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The Diner Pop-Up During Milan Design Week Comes in Hot and Fresh

David Rockwell serves up an American classic with a side of fries.

We have come to Italy for the sleepless adventure known as Milan Design Week, where a global cast of designers, manufacturers, journalists, and Uber drivers converge to create the world’s most aesthetically pleasing traffic jam. The Italian design capital goes big this week with hundreds of design installations; seeing even a fraction of the fair is considered a success.

Still, one of the most buzzed about events in the city is a riff on a classic American concept: the diner.   Iconic architect David Rockwell collaborated with design studio 2×4, the magazine Surface, and a group of select design brands to create The Diner—a fully immersive pop-up (with actual restaurant service) that delivers an impressive throwback experience serving clever modern elements with whipped cream on top. “Diners have always been a home away from home for me and a place to observe people coming together. They are inherently optimistic mix of consistency, familiarity, and pioneering design,” said Rockwell.

Set in the Ventura Centrale, in the abandoned warehouses underneath Milan’s Central Station, this rollicking nostalgic trip is done in pink, the color of idealism. With cascading pink drapery skimming the archway and 2×4’s plucky neon font spelling out the promise of, “Sizzling, Shakes, Fries, Refreshing, Beefy,” the interiors do exactly what we want during a design show: stylishly transport you from the present without heavy corporate sponsorship. The hot fudge sundae is a plus.

Rockwell is a world-class architect who understands cultural iconography. With the LAB at Rockwell Group, he transformed the space by creating four distinct environments—the Roadside Diner, East Coast Luncheonette, Midwest Diner, and West Coast Diner—that unfold like a cross-country road trip from front to back. The quintessential part of this American institution is the counter. A custom piece measuring nearly 46-foot-long, the surface was created by Spanish company Costentino, whose signature Silestone quartz bar/counter serves as The Diner’s visual and literal center. It also offers a chance for Milan’s global design thrill-seekers to have the delicious experience of ordering coffee and pie at the counter, like protagonists in their very own Peach Pit.

Cosentino appears regularly in the project. The company created booth tables from Dekton, their patented surface, along with a Dekton coffee bar in Orix, a texture inspired by eroded cement. Notable contributions from Design Within Reach (an American powerhouse of modern design) featured the company’s DWR Contract line. John Edelman, DWR president, was excited to point out the Lina Swivel lounge chair by Hlynur Atlason, along with the Fire Bench and Go Porch  Swing  by  Loll  Designs (a  company which uses  recycled  plastic in its designs). More than three  dozen other DWR contract pieces joined the mix of heavy-hitting design companies. Kohler provided the sinks and faucets in the kitchen; Maharam offered a range of textiles;  Bisazza presented cement tiles, and there was flooring by Shaw Contract Carpet Tile.

As an event space and venue for lectures and talks, The Diner checked all the boxes. But a diner is really about easy comforts and indulgent sides. The place happened to be among the city’s most hard-fought reservations this week. New York’s specialty purveyor Murray’s Cheese devised a contemporary menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with all-American fare like mac n’ cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches. Only here, a power lunch with Italian furniture executives ordering burgers could rival the usual late-night scene. Many are skipping perennial favorite Bar Basso in favor of milkshakes and 1 a.m. carousal… if Uber receipts are any indication.

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