Sitting in Spazio Pontaccio’s window in the creative Brera district of Milan is a rather beautiful safe. This might sound like a contradiction in terms – safes are by their definition discreet and functional. Conversely, Spazio Pontaccio’s design (€5,220) by CTRLZAK Studio is a transparent jewel-box-like creation of extra-light crystal glass with hand-polished satin-brass legs and handle: made to be seen, yet a genuine safe too, “protecting the contents, but revealing the essence”, according to Spazio Pontaccio founder and creative director Alberto Pellini. For his customers, that essence ranges from jewellery and a minibar containing crystal glasses and spirits, to a watch collection, small sculptures and even a rare species of flower.
This striking piece of design is right on the money with regards to current storage trends. Whereas the past few years have been defined by a multitude of hidden storage options – whisking our clutter away behind closed doors – this year “if you have it, you want to see it,” says Piero Lissoni. His designs as creative director of Italian furniture specialists Porro include the Storage (price on request), a range of super-sleek transparent wardrobes and dressing-room units intended to create a less heavy and more aesthetically pleasing dressing space, one you would want to linger in for longer. “We take so much pride in our clothes, it’s right that they should be visible. Plus, of course, transparent storage is efficient and practical. You see everything in a single glance and immediately find what you’re looking for.” That may sound prosaic, but the collection is as beautiful as it is clever – eucalyptus shelves and burnished-brass fixtures sit on a frameless glass wall, while a dressing-room design features shirt- and shoe-holders in mongoi timber with burnished-brass edges enclosed behind slender-framed glass doors.
Other pieces combine simple transparency with pops of vivid colour. Take Case’s new Vitrina collection by Mexico City/London outfit Hierve: oak-framed glass cabinets (£3,420) house handsome, joyous, vividly painted shelves within. Philippe Starck’s strikingly modern BoxinBox (£2,937) plays on a similar idea, with fluorescent tinted-glass boxes within transparent cabinets – most captivating in yellow – while on a smaller scale are California-based creator Alexandra Von Furstenberg’s Perspex storage boxes (from £240) with hints of neon pink or orange.
While we’ve seen transparent furniture before, notably during the last wave of minimalism, today’s designs utilise new technologies to go slimmer and more architectural. Wowing audiences in Milan this year, Glas Italia’s new furniture collection includes an ultra-simple, all-glass wardrobe (£6,236) by Tokujin Yoshioka. Its hanging rails appear to float thanks to their minimal fixings, while the glass itself is strengthened by heating and rapid cooling, allowing the doors to be just 8mm thick, the edges bevelled to refract light.
Indeed, much of today’s transparent furniture is almost entirely frameless. Barber & Osgerby’s Collector cabinet (from £2,539) for the same company is made from curved UV-bonded glass. “We didn’t want anything to obscure the contents,” says co-founder Edward Barber. And each plane of glass in Patricia Urquiola’s intersecting Shimmer shelving (from £1,897), also for Glas Italia, is seemingly free-floating, with added drama from a multichromatic finish that reflects light in different ways. At Poliform too, the glass wardrobes (from £2,298) – which come in several choices of glass including a sophisticated smoky finish – are “characterised by creating maximum visibility”.
Maximum visibility is also at play in Molteni & C’s new Kristal display cabinet (£24,000), designed by Dante Bonuccelli, which has sliding glass doors to minimise the space needed to house it and is visible from 360 degrees so that it can also serve as a floating room divider. It is not dissimilar to Christophe Pillet’s Galerist cabinet (£7,896) in ultra-light glass and aluminium, featured in the window at Lema’s new showroom on London’s King’s Road. “Frames are stronger yet slimmer and can accommodate hidden fixings such as hinges,” says Lema’s UK managing director Umberto Salon. “Shelves, too, are slimmer and can incorporate LEDs within them so the whole interior is invisibly lit.”
With contents so visible, curating our belongings is at the centre of the new transparent storage, says Hilary Robertson, New York-based interiors stylist and author of The Stuff of Life. She cites the growth in glass-fronted fridges, cupboards and contemporary medicine cabinets as part of a move towards a new art of display. Taylor Llorente’s glamorous, curvaceous glass and pale-oak cabinet (£6,000) with a contrasting suede strip around the middle – “almost like a belt” – is designed to house “cultural collectables… show-off pieces, curios, glassware,” says designer Riccardo Llorente.
And Mint’s new bespoke display cabinets – such as designer Paul Heijnen’s exclusive Showcase cabinet (£4,500), an almost Crittall-style steel and oak-framed cabinet with Eiffel Tower-style legs, or Snickeriet’s Frank design (£9,250), a limited-edition upright cabinet, where the frame itself is enclosed within a simple acrylic-glass box – offer 21st-century takes on museum-style curatorial display cases.
Boffi’s Steven Salt agrees that a significant section of his clientele lives along these carefully edited lines, favouring transparent or semi-transparent dressing rooms and wardrobes in which every tiny item has its own place and is highly visible. “That sense of order and organisation, of planning spaces down to the finest detail, is absolutely central to a certain profile of customer, who might also have someone looking after their wardrobe,” he says. For this reason Boffi is launching sumptuous new wardrobe designs – also by Piero Lissoni – called Antibes (from £10,000), which feature etched glass, wood interiors and bronze handles. “A lot of our clients are looking for a very modern, crisp look,” says Salt. “Glass allows you to divide a walk-in wardrobe into several different sections while keeping it light and open.”
Of course, not all of us are happy to display the contents of our wardrobes or kitchen cupboards. “It relies on the owner to be absolutely rigorous,” says Robertson, “which is fine for the minimalist but perhaps not so easy for those of us who are more, shall we say, ‘haphazard’ in our storage habits.”