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MILAN (AFP) ĘC Designers laughed off the economic crisis at Milan's annual furniture
fair this year, ditching staid luxury for jocular hammock sofas, tilting chairs, bar stools with pedals and robot bookcases.
The Salone Internazionale del Mobile -- the biggest event in the design calender -- celebrated its 50th year with over 2,700 companies on exhibit and expected over 100,000 people to flock through its doors.
Curious visitors and the design-savvy alike wandered between hoards of minimalist lampshades, bird ornaments and plant displays and perched on sleek plastic chairs or reclined on eccentrically shaped chaise longues.
French designer Philippe Starck drew crowds with his "Miss Less" chair, a plastic creation for Italian company Kartell, so minimalist that the designer has boasted he had managed to break the limits of scaled down furniture
The chair, a solid block of glossy black plastic -- which also comes in a two-toned version with a transparent back-rest -- starred alongside Starck's towering, long-legged bar stool and white table with a lustrous black top.
In another area of the show, Italian architect and designer Fabio Novembre showed off his Transformer-style 1980s Robot-shaped bookcase, created for the design company Casamania.
"My generation always had a robot as a playtime companion and I needed to find a new reason to justify its presence next to my desk," the 44-year-old joked when the bookcase was recently presented to the public.
Composed of black asymmetrical shelves and cubbyholes, the towering robot with jetting shoulders and a square head sported a red compartment for a heart -- a perfect place for stashing Transformer comics.
The Campeggi design company also had fun with webbing slung on a coloured metal frame to make a hammock sofa and a bar stool with pedals to allow drinkers to burn off alcoholic calories while they swig.
Swiss manufacturer Vitra had drawn inspiration from students who swing on their chairs for their "Tip Ton," designed with an in-built rocker that prevents the occupant from tilting so far over that they end up falling onto the floor.
Vitra was also exhibiting "Oiseau", a graceful, ornamental wooden bird by French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, which the company's marketing representative Eckart Maise said was symptomatic of a new trend.
"There's a tendency to bring images of animals or plants indoors, to seek the warmth of an animal without having to go for a walk in a park... because it's not always possible, seeing as our ways of life have changed," he said.
In other areas, designers reacted to the economic crisis by toning down their creations, preferring to use classic materials -- wood and leather -- in sombre colours rather than overstimulate already drained consumers.
"People want to be reassured... we're seeing a lot of furniture
that goes easier on the public," said Salone trend spotter, Marco Romanelli.
Less reassuring perhaps was the whopping chandelier of Mini Coopers that dangled precariously from a towering crane above apprehensive visitors.
The Salone Internazionale opened Tuesday and runs until Sunday.