Well shod in a sturdy pair of flatties and fortified by strong coffee I traipsed around the London Design Festival recently to see what’s new in the interiors and design world.
If there was an obvious theme throughout the exhibitions it was the emphasis on natural materials and, in some cases, new applications, with wood and textures very obviously the leit motif from Argentina to Norway.
The Argentinian pavilion at 100% Design in west London’s Olympia, showed traditional knits wrapped around lighting cables that shaded bare industrial-style light-bulbs like socks.
It was enough to bring out the health and safety commandos but I was assured these bulbs were cool in more ways than one and unlikely to overheat.
While there was a touch of the weird and wonderful about the Argentinian offering, it also showed the inventiveness and courage of an emerging design culture that respects its traditional craft roots.
Across town at Tent London, a show that just a few years ago was the upstart of the London Design Festival, the theme continued in what has now become the main festival venue to visit for anyone with an interest in design for the domestic environment.
Norway’s pavilion showed long-established traditional designs that have been updated, sitting alongside prototypes by up-and-coming designers.
Among the offerings was the Biri wall covering — an alternative to wallpaper, using lines of straw-like material to create a textured surface.
It’s not new in Norway, having been in production since 1938 — but is now launched internationally to appeal to anyone looking for a novel aesthetic and an eco friendly product.
Also at Tent, and one of the strongest exhibitors there, was the Irish presence entitled Ó, showing a range of designed and crafted products including lighting, furniture, textiles, glass and ceramics, with ‘live’ demonstrations by makers.
Gathering a crowd of visitors around them were Mayo-based Superfolk, working on the hand-made stage of their new folding camping stool in leather and oak.
For a small workshop operation, they produce a variety of products across different craft disciplines, all of which are material-led, rather than design-led.
These include linen tea towels with botanical prints that are not only practical but so visually striking they could double up as kitchen wall-hangings.
Not too far away from Tent, at the Shoreditch Design Triangle, Superfolk also presented work at the fresh and lightsome venue of Rochelle Canteen as part of another Irish design exhibition.
Entitled ‘The Souvenir Project’, it was commissioned by Irish Design 2015 and curated by Jonathan Legge of Makers & Brothers, a boutique-style website for contemporary Irish craft.
Nine objects were presented that reinvented the notion of an Irish souvenir and its associations with commercialism, leprachauns and shamrocks. Directing collaborations between designers and makers, Legge looked for products that would provoke recollection and memories.
Superfolk’s response was a series of patterns inspired by dry stone wall constructions which they printed on Irish linen, while animator Johnny Kelly took the classic Nicholas Mosse flora and fauna sponge-ware pattern and reinterpreted it to mark the outcome of our recent referendum on same sex marriage.
But one of the most appealing objects was a series of delicately crafted crystal vases by J Hill’s Standard which were re-cut with new graphic patterns developed by Scott Burnett of Studio AAD to represent the various words we have to describe rain,
Even the humble spud got a look in as an object called Lumpur, a selection of pieces finished in bronze by Bronze Art Foundry to a design by Makers & Brothers.
Named after a variety of potato that is hardly known in Ireland today, (and which was the staple variety in Ireland up to the Famine) — only one farm in the country grows it now — and it was accompanied by an essay from Darina Allen.
Undoubtedly, there was a strong sense of everything being Irish in a recognisable way, with a touch of nostalgia and insight into the Irish rural environment, but it was achieved in a fresh and modern way, and thankfully without any diddly-eye.
The London Design Festival may be over now for another year, but a substantial portion of the Irish presence, both Ó and The Souvenir Project, moved from there straight to the National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny where it opened yesterday. Showing until January 10, 2016 it’s a must event to visit.
* Next week: Interior trends for 2016.
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