This year many manufacturers focused on their heritage, originality and the place they hold in the history of design and innovation. Edra celebrated 25 Years, Flos 50 years, and Kartell for the first time exhibited their technological processes in a show that revealed models, prototyping and drawings. In 2012 it was all about the real thing, designs that are functional, precise, beautiful and considered. Multi-functional pieces in silhouettes that don’t stray far from the familiar but were impressively refined and technically rigourous.

The most moving installation goes to Foscarini, whose new Beehive, Innerlight and Birdie designs were shown silhouetted behind a dark screen, while a fascinating installation by Vicente Garcia Jimenez of sounds and projections presented fragments of the turbulent North Sea during a storm.

While at Spazio Krizia in the city, Ingo Maurer, in a nod to the past, created a set filled with full-scale polystyrene 'models' of classics including Achille Castiglioni's Leonardo table and Sciangai coat rack, and Jean Prouvé's 1934 Standard chair. The scene created a canvas for new lights and lamps including the installation Candle in the Wind by Ingo Maurer and Moritz Waldemeyer, an ephemeral new lighting concept using modern LED technology to recreate the simple infinitely complex candle flame.

This year Swedish trio Front collaborated again with Porro. Their Gentle chair with a simple structure made of interlaced natural wood and black leather plays on the optics and was reportedly inspired by a Swedish fairy tale. Known for their use of warm, natural materials, particularly wood, Porro also released a new extension table in eucalyptus, called TACC, designed by young Italian designer Michele Cazzaniga.

The ‘rock-star’ brand was Kartell, literally. The manufacturer’s collaboration with musician Lenny Kravitz drew fans to the store's opening party where his versions of leather and fur-clad Mademoiselle chairs were unveiled alongside their original designer, Philippe Starck. For the first time, Kartell also showed prototypes and developmental sketches to engage and educate visitors, with no-frills, versatile new proposals, like Starck's Ice occasional tables and O/K outdoor pieces by Rodolfo Dordoni. Celebrating 50 years at Kartell saw Joe Colombo's 1960s '4801' armchair, originally released in wood, reincarnated in a highly polished thermoplastic. While the introduction of new accessories to the collection included the Abbracciaio candleholder by Starck,, lighting by Kartell newcomer Eugene Quiltett and Ferruccio Laviani as well as vases by Patricia Urquiola and Mario Bellini.

Blending fantasy and technology was Barber Osgerby’s Tobi-Ishi for B&B Italia. Presented at their Via Durini showroom, Tobi-Ishi’s cement-finished round table has an asymmetrical double base that appears to be sculpted from one block. The brand's return to the fairgrounds was dedicated to their expanding outdoor collection, with now iconic designs on show including Patricia Urquiola's Husk.

The boundaries of indoor and outdoor, living and sleeping spaces is disappearing. A theme highlighted at Flexform, with its embracing, open-concept stand design offering aptly named new designs like Goodplace, Day-Time and Evergreen designed by Antonio Citterio, generous seating with the added benefit of transformability, and modular options to create configurations for formal to casual gatherings, for lazing around or napping.

Already plush, the latest sofas and chairs take on exceptional comfort at Zanotta, accompanied by colourful, textural cushions from the latest textile research by Ludovica+Roberto Palomba. Standout pieces include their Altopiano (plateau) sofa that was long and low to the ground and shown counterpointed by a layered landscape of cushions in earthy oranges, reds and greys, with contrasting piping and geometric overstitching.

Moooi celebrated young designers with the first edition of the Frame Moooi Award, won by Dutchman Bertjan Pot with the whimsical Stairway to Heaven, a ladder clad with carnival lights. The somewhat light-hearted mood at Moooi brings joy in difficult times for the European design industry (see all the highlights in Virtually Moooi), from the installation of Erwin Olaf and Marcel Wanders’ conceptual ‘box’ for photography open to the public, to Studio Job’s fantasy-filled, Frankish-inspired collection, Altdeutsche Möbel, which hides a secret compartment in its Grandfather Clock.

This year there was no lack of new blood with fascinating student shows such as Paradise by the Royal Colleage of Art at the Lambrate Ventura district and Whatnot at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at Spazio Rossana Orlandi. While young Singaporean Studio Juju debut the curious Rabbit and Tortoise, a family of animal-shaped occasional tables at Living Divani.

Pieces from the 2012 collections will be available from Space AustraliaSingapore and Malaysia later this year.