Joe Gebbia on Airbnb’s Food and Design Installation in Milan

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Makers & Bakers, hosted by Airbnb and Ambra Medda during Milan Design Week, created a warm, communal-dining experience in a rustic restaurant. We asked Joe Gebbia, cofounder of Airbnb, how his brand goes hand in hand with design experiences.

Presented by Airbnb and curated by Ambra Medda, Makers & Bakers at Marta restaurant (owned by Rossana Orlandi and next door to her eponymous gallery) was a low-key – yet utterly delightful – happening during Milan Design Week. It brought together works by 25 young creators from 13 countries in a warm, playful and inviting installation.

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Among the designs on display were Tyndall vessels by Canada’s Thom Fougere, suspended Epiphytes planters by Italy’s Dossofiorito, and Herringbone vases by Phil Cuttance of New Zealand. Colourful plastic garlands festooned the ceilings, graphics by illustrator Zebedee Helm decorated the walls, and the bar served up toast made with bread by New Zealand baker Carter Were; meanwhile, her sister, Harry Were, knitted personalized cloths and tea cozies.

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Communal tables in the back and in the basement brought visitors together throughout each day during design week. The space was programmed with help from Katie Lockhart; her New Zealand shop Everyday Needs is a favourite of Medda, who cofounded Design Miami and is now global creative director for the 20/21 Design department at Christie’s auction house.

Ultimately, the Makers & Bakers experience sought to evoke the inspiring feeling of an Airbnb stay – the act of breaking bread among guests and hosts, and of discovering the unique items that make up a person’s home. So we asked Joe Gebbia, cofounder of Airbnb, how the installation was conceived and how design remains a core facet of his brand.

The installation was very playful and sweet as well as serving as a platform for emerging designers. How did its two main elements – the project’s curation and the brand’s sharing ethos – become intertwined and developed through the process of creating this exhibit?
As a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, the creative community is extremely important to myself and to Airbnb as a whole. When we do these types of projects, we are looking for various ways of expressing our company’s creative ethos while partnering with and supporting creative talent from around the world.

Makers & Bakers was the next iteration of this mission and we worked with Ambra to bring together the emerging creatives around the idea of a shared table. The brief from Airbnb was to create an inclusive space, a do-touch exhibit if you will, where we could bring the design community together while supporting emerging talent that wouldn’t have the opportunity to exhibit otherwise. We wanted the exhibition to showcase their works, and also highlight some of the unexpected joys that come from Airbnb experiences – sharing meals with new people, experiencing different cultures, and engaging in unique conversations.

Were you involved in the curation at any point? What was it like to work with Ambra and Katie?
I have a deep respect for Ambra’s work and from the beginning we trusted her to bring our vision to life.

Which products or elements of the show spoke to you on a personal level?
In my mind, all of the products came together to create a beautiful, cohesive show. A few products that stand out in my mind though are the lazy susan by Ben McCarthy and the salt cellar by Study O Portable. There was also a brilliant moment of surprise and delight when you pour water through the Dossoforito bird spout (Lino e Pia) and it chirps!

Have you come across something in your travels recently that you wanted the Makers & Bakers event to encapsulate?
I have found in my travels around the globe that the most touching and memorable experiences happened across a table, sharing a meal. There is something about this age-old form of human connection that transcend time and space. Further, these simple joys that come from pouring water from a beautiful pitcher or passing bread in an elegantly crafted basket can live on in memory for a lifetime. Sometimes there isn’t even a table. I recently stayed with a host in Bhutan and we ate rice and meat sitting on the floor in their farm house together, because that’s how they did it. Needless to say, I felt like a local.

What did you think of the Milan design fair overall, and of Makers & Bakers’ specific role in it?
I always love going to the Salone – the different exhibits and events always leave me inspired and exhilarated. Some of my favourite exhibitions this year included Nike, Hay, and the Nilafur Depot – all so different, yet each incredible in their own ways.

Where I think Makers & Bakers really stood out in my mind, is the idea of “breaking the fourth wall.” In theatre, this means directly engaging with the audience; for us, it meant allowing visitors to touch, feel, and use each of the design objects in our exhibit. Instead of them being under glass or on a pedestal, each piece was on the table for people to engage with directly.

What other fairs, events, installations is Airbnb working on now? 
At Airbnb, we are always looking at future partnerships and opportunities. Currently, we are working towards House Vision in July, where, in collaboration with Kenya Hara and architect Go Hasegawa, we are exploring the future of living. Our concept looks at the always evolving relationship between guest and host, and how that relationship can grow beyond just a single person to benefit an entire community. We’ll be able to share more about this soon. We are also excited about some upcoming work in London and Miami, so stay tuned!

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