The only way to find out what’s happening in the world of interiors its to go to the shows, and Rose Martin visited London last week for the niche, Clerkenwell Design Week.
THE Salone del Mobile in Milan is the toppermost of the poppermost when it comes to interior design trends, but hey, that’s Milan — all fashion, food and fabulousness.
London, on the other hand, is just an hour away and manages to pull quite a few international names to its annual 100% Design week held each September in the city.
It has a cavernous main exhibition event at Olympia, with a bewildering offering from all over the world and a number of fringe events sprinkled over the city.
Last year, the Irish Craft Council wowed the crowds with it’s presentation at Tent, part of the fringe festival and it led to more exposure and a shop window display in one of the great interior stores, Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road.
Last week, a more niche and one could say, a more personal event, took place in north central London in the Borough of Clerkenwell.
Clerkenwell Design Week is a boutique effort, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in style and dynamism.
In an area bordering the chi-chi neighbourhood of Islington on one side, and a faintly grotty, inner city edginess on the other, this is a British Isles event for the most part, with young designers getting a leg-up in push and placement.
And the event is spread out over the borough, but every exhibition site is within walking distance of the other, with pavement markers along the way and pop up flags to indicate showcases or venues.
The showcase element involves established companies, craftspeople and designers opening their showrooms and studios to the trade and public — these festivals of design not only promulgate good design and allow students to see what’s out there and what’s achievable, they also connect makers with buyers — and buyers with sellers — muse meets money, so to speak.
And the low-key nature, the ease and accessibility of a little village is a great way to highlight designers’ work — it prompts the response, why can’t we have this here?
The larger share of funding, it would appear, goes into art and crafts, but there’s a whole world of manufacturing out there with good quality design involved and there is the potential for Ireland to take a slice of this cake.
Even without a strong niche manufacturing design industry, there’s still an argument to be made for hosting these events, especially in a venue say, like Cork, where attendees could walk from venue to venue with ease, something not readily available in other cities.
But that’s by the by, what Clerkenwell offers too is the chance to be in the same room, as say, Tom Dixon, and for the big name makers to get down with the rest of us and see the reaction to their wares.
Dixon could have picked any venue to launch his new lighting design series and interior accessories — he’s more Salone del Mobile in terms of his international rep, but he also chose St James’ Church in Clerkenwell to show off his magnificent, glowing orbs of amber and space age perforations of steel, rather than just an international audience.
The chandeliers and all of the other accessories highlighted at the church will be donated to it church afterwards, as will the wonderful carpet in the sanctuary designed by Dixon where he held, for want of a better word, an audience with his admirers last week.
Visitors were shooed into his presence by a welcoming and gushing PR — “Yes, do come in — feel free — everything here is being donated to the church by Tom at the end of the show.”
Where would you get it? (Tom, by the way, is devilishly handsome and very relaxed about the whole thing, but he was busy being interviewed by someone straight out of The Devil Wears Prada casting, so the Irish Examiner moved on.)
Moved on to underneath the church, (home to the Smithfield Martyrs, for history heads) and into the basement area for ‘Collection’ another exhibition where high-end makers and established designers plied their wares.
Amongst them was ‘Pluck’, a kitchen design company based in Brixton, who has taken the hipster, ply kitchen to quality, aesthetic heights by collating earthy colours with wooden veneering — a simple, but soft aesthetic that’s a world away from the clinical Italian and German high spec models, but doesn’t fall into the twee, country trap, either.
In the units I viewed, George and Leila showed me their Artichoke blend, (look the colour combos up on their website, gorgeous; www. pluck.kitchen/palette/) and the cabinets include a plaster pink interior. Square finger holes on the sweet chestnut door panels, likewise, had a pink veneer.
Real quality joinery and great attention to detail — for the show they used a white-painted, steel frame as shelving units which they filled with soft-hued units to displa their overall theme.
Elsewhere at Collection was VG&P, a highly regarded design team, (Very Good & Proper; www.verygoodandproper.co.uk) whose work is beautiful, clever, tactile, but very fit for purpose.
This group of designers creates a loose assembly of chairs, storage units, tables and door hooks, (they have to be seen to be believed, so look ’em up) and are exactly the kind of pupils an industrial design school would boast of having created.
VG&P’s work is now everywhere, including a huge commission for Facebooks’ HQ in California, among others.
I’d seen really cool chairs in a restaurant the night before, (The Residence Southwark, btw, very good burgers) and lo ,here they were at VG&P.
Having come from Carl J Hansen, (more of which later), I sat on the Canteen chairs and was confirmed in my initial opinion, great design — and really comfortable.
But sadly, not cheap at €320 or so a piece. Tables, shelving, storage, stools, you’ll find the lot online.
And back to Hansen. The Wishbone chair, which has been much copied and features heavily in
architectural interiors in this country, was designed by Hans J Wegner and made by Hansen.
As part of the show the company allowed the public over its three floors of handsomely appointed show rooms in Bowling Green Lane, a stroll from St James’ Church, (and a couple of doors down from Zaha Hadid’s offices — in fact, this area is architect-central).
