The definition of luxury has changed. Look around. Listen. Kick your shoes off.
The editors of Wallpaper, the saucy British style magazine, are challenging conventional definitions of luxury in an exhibition now making the rounds of European capitals.
Called "Limitless Luxury," the show presents a young, hip and rich notion of the global good life. Think bicycles, not SUVs.
In this environment, don't look for the clutter of gold and silver or cavernous master bedroom suites. The luxury here is more laid back and subtle. The important elements are technological wizardry, enveloping cashmere sofas and an endless tap of extra virgin olive oil.
Working with upscale companies such as Cappellini, Gucci and Fendi, Wallpaper compiled a list of 30 objects -- including one self-contained little smart house. Some are expensive, some are free. Each represents Wallpaper's take on the best you could get for everyday life. Luxury could be as simple as having a newspaper delivered to your door -- preferably the Financial Times or Die Woche.
"Luxury is what makes your home a more welcoming place," said Paul de Zwart, publisher of Wallpaper. "We considered what was fashionable, desirable and what we saw as luxurious in daily life. And the notion of having time or space is also very luxurious in modern life."
Wallpaper unveiled the exhibit last month in Milan as part of the International Furniture Fair. It included various sensations of luxury, such as the sound of moody techno-jazz from a custom Wallpaper CD -- your soundtrack for life -- compiled for the show. Or a shower head with fabulous water pressure by Czech & Speake. and a sexy chrome and white leather four-poster bed by Ralph Lauren.
For life on the go, Fendi created over-the-top hand-stitched leather airline seats with sable headrests. And designers at Trousers cut a pair of pants with precision tailoring to accommodate your Nokia as well as your boarding pass. For the corgi in your life, there was a minimalist Gucci dog house by Tom Ford.
The display was conceived in July 1998 in conjunction with a handful of well-known manufacturers and designers for a design exposition in Stockholm. For the Milan presentation, Swedish architect Thomas Sandell was brought on board to create a sort of mini-Wallpaper show house to represent the essence of luxurious living.
The Wallpaper House, a 1,000-square-foot, wood-and-glass bungalow, evoked a Scandinavian-style summer house wrapped around a garden courtyard. It was conceived by Sandell and Tyler Brule, Wallpaper's editorial director.
"We were both taken by an idea of an `inside-out' vacation or weekend house," said Sandell. "The house twists around itself to create a small enclosed courtyard, making it both exposed and closed to the surrounding nature."
Inside were sleek home furnishings, such as modernist sofas by B&B Italia to catch the flicks on the video screens all over the rooms. The small rooms were spare but had everything you need, said Brule, from a fur throw to a free-standing, smooth stone tub. The house was outfitted by Bang & Olufsen with the latest in techno gizmos -- including audio systems that memorize 200 titles and hold 60 radio stations.
The show proved so hot with crowds of the 250,000 international design faithful gathered to catch a whiff of the newest trends that the magazine's editors decided to mount it again in London in September as part of the 100% Design 1999 show. They currently are looking for a New York venue. Wallpaper readers can see more in the July/August issue.
"This was not about gilt," said New York designer Vladimir Kagan, who saw the exhibit in Milan. "It was geared to people who know what nice things are, can afford nice things, but don't want to brag about it. Ostentatiousness is dangerous."
Is this brand of luxury destined to go global? Brule says he already has had calls from developers in Colorado looking for the plans.
"I think one of the most important qualities of the house is its sense of scale,"said Brule. "A 1990's house doesn't have to be a monster house with a quadruple garage and five bedrooms."
Brule thinks monster houses one day will be divided up into apartments, much like the large Regency houses in London have been.
At Wallpaper's miniature villa, this visitor was asked to leave her shoes by the door. In traditional Scandinavian style, guests were offered stylish felt slippers to slip on as they padded around so as not to muck up the white paint on the wood floors.
It felt luxurious.
CAPTION: Simple but luxurious: The little weekend house commissioned by the British magazine Wallpaper.