Until the great financial unpleasantness of 2008, design - which is what people at the top of the furniture business call furniture - was becoming the great new collectible. Design pieces were being produced, in small numbers, and sold, for very high prices, like art. Design-art they called it, rather unimaginatively. The pieces tended to the odd and conceptual while the materials were extravagant. The cash flowed and the design market tilted on its axis, angled towards this new breed of deep-pocketed collectors. Then there was panic. This was a new market, prices were unstable. The money went away. It was a wake up call. Design really was about furniture after all.
Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the world's biggest, noisiest design fair, and getting bigger and noisier every year, never really forgot that. The major Italian design companies (and Italy dominates the top-end design market) are about great, innovative design, but also about producing in numbers. The Italians call a chair a chair, or whatever the Italian is for chair. They carried on regardless and the last few Salones, including this one, have felt surprisingly upbeat.
Many of the big design brands are being buoyed by the massive growth in the emerging markets, the suddenly design-hungry tenants of the high, and high-end, residential towers going up in Shanghai, Dubai and Mumbai. And given that people only replace their sofa every decade or so, rather than seasonally, new markets are what keeps these companies alive. And much of the design on show at Salone is really intended for hotel lobbies, offices, corporate headquarters, bars and restaurants. And again, there is enough pink in the cheeks of these sectors to keep the market moving. The domestic customer - that's you and me - is gravy.
What matters though is that the design sector is still jumping on new design talent, investing in new materials and technologies, and coming up with designs that actually work and work beautifully.