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Q&A: 3 Toronto Designers Do Milan

Three local design firms head to Italy to join the major leagues

By Tory Healy

Salone del Mobile Milan is the world’s largest design festival, with boutique brands and massive manufacturers filling booths and house-sized pavilions with new product.

It’s overwhelming – in a great way – and what a bonus it was to witness familiar faces not only taking part in the extravaganza but killing it. We caught up with three Toronto design firms who exhibited during this year’s Milan Design Week to find out about their experience.

Portraits of MSDS and Uufie by Emma McIntyre, portrait of Felipe Lisboa by Naomi Finlay.

MSDS Studio

Two talented workaholics bring their trademark minimalism to a refined collection of office furniture


DL-0417-Salone-MSDS-4Jonathan Sabine and Jessica Nakanishi are the duo behind such covetable products as Pleated dishware for Umbra, Ware lamp for Leibal and Ladder Light made by Woud – not to mention inspiring interiors for House of Anansi, Flur floral shop on Bathurst, and Shopify – presented their new collection of office products amongst the other burgeoning talents at SaloneSatellite. Jonathan gives us a bit about their experience in a nutshell:

Q: Was this your first year in Milan for Design Week?
A: Yes, this was our fist time exhibiting in – or even attending – the Salone.

What new product did you exhibit?
We decided to focus on live-work related objects. A quite practical collection to bring to a show like Milan! It was a gamble that I think paid off. Our near-term goal is to work with contract and large domestic manufacturers, so we wanted our work to reflect that.


Did you receive any memorable feedback on your products?
Rolf and Mette Hay told us they spent half an hour on our website and said we were doing ‘damn good work’! We met a bunch of designers and manufacturers that I think we’ll be collaborating with in the future.

Are there any ideas you can share on what’s next for your collection, possibly inspired by your trip to Milan?
It’s a little early to say. I think we’ll be focusing on the briefs that we’ve been given rather than undertaking more speculative work.

Do you have any takeaways for other Torontonian designers hoping to show there?
The caliber of work is the highest we’ve seen, and it’s a very expensive and complicated show to do. So, I wouldn’t recommend going until you’re really ready. We also heard repeatedly that Satellite is much slower than it was in the past. We had about as much success at the Stockholm show with much less difficulty.

Did you enjoy any other fun moments in Milan?
Being stuck to the booth didn’t permit us to see much. Jaimie Hayon’s crazy huge Caesarstone installation was cool. The Flos booth [at Euroluce] was next level. Boundary pushing work in a tightly controlled setting. And, of course, the Muuto booth, featuring our new Halves side table, was excellent.


A pair of local design stars introduces otherworldly masterpieces of cosmic proportions


DL-0417-Salone-Uufie-4Far from the Milan fairgrounds in a more residential part of the city, Toronto architect/designers Eiri Ota and Irene Gardpoit of Uufie were exhibiting at Spazio Rossana Orlandi. Rosanna Orlandi is pretty much the grand dame of art and design in Milan, a dynamo with an eye for picking out bright young talent and pushing them up into the stratosphere. The fact that she invited Uufie to exhibit on her sprawling compound during Salone is a pretty big deal for the quiet duo, whose work speaks volumes about their genius conceptualization and material prowess.

The firm’s past wonders are numerous, and include a lacey throne-like Peacock chair, a mirrored cottage and an alien dining environment (see #7) created for Monogram’s Dinner by Design event at DX. Here’s a short and sweet summary from Eiri about their Milanese experience:

Q: Was this your first year in Milan for Design Week?
A: This was our third time exhibiting during Salone. The vibe was more relaxed this time since we had more experience and knew what to expect. It was a great time, again, to meet new and old friends.

What new product did you exhibit?
Echo, a set of three tables in wood and metal, plus Yin Yang, an arrangement of modular marble tables. Both are made in Italy.

Did you receive any memorable feedback on your products?
We got a great response for both. There was a lot of interest in the materials and fabrication process.


Are there any ideas you can share on what’s next for your collection, possibly inspired by your trip to Milan?
We don’t have any plans right now, but we do hope to explore new designs in new places.

Do you have any takeaways for other Torontonian designers hoping to show there?
It is a good place to meet interesting people and see the global competition.

Did you enjoy any other fun moments in Milan?
The city of Milan itself is very exciting during this time. Spazio Rossana Orlandi is always a must-go place.

Viso Inc.

The lighting manufacturer casts a glow on glam metallics


DL-0417-Salone-Viso-1Designing and manufacturing in Toronto since 2006, Viso Inc., with its luminaires shining in Saks Fifth Avenue and even Four Season Hotel in Kuwait, Viso Inc. is not one we’d call burgeoning. More like established, a company at its apex and clearly comfortable in its own skin, as we learned quickly in 2014 when we featured principal Felipe Lisboa in a series of profiles on local designers. We set up the Capella pendant, positioned the camera, asked Felipe to face the camera and we got the shot in one take. He was a great sport and we tried a few poses, but I remembered that first photo when I walked his pavilion in Hall 15 of Euroluce, the space where the “big guys” exhibit at Milan’s biannual lighting show. We caught up with Tzetzy Naydenova, the brand’s managing director, to see how the show went:

Q: Was this your first year at Salone? If not, how was this year different from before?
A: No, we exhibited a long time ago, about 12 years ago. So we were more prepared, more focused, on point. But everything was different this time. The company is different in its ownership, culture, product… it was an exciting show.

What new product did Viso exhibit?
The Bronze Collection of decorative lighting which includes pendants Alo and Briggs and the Chestnut wall sconces.

Any memorable feedback or memorable interactions with visitors?
We were called “The Train Station” because our stand was always so busy! We even attracted renowned design firms by the likes of Gensler who want to collaborate with us on a light fixture design. We received excellent feedback from visitors and we can’t wait to collaborate with new clients on their projects.


What’s next for your collection? Did Milan inspire Viso?
We are very much drawn to brass and it’s different capabilities and also onyx. We are still processing our trip in Milano and in the influx of interest. It’s a bit too soon to say but creativity and imagination doesn’t have a timeline.

Do you have any takeaways for other Torontonian designers hoping to show there?
Put your best foot forward. Give it all you’ve got. Hire an interior designer to design the space and make it a showstopper. If you bring it, they will notice.

Other fun moments in Milan: did you have a favourite installations or exhibitor?
We loved Preciosa (also at Euroluce). We were immediately inspired by their imagination behind the installation and connection with nature. We aspire to bring this type of imagination to our lighting installations. On top of this, they are really nice people!

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