Photo: Penny Craswell

This year I thought I would do a proper post on the lights so that you can all see it for yourselves without having to fly to Sydney, or if you are already here, go out in the cold and brave the masses. This year, the best part was probably the projections on the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) called “Mechanised Light Assemblage” by Australian artist Rebecca Baumann who worked in collaboration with multidisciplinary French team Danny Rose. It had moments of Tron, and also a whole section that brought to vivid life Baumann’s own 2011 artwork “Automated Colour Field” which is in the collection of the MCA. Read more