The mini Salone del Mobile Milan held in 2021 was a significant departure for the trade show industry, thanks to director Stefano Boeri’s sustainable concept for the design fair with its central focus on waste reduction. It was always going to be interesting to see whether this year’s exhibitors would continue in that vein or shake off the seismic shifts of the pandemic and climate change to return to some of their more indulgent ways.
True to reputation, V-ZUG was at the forefront of the sustainability pack, returning to Milan with a display made entirely from recycled materials. This will be completely re-used in different ways in the future. V-ZUG’s Milan Furniture Fair efforts built on 2021’s themes to the letter – so it’s interesting to hear that the concept for the stand was actually conceived pre-pandemic, starting with the collaboration with Milan-based architect and designer, Elisa Ossino.
A visionary and sustainable concept for V-ZUG immersive display
“We were looking for someone who could approach and understand our minimalistic design and sustainability,” says Gabriel Castello Pinyon, V-ZUG’s global head of brand display. Pinyon had been following Ossino’s work for many years and was fascinated by the studio’s reputation for projects that explore the tension between lightness and intensity, and its astute attention to the composition and weight of objects in a space.
After an initial idea incorporating steam was kyboshed by the fair’s fire regulations, Ossino and Pinyon landed on a central circular design. This referenced V-ZUG’s commitment to circular-economy principles in its production processes, as well as the ‘circle slider’ – the key design interface element of its new Excellence range, which was featured at the fair.
Presenting ‘Closing the circle’
Titled ‘Closing the circle’, the immersive stand presented as a large dark square punctuated at its centre by a diaphanous, side-lit circle around a small copse of trees. The installation by artist Stefano Roveda and sound designer Stefano Messina was conceived to invite “contemplation in a living, natural micro-environment that reflects on the harmonious relationship between technology and nature”.
Pinyon was present for the three-week installation and was fascinated to watch it unfold. “I saw how they were building out this piece with the plants and the music,” says Pinyon. “Moving the plants, looking for the perfect angle from outside. It looks like something very easy but I can tell you there were three guys working almost 24 hours. It was really nice to see how they were doing this – this beautiful garden and how they played with the lights.”
The rounded edges of the encased forest were contrasted by the linear edges of the outer booth which were crosscut with horizontal beams supporting a range of V-ZUG products, including steam ovens in signature black glass and coveted wine coolers. The effect – in stark contrast to a typical display kitchen – appeared to suspend the range in the air as if in a gallery, celebrating both aesthetics and engineering.
Equally interesting for Pinyon was observing the response of visitors to the stand, which eschewed the drama of other exhibits and provided a welcome respite amid the bustle of Salone. “The reaction of the people, it was super nice. The people also sit on the bench and they were seeing the forest, they perceive life and feel calm. For me the feeling when you are in the booth, also, is when you are in Zug on the lake in the morning, you have this feeling like the mist at six o’clock or seven o’clock. It connected [the stand] with something which is also very Switzerland.”
Honesty, equality, humility: V-ZUG’s sustainability approach
When pressed further on what ‘Switzerland’ means to Spanish-born Pinyon, he puts forward the qualities of honesty, equality and humility, all of which he says are inherent in V-ZUG’s sustainability approach. Quite apart from the sector-leading energy and water ratings across its product range, Pinyon puts forward that V-ZUG’s production facility has been carbon neutral since 2020, staff are paid to take public transport or cycle to work, the company funds social housing in the town and more recently it has implemented life-cycle assessments across all products.
This latter effort is seeing the company explore alternative materials and focus on keeping any resources used as long as possible in a production loop at the highest possible value. A longstanding attention to longevity in its products (including minimal plastic use and technology updates via new software rather than replacing hardware) means V-ZUG is already well advanced towards producing a fully-recyclable range.
“With me personally, sustainability the concept is done,” says Pinyon. By which he means, sustainability a given at V-ZUG. “In our company we don’t talk this, we live it.”
Planning the sustainable build
In his role as global head of brand display, that means ensuring that every element in the construction of the Salone booth was recycled. For example, the base structure was made from recycled MDF, the carpet and dress wall were also recycled products, the plants were rented and even the clothes hanging in the Refresh Butler display were recycled polyester. Post-event the Salone stand will not be replicated elsewhere but every element will be recycled or re-used. The structure, carpet and seating are already being reconfigured for a trade show in Vienna and the metal logos used in the stand will find a new home in a permanent display or other pop-up exhibition.
In the company’s studios around the globe Pinyon then sources as much as possible locally, focusing on supply chain sustainability and collaborating with local designers and suppliers. With all international projects he works to give the studios a lifestyle flavour that is more tangible to the local market, as is especially evident in the French apartment-style kitchen which features in the Paris Zugorama.
Top takeaways for V-ZUG at Salone
But back to Salone. Pinyon’s favourite element of the 2022 installation was the trees, for their calming effect on the visitors, the shadow and light play of the leaves on the gossamer screen and for the reference to company’s reforestation project. Affectionately known as the ‘V-Forest’, V-ZUG has already planted 800,000 trees in an area equivalent to around 700 football pitches in Glen Lochay in rural Perthshire as part of the UK Woodland Carbon Code.
It is this ability to “connect with the things we are doing” in how he presents V-ZUG to the world that keeps Pinyon inspired in his day-to-day work. The subtle reference to a reforestation project in Scotland is only one of many stories that he can draw on to point to meaningful sustainability action, and V-ZUG’s desire to not only lead, but also bring the industry along with it.
“We need to help each other in this, where we are going and in the values we share.”
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