Europe's largest design exhibition, Maison & Objet, is underway in Paris, revealing the direction interior design will take this year and beyond into 2014. British design journalist Ellie Tennant has braved the snow and pounded the aisles for Apartment Therapy. Here, she reports on three of the key trends to emerge…
The show's curated areas center around new life and rebirth this year, highlighting scientific, biological influences and the all-pervading influence of nature on contemporary design. This theme of energy and growth is reflected by many of the exhibitors, who are pushing the boundaries of raw materials and combining cutting-edge technology with traditional handicrafts to create something refreshingly new.
Innovative Lighting is everywhere, with many designers exploring the possibilities of solar energy, natural phosphorescent materials and recent advances in Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology to create magical and futuristic illuminations.
Blackbody's pioneering I.Rain light installation (by Thierry Gaugain) consists of paper-thin motion-sensitive OLED discs that are activated when you walk beneath them.
Designer Shoji Katsume of Studio Niji presents his incredible new Lactea light in the Via Design area. A sheet of Inorganic Electro-Luminescent material creates a pop-up 3D glowing form. 'Lactea' means 'Milky Way' in Latin, and this space-age light is intended to express the balance and continuity present in the universe.
Meanwhile, Maison Martin Margiela (at L'Atelier d'Exercices) shows a glow-in-the-dark lamp. Entitled 'Veilleuse Luminescente', it's made from plaster that has organic phosphorescent material within it.
Jetro's J Style+ area reveals more exciting innovations. Having developed micro spherical solar cells, clever designers at Kyoto-based firm Sphelar Power Corporation have created an hourglass-inspired solar-powered Sphelar Lantern, available in walnut or birch. The tiny solar cells look like beads of coloured glass; once the lantern is fully charged, you simply turn it upside-down to turn it on.
On the brilliant CzechSelection stand, coloured floating 'Memory' balloon lights delight and amaze. These delicate glass fixtures with pull-switch strings are the work of design collective Brokis, which consists of Lucie Koldova, Dan Yeffet, Olgoj Chorchoj, Dan Gonzalez and Thomas Varga.
Tessellation is a key trend, with interlocking shapes featuring in many new collections, from furniture to textiles and accessories.
These bright tessellating metal shelves are the work of dynamic French studio Adónde.
Gan presents the new Mangas Space collection of modular poufs, seats and Tetris-style rugs by Patricia Urquiola. Upholstered in chunky knitted wool, the yellow, coral, pink and white rugs slot neatly together to create a patchwork knitted floor covering, brought to life with blocks of bold colour and on-trend fretwork patterns.
Inspired by leaves, Statue (Louise de Saint-Angel and Romain Guillet) has designed a folding wall-mounted textile canopy that creates a private, cosy corner within an open-plan living area. Made of brightly coloured dyed cotton strips which are woven to create a striking tessellated pattern, it's a great acoustic insulator as well as a decorative triumph.
Ligne Roset's new Itisy tables by Philippine Lemaire can be used individually or tessellated to create useful larger surfaces.
The Danish trend-setters at HAY have released these simple beech 'Twins' Blocks, sold in a set of 16. You can stack them together to create a myriad of shapes and structures.
Interlocking chevrons make a statement in Missoni Home's new Oissel design.
Honeycomb hexagonal patterns still have a strong presence, with MGX by Materialise's honey-coloured Amber light fitting 'Dragonfly' featuring in Elizabeth Leriche's inspirational 'Nourritures Premieres' display.
Natural honeycomb tessellations also pop up in a futuristic mirror by In Flexions. Using similar technology to Blackbody's I.Rain lighting solution, nifty motion sensors detect the movements of your right hand and each hexagonal cell tilts in the direction you gesture.
Taking tessellation to a whole new level, designers François Brument and Sonia Laugier have collaborated for Via Design to create 'Printed Habitat', an experimental project that pushes the limitations of 3D printing technology and parametric design to fabricate partitions and non-structural walls that can either optimize existing spaces, or produce new ones. It's made using 55 individual parametric polycarbonate modules, all 'printed' in a 3D printer and based on the geometry of a hexagon.
Warm Metals are used in many new pieces. Pink copper is still popular, but the emphasis this season is on yellowy brass finishes — matte or highly-polished and often paired with ceramics, smart, dark woods like walnut, or with cool marble, for a luxurious look. Rose gold is also creeping in.
Nowhere is the message clearer than on Menu's stand, where the new Norm Bath range of bathroom accessories is displayed with the phrase: 'All that glitters is brass' emblazoned above it. Designers Jonas Bjerre-Poulson and Kasper Rønn have managed to make a stunningly beautiful toilet brush - not an easy feat.
British designer Tom Dixon has released the latest additions to his Eclectic range, which include a chic marble 'Stone' cake stand and brass 'Form' cake slice, a playful desk accessories set called 'Tool' in a matte brass finish and the elegant, highly-polished brass 'Form' tea set. His amusing stencil, entitled 'The Copycat', stands out — it features three sentences that use every letter of the alphabet and all the punctuation you'll need to create your own stylish stationery.
Jonathan Adler has embraced brass too, showing stylish chairs with brass legs and a myriad of quirky brass accessories. Unlike many designers — and in a departure from his usual sleek style — he has opted for highly textured surfaces on his new Pebble brass boxes.
Meanwhile, Czech designers from Belda present simple ceramic White Lady vases with chic bands of shiny brass.
Another designer who has fused ceramics with metal is Corinna Warm. Her 'Glaze' pendant lights (on the Innermost stand) have such seamless joins between the copper and the porcelain that the two materials appear to be one.
Japanese designers were out in force at Maison & Objet this year, producing some of the most exciting designs on show. Craftspeople from Kanaya (based in Takaoka, Japan) are pushing the boundaries of mixed-media design, using copper and brass in many interesting ways. The new Magazine Rack by Hiromichi Konno is the highlight — it combines brass and leather, with stunning results.
On the Riluc stand, Franco-Portuguese designer Toni Grilo has mixed high-gloss copper surfaces with a cork frame to produce the new 'Alma' shelving unit, all curved corners and reflective surfaces.
The HAY team is on board, too, showing new 'Lup' copper candle holders, copper 'Hang' clothes hangers and a range of brass desk accessories.
In the innovative Japan Handmade area, young Japanese designers have drawn upon their nation's ancient metalworking heritage to create cutting-edge copper and brass pieces. The simple copper teapots by Kaikado stand out — the perfect marriage of form and function.
It's precious and golden, but although this 'Tabouret' stool looks like copper or bronze, it is in fact made of jute fibers impregnated with resin. Developed as part of the Gold of Bengal project, this new material can replace glassfibre in many applications and is intended for use in naval construction, with the hope that it could rejuvenate the jute industry in Bangladesh.
(Images: as linked above)