AND so to London on a Ryanair flight that left when it said it would, and returned when it said it would, for Design Festival Week. Choosing from a sprawl of venues is difficult as everyone is now getting in on the act all over the capital, including the V&A museum.
This time round, the glories of 100% Design at the Olympia, which is a bewildering array of furniture, fixtures and fittings for the design trade, was eschewed in favour of the lesser known and more punter-friendly, Focus 17 at the Design Centre in Chelsea Harbour.
A shopping mall to all intents and purposes, close to the Thames at very lower Chelsea, it shelters a vast array of design houses under a convoluted layout that, heads up, needs a map.
Those familiar with the dripping condescension of the chi-chi shops in this country will be familiar with that particular brand of the high art offered in stores here — not all, but some — especially those with no price tags on their goods. But for the most part, people were kind, generous with their time and with their information.
In particular, the Samuel Heath store was a friendly, efficient showroom with a range of Birmingham-made glories of the bathroom world.
The design is head and shoulders above the ubiquitous Italian brands we get here and while expensive, I was assured by the store’s designer, (they’re not shop assistants here, but professionals), that taps, shower heads and more would last a lifetime and Samuel Heath will oversee design and installation for their products — just to see things through.
Yes, they are a luxury brand — a top of the range, Landmark collection fit-out for a shower in burnished brass, or gleaming chrome, (shown above), comes in just short of €3,500, but they are knockout in a subtle, Bauhaus style.
Also showing quality, restrained, but top class products was Italian brand Flexiform, whose showroom was not only welcoming, but again, informative. Prices are not cheap here, (what do you expect in Chelsea Harbour?), but the sheer size of their sofas and their monstrous beds was a wonder to behold. This is really quality, tasteful stuff, without a hint of fashion — this was style. (See above)
The number of shops selling fabric was bewildering, but in particular, the Style Library stood out, not just because of its bright, fresh and open showroom, but because of it’s range of quality fabrics.
It also does paint and paper by Sanderson,Anthology and more, but the Harlequin range of velvets caught my eye, as it was the first 80/20 matt cotton fabric that offered quality at a good price — around €60 per square metre — but in a delicious range of colours.
Also in fabrics, good old Roma couldn’t have been nicer and showcased a superb range of fabrics and upholstery from a mere €40 upwards in its showroom. Again, a word to the wise, know what you’re looking for before you go — as the range is huge and you could get lost for hours.
There were too many shops and stops to mention, shops with suede upholstery in rolls, pressed and stamped leather panels in medieval colours and lush, silks and velvets in you-don’t-want-to-know prices — a lot of oligarch fittings because this is London, after all.
Armani had to have the nicest store, however, a dark, welcoming cave with tactile, alluring furniture in room settings that draw you in and seduce. Again, the rule of the higher the price, the nicer the staff, applies and in this case, the designer at Armani couldn’t have been nicer. Helpfully showing off his wares, despite knowing there was no way on God’s earth we’d buy, it made for a very pleasant experience in this hushed, womb-like space.
A Murano lantern, in a glowing orange red was a beauty and had the magnetism of a winter’s fire — yours for just under €4,000. Oh and the lounge chairs — finished in leather — were masterpieces.
Many hours later, we emerged into the V&A to see their contribution to the festival, which we’ve covered here, and it was well worth the time. The V&A is free, and is a labyrinth, (again, use the map), but we got to see the Tapestry Room with that snake-like installation and the light show — very impressive.
Also had a quick run around the plywood exhibition, disapointingly small, but was rebuffed at the door to the Pink Floyd show, as you needed £20 tickets — so dedicated fans only at that price.
(By the way, the V&A has the best cakes, do stop off at the cafe on the ground floor, or sit outside in the plywood, skater-shelters, which are part of the ply show and are a real draw for adults and children alike.)
We also managed to cram in a visit to Skandium — the nicest store, with a huge range of affordable, Scandinavian design, on Marylebone High Street, along with the Conran shop, ditto, which is worth it alone for the people-watching. Scandium is a small shop with a huge range crammed in over two floors, so it’s worth your while having a good look around, or check out the website.
Conran, on the other hand, is a design wonderland, with everything from cute children’s toys, to boutique, artisan perfumes, (at very reasonable prices), to lights, to furniture and more. It doesn’t just stock Conran stuff, but is a carefully edited collection of design staples and design flourishes. Well worth a visit and the cafe on the ground floor is good too, and reasonable for London.
The front window was taken up with the work of Irish duo, Pinch, which not only showed the finished product, but showed the process too, including a cupboard of models, (above) partially constructed stools and the coolest, coffee table ever in the process of being sprayed.
Conran call this exhibition space, L’Abbatoir — which is shocking — but maybe that’s the idea. Either way, this was a clever show — illustrative of the designer’s work and methods, as befits Sir Terence’s modus operandi.
He’s still going strong into his nineties and supporting designers.