Thursday, February 02, 2006

Milan Furniture Flair

Television sets get louder

by Carla Diana

[See Photo]

ROME, April 23, 1997 -- While at the Milan [Image]
Furniture Fair (Salone Del Mobile), an exposition
of the boldest new designs from around the world I
thought, "This is it." This was what my five months in
Italy were all about. This showcase of color, form and
material was design with a capital D. Showrooms contained
every kind of large object you'd find in a well laid out
home, with one glaring exception: home electronics.

Perhaps decorators and designers think that all consumer
electronics are peripheral accessories, dotting the
landscape of the room like subtle accents, and meant to
be treated as virtually invisible elements. This attitude
doesn't quite jibe with reality. Though Europeans focus
less on home theater than Americans do [because they'd
rather go to the opera and other in-the-flesh cultural
events -- Ed.], their living rooms are still set up the
same way [perhaps suggesting that we exert a cultural
influence of our own, but not always a positive one --
Ed.]. The furniture revolves around the hulking mass of
the TV set and entertainment system. Like a Cyclops of
flickering light and beckoning sounds, it commands the
attention of everyone who enters the room. That this
mesmerizing thing can be ignored as a significant piece
of furniture seems absurd.

Designs that glorified the television, radio or Victrola
were common decades ago. People savored the time spent
huddled around the precious machine as if captivated by
the delight of a living thing. The decorative trend
deteriorated into units with chintzy veneers or massive
wooden boxes with small details on the facade. Instead of
taking on the challenge of designing a TV set or
speakers, furniture designers often opt for developing
networks of cabinetry meant to camouflage their contents.
Consumer electronics manufacturers go along with this
logic by providing uniform black boxes. Essentially,
consumers are sold the "guts" of their TVs stereos and
home theaters, with a minimal housing to keep it all
contained. While this makes sense for many people,
diverse and creative options would make for a more
inspiring living environment.

One feisty designer from Finland named Timo Salli took a
stab at home electronics. His Milan showroom, an exhibit
called Snowcrash, featured a 21-inch TV nestled into a
translucent acrylic box. Pressing a remote control caused
the inside of the box to emerge, exposing the screen and
interior of the TV. Though it was still a container, it
celebrated the device in a jewel-like display, instead of
hiding it in shame behind cabinet doors, as many
entertainment units do.

This was a brave step in a new direction. Let's hope it
leads the way for more inventive approaches to home
electronics.

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This column is an etown.com exclusive.

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