Originally created 05/14/98

Milan puts new twist on computer furniture



Tired of trying to hide your PC in your armoire or stash your printer under a skirted table?

At the Milan International Furniture Fair last month, several Italian manufacturers offered a fresh take on the boring computer desk.

The struggle has been to create a good-looking, compact piece of furniture that will accommodate all the moving parts and be flexible enough for a home office.

More than 34 million U.S. households have people who work at home, according to IDCLink, a New York-based market research firm. That number is growing 7 percent each year. A total of 43 percent of American households now own a computer, a number that also is rising fast. That means the potential market for good design is big, and getting bigger.

Some versatile pieces are high-tech, yet high-style. (Think metal, not particle board finished in brown wood grain -- a popular but mundane choice for no-frills computer workstations.) They accomplish what Europeans are famous for: turning an ordinary piece of furniture into a fashion statement.

Take your pick from peachy saffron-colored aluminum or cool ultramarine-blue steel. Some of the new Italian pieces are mounted on casters, allowing them to make a gracious exit from a room when they are no longer welcome.

Among designs that will be available to the American market later this year:

Kartell's personal computer cart on wheels, the "OXO PC," was designed by Antonio Citterio and Oliver Loew with both home and office in mind. Made of sandblasted aluminum in the colors of slate, light gray or ultramarine blue, it offers shelves for the keyboard, printer and even the mouse. It will cost from $624 to $958, depending on options, when it wheels onshore this summer.

The eyes of one of Milan's most sophisticated fashion houses for furniture, DePadova, were on the "Mouse." This chic, compact aluminum computer trolley designed by Marco Zanuso Jr., is mounted on swivel casters in rubber. It comes in powder-coated yellow chrome, saffron, silver and aqua green. "Mouse" will sell for about $700 to $800 through Luminaire (800-494-4358).

A third company, Zanotta, built a literal bridge to the 21st century. The company's workstation, "Ricreo," mimics the scaffolding that is found along most any Milanese piazza today. Designed by two Swiss architects, Alfredo Haberli and Christophe Marchand, it would fit in a den, child's room or kitchen. Open laminate shelves surround the desk on three sides and are available with coordinating accessories such as hooks, magazine racks and storage units. The painted steel unit, manufactured in gray or pale green, will start at $4,500 at the M2L showroom in the Washington Design Center this fall.

So much for a desk. What about a chair? You might consider "Maui," a plastic chair on five spidery legs designed by Vico Magistretti for Kartell ($198 to $280). It comes in eight colors, including ice blue and red. When you exit the chat rooms of the Internet, wheel it into any room of the house.