A world of designers descended upon Milan this week for Salone del Mobile—a weeklong event showcasing the latest in furniture and design innovation each year. And to create a sense of welcoming for these innovators, we collaborated with design think tank Fabrica to create “Housewarming”, an experience at the historic Palazzo Crespi in Milan that answered the question, “What traditions make you think of home? How do you translate that in a new way?”
Of course, you can’t create an interpretation of welcoming without actual interaction. It is an experience, not an exhibit. And so, at Palazzo Crespi, the Crespi family hosted a special guest: Wallpaper magazine’s Editor-at-Large, Henrietta Thompson. Henrietta got to witness first hand how these designers translated the idea of belonging, and then shared her experience back to us.
Here’s what Henrietta Thompson had to say about feeling at home at Palazzo Crespi with Fabrica:
“Belong anywhere?” Well, if you insist…I will quite happily belong in one of Milan’s most awe-inspiringly fabulous palazzos forever if I may…In the words of almost everyone I know, I have been very spoiled—last week I was lucky enough to call the historic Villa Crespi my home. Rarely open to the public, just a glimpse of its marvelous marble staircases and dizzyingly fabulous frescos is a privilege worth seizing. But for the duration of the Salone del Mobile, the annual design festival that takes over the city each April, the Crespi family hosted me as their guest in their 19th century estate. I was welcome, they said, to raid the kitchen if I was hungry, to take a turn around the lush green gardens if I needed some space, and to enjoy each amazing work of art that adorns the walls at my leisure. Each evening I padded around the intricately inlaid floors in my pajamas, and each morning I woke up to the most beautiful hand-painted ceilings and chandeliers while birdsong flooded in from the balcony.
The mission, which I so happily agreed to, was to test out the concepts being exhibited in the house as part of an experimental installation. “Housewarming” is a collaborative project between Airbnb and design think-tank Fabrica, in which 19 students created works to create a ‘moment of welcome’ for visitors, and inspire a sense of belonging during the festival.
Every country has its own way of conveying a sense of hospitality to its guests: rituals that have evolved over time to become standard in each place. As Fabrica’s design team hails from all over the world, their own references are equally diverse, and their new, creative ideas were both surprising and delightful to encounter.
The designers initially asked themselves what it means to hand over their house-keys, explains Sam Baron, Fabrica’s creative director, as he helps me find my rooms. “We also looked at the moment that hosts and guests meet and have an exchange. We wanted to translate this through a series of creative moments.”
To write about all 19 projects here would take me days, but I can say that every single one, experienced as a resident, was truly warming. From the tea that Daniel Rous poured me for my morning breakfast (as a Brit, this is truly an important ritual for me, and Rous’ intricate handblown glass tea station made it all the more so) to the candle I was invited to light by Nikita Bhate at her Samai “wall of light” as I entered the palazzo, each ritual had a very clear role: to provide a framework for both rapport and routine with the hosts.
I enjoyed batting half-tennis balls into the garden as the Crespi’s veteran Labrador looked on lazily, thanks to Alex Rothera’s Stickball game, inspired by his childhood in an impoverished—yet clearly fun and resourceful—neighbourhood in Philadelphia. I loved Tom Fether’s ‘Pieces of Advice’ series of puzzles, giving local advice as they were solved. And each time I visited the bathroom opposite my ‘quarters’, I was charmed to be offered a new traditionally Milanese handmade soap by Marcello Venturini. Tomomi Maezawa was diligently handcrafting tote bags—a project that was informed by the notion in Japanese hospitality whereby the host makes the guest feel welcome and the guest offers something in return. Here, visitors to her exhibit gave her their names, and she would print them in Japanese characters on the canvas before signing it in red ink—a custom followed by Japanese calligraphers.
As I type this, a fortune telling card stares up at me from my desk, a memento from Catarina Carreiras, whose bespoke deck of cards were randomly distributed through the house. It was a game that became a little personal scavenger hunt of my own during my stay. While the cards were certainly entertaining and moving by turns, one aspect of my own future was becoming abundantly clear regardless of their proposed fortune: my next trip to Milan will really have a lot to live up to. Over the four days of my stay, I was made to feel more welcome and inspired than any Salone del Mobile trip so far. Belonging here, combined with the beautiful weather outside, is what made Milan Salone 2015 the best year yet for me.