The design of the shop is bare brick walls, black staircase and black sockets and exposed ducting — nice.
The furniture is eye-wateringly expensive and shown in the best light and best combinations, but in a lot of cases, as in the Wishbone, Elbow, and CH88, it’s just plain uncomfortable.
Honestly, I tried.
I love the look of the Wishbone and had thought the knock-offs were the problem — but no, it appears the Danish design isn’t quite the fit for more ample Irish buyers.
Did they invent ‘svelte’ too? Anyway, the pared back aesthetic is often that, pared-back.
Another classic design company was also on show at #CDW, Thonet — the German brand famous for the classic, curved bentwood chair from the last two centuries, who’ve moved onto a much higher plane.
On show in the main arena was a very seventies set of hardwood furniture with the softest and most divine matt leather finish — this was a standout piece, beautifully made and including an elegant rocker too ( www.thonet.de).
Other main manufacturers at Design Fields, (the main marquee which was sponsored by Renault and featured prototype cars on show) were Lammhults, the Swedish brand founded in 1945 and very much part of the modernist movement.
And while its offering is very much aimed at office and large scale buyers, the design is flawless too.
Take the Attach table, my choice for a contemporary and very practical dining table.
Basically, it’s the wood or veneer of your choice on top followed by four legs below — so far, all very straightforward.
But this design sails over regular table drawbacks; firstly the legs clip on and clip off, with flexible feet, (orange or black) which use gravity to position the table, even on uneven surfaces.
Secondly, you can have any length you want, with no apron — so no banging thighs or knees and thirdly, the finish is superb.
Fourthly, the legs are made from recycled aluminium and best of all, as a big manufacturer, its prices are more in line with those of us who live in the real world.
You can mix and match from a range of finishes which include direct laminate, ash veneer in various colours and linoleum ( www.lammhults.se).
The most stimulating and dare I say it, exciting part of #CDW was Detail — the up and comings show held in an old boys’ prison. Sounds wierd, right?
But the various cells held individual designers and it worked really well, especially for the lighting creators, who had the perfect atmosphere in which to display.
Top of these were Birmingham-based, Jam Jar lights who make and manufacture locally, according to Katie Green, one of the group of designers leading this young company.
The rough luxe industrial theme is their playground, but mixed with the history of the Black country, it kind of chimes — a resurgence in British skills and all that.
They do made-to-order ceiling and pendant lamps, with fittings made locally and a cool range of Fairground lights that can be custom made.
The large, rusted steel types are fairly priced and large copper pendants are around €250, which compares well with High Street prices for what’s effectively a craft product.
They’re young and enthusiastic (check them out on www.jamjarlights.com).
Next up was Leiz — a knitwear company led by Latvian-English designer, Ilze Godlevskis who creates luxurious knitwear in funky ways.
She has a neat and outrageous line in chair jumpers — or cush-ons as she calls them — knitwear to pop on a chair which turn it into an art installation, Not cheap at £450, but then the fabric is alpaca, cotton/silk, cashmere, lurex, angora — completely innovative.
Perhaps my standout object of desire was the Parabol table.
This perfectly symmetrical design by Composition is a coffee table, plain and simple — but it’s not.
It took quite a few years, initially with a wooden prototype, to get the reversible curve just right and now it’s gone into production, but in a craft-based way.
On a Corian base and hand finished with egg-shaped glass which appears to float on top, this is a design beauty and the launch price at #CDW was £1,800 or around €2,300.
Designer and architect, Jonathan Woodcock says it’s available in white at the moment, but they are working on a range of colours for future roll out.
Design Bros were going great guns at Detail too, with its multi-functional, butler’s tray which doubles as a tray, table, side table — whatever.
Hand-crafted and finished in veneered wood, with solid base, the butler’s table and other side tables show great attention to detail. It’s study lamp is a beauty ( www.designbros.co.uk ).
Also standing out above the crowd was Frances Bradley’s work — she trained as an environmentalist but her love of trees saw her turn to joinery instead.
She uses locally sourced timber for magnificent, bookended tables and benches with resin inserts and nothing is wasted.
All of the timber comes from carefully managed estates in her area.
In fact, Bradley’s one of a handful of people to get the tip-off when a great tree is felled and ready for milling — so she can give the provenance of every piece, a bit like Bunbury does here ( www.francesbradley.net ).
And last but not least of my Design Week picks is the work of Rebecca Mason, who combines art with interiors and I’d happily pay the €3,300 to have her “What?” sculpture on my wall. If I had it.
The “What?” is in pink neon against lines of text on a blackboard background.
The first line begins: “I don’t tell lies, I just delay the truth….”. Rebecca told me it was a line her ex-boyfriend used — we had a good laugh. Look her up — she’s an original — on www.RebeccaMasonArt.com.
Sore of foot, but brimful of ideas, I returned on one of the final City Jet flights of of Cork, (what a shame it’s going).
I will be returning to Clerkenwell Design Week and I’d advise anyone with an interest to do the same. Late May, look it up.
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