But a few times a year, people skip the day of rest as hustle and bustle descends on Milan for the weekend. One of those events is the Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano, which takes place every year for six days. If you translate it directly as a “Furniture Fair,” you’ll probably start picturing tables and chairs—so it’s really better translated as a “Design Fair.” In that sense, it could also be accurately described as a “Lifestyle Goods Fair.”
This design fair is the largest or second-largest in the world in terms of area, covering an enormous exhibition hall more than 300,000 square meters in size. Overwhelmed by a venue so big it’s impossible to cover in a single day, I’ve actually stopped going in recent years. Instead, I get news from the event at home by watching the news or reading the papers.
Because this design fair is the largest fair held in Milan, it can’t be contained by the sprawling exhibition hall alone. Boutiques, special events, galleries, and more pop up everywhere across the city, and are collectively known as Fuorisalone. They’re part of the fair, and essentially transform all of Milan with a festival-like atmosphere. The sheer scope of the undertaking is jaw-dropping. It’s a great opportunity to fully experience the amazing courtyards in everyday residential areas—places that you’d normally be hesitant to enter.
Add to all of this that Milan is a small city—about a third of the size of the 23 wards of Tokyo. One of the first things you notice when the the world’s largest design fair comes to town is the increase in traffic. And certainly, the race to get a hotel room starts well in advance. It’s funny to think about, but apparently every single hotel—even the disused zero-star hotels and love hotels—is billed as a high-class accommodation and packed with fairgoers. I’ve also heard that people become so desperate to get a room that they lose all sense of propriety and frantically search for just a bed—any bed at all. It’s also a time when even short homestay programs or vacation rentals are fully booked, to the point that a co-worker said her family turns their house into a vacation rental during the design festival and makes a ton of money. This year, everyone in her family is again going to stay with relatives so they can rent out their house.
Of course, there are plenty of problems associated with a massive event like this. Sometimes the double-parked cars create blockages that make it impossible for even emergency vehicles to get through, and every year the residents complain more loudly about the fact that they can’t get any rest with everyone up making noise until three in the morning. The city has even turned a blind eye to the sanitation issues posed by unlicensed street food vendors. Certainly, there are several issues that need to be addressed.
So how can we solve them?
What if the people who live and work in parts of the city where Fuorisalone activities are concentrated were given permission to take off from work and school during the festival? They could then get involved in the Fuorisalone events, all coming together to offer services that would revitalize their neighborhoods. It could work!
This year as I flip through the papers, I’m thinking that next year I’ll get motivated to get out there and see the design festival firsthand—and make some new discoveries!