Has Italy's grim economic outlook and incessant political gridlock soured the mood of the global furniture industry? Or have designers simply given up on pushing the technological envelope in uncertain times? Visitors to Milan's Salone Internazionale del Mobile should be forgiven for believing either. Even the most contemporary brands—including Magis, Artek, and Vitra—have exhibited new works that use abundant examples of dark woods and somber shapes.

At American brand Emeco, Oki Sato of firm Nendo—typically known for happy-go-lucky shapes and copious amounts of white—introduced the SU collection of stools that use reclaimed and recycled materials, including oak seats carved by Amish craftsmen in Pennsylvania. A version shown here with black legs only adds to the serious tone.

For her first collaboration with Artek, designer Hella Jongerius, a trendsetter in color if there ever was one, brought two new darker tones to Alvar Aalto's classic 400 series armchair: walnut and charcoal stain. And sultry wool upholstery by Maharam drives home a deep sense of nostalgia and conservatism.

British duo Barber Osgerby launched several new products with Vitra, including the Wood bench and table. Round legs with tapered feet, held in place by black aluminum bridges, are paired with thin rectangular tops.

Marc Eggimann

Could anything be more retro or unfashionable than wrought iron? The Bouroullec brothers' Officina tables explore ways of reinventing the melancholic material. Slender, geometric legs help to nullify iron's dull and heavy reputation.

Even brands specializing in materials nowhere near the organic material found ways of getting into the action. Glas Italia turned to notorious prankster Ron Gilad to create Sublimazione, a series of glass tables with one version that uses a special printing process that imbues it with the color and grain of walnut for a faux bois–like effect.