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Mapping Design: The London Design Festival 2016
Despite the recent Brexit vote, the U.K. has been the place to be this fall. Design professionals and tourists came to see the inaugural London Design Biennale (Sept. 7-27), an international survey titled “Utopia by Design,” held at Somerset House. The Biennale, which presented 37 international design interventions exploring ideas surrounding sustainability, migration, energy, and social equality, was staged to coincide with the London Design Festival (Sept. 17-25), now in it’s 14th year. The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum represented the U.S. with a replica of the New York museum’s “Immersion Room”—an interactive installation highlighting digitized wallpapers from the museum’s vast collection.
Originally conceived as a smaller cluster of fairs, the festival now encompasses a total of 400 events spread throughout Clerkenwell, Islington, Shoreditch Design Triangle, Bankside, Chelsea, Brompton, and Brixton, the newest area on the design map. Historic landmarks including the Victoria & Albert Museum, which functioned as the festival’s unofficial hub, hosted site-specific projects including Mathieu Lehanneur’s “Liquid Marble,” “Foil” by Benjamin Hubert of Layer, and Glithero’s “The Green Room.” Across town at Sir John Soane’s Museum, an exhibition titled “Below Stairs” celebrated the Georgian home’s newly restored Regency kitchen while featuring works by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, Jasper Morrison, Martino Gamper, and Paul Cocksedge, all emphasizing culinary life.
The latest iteration of Design Junction, another burgeoning fair relocated to Central Saint Martin’s Granary Square, has been incorporated into the re-envisioned area of King’s Cross. Across town in Central London, the Old Truman Brewery was teeming with British manufacturers in what was formerly Tent London, a smaller fair which launched 10 years ago. It is now re-branded as The London Design Fair, a four-day industry event gathering 500 exhibitors including independent designers and international pavilions like 100% Norway, while highlighting the country’s output of modern British art, design, and crafts.
At Design Centre Chelsea Harbour, Focus/16 highlighted the building’s top interior showrooms while Decorex International, located in the outskirts in bucolic Syon Park, is the U.K.’s premier interior design show, now in its 39th year. More than 400 exhibitors featured new collections of fabrics and furniture that appeal to the professional decorator and design trade as well. Smaller presentations showcasing contemporary craft included Future Heritage and The New Craftsmen, also demonstrating maker skills at Burberry Makers House exhibition in town.
The Brompton Design District celebrated a decade of design, highlighting exhibitions while offering up cocktails concocted by designers; Martino Gamper’s “Gingerini,” for example, was a mixture of ginger root, strawberries, champagne, and ice.
Sixties-inspired textiles, including painterly and abstract expressionist patterns, were some of the trends spotted in showrooms with wallpaper taking centerstage. British-born photographer-turned-textile-designer Martyn Thompson showcased Rock Pool, his newest collection of water-inspired motifs woven in cotton on a jacquard loom.
And while the fairs offered something for every taste, several independent exhibitors stood out. In Shoreditch, local designers including Lee Broom at Electra House had the public lining up to see Opticality, while Dutch transplant Tord Boontje curated Electro Craft, presenting 30 kinetic works outlining the connection between technology and the creative’s fascination with craft. Around the corner, Sheridan Coakley, owner of SCP, a veteran British furnishings manufacturer and retailer, presented a mix of U.K. designers and Mexican craft alongside work by Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek.
Read on for more highlights from the fairs and news around London town.
Blackpop | Homage Collection
Blackpop, a new independent producer of wallpaper, fabrics, and furnishings, uses digital technology to produce its range of textiles specified for commercial and residential projects. Artist Maxine Hall launched the brand in 2013, and her newest collection Homage is inspired by the Abstract Expressionist art movement of the 1940s and 50s. Selections include Vanguard wallpaper and Vanguard Vibe velvet fabric (shown).
Photograph courtesy of Blackpop
Retailer David Alhadeff represents the British furniture company Pinch—created by the husband and wife team Russell Pinch and Oona Bannon—at his store Future Perfect in New York. The two parties continue to collaborate and have now brought Martyn Thompson Studio’s Accidental Expressionist Collection of fabrics into the mix. Thompson’s fabrics can now be specified on Pinch’s newest pieces, the Pendel Sofa and Leta Chaise.
Photograph courtesy of Pinch
Timorous Beasties | Kaleido
Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, colleagues who met while studying textile design at Glasgow School of Art, founded the Scottish company Timorous Beasties in 1990. The pair has produced whimsical patterns of fabric and wallpaper, all considered unique works of art, including Kaleido Splatt, now available in wallpaper.
Photograph courtesy of Timorous Beasties
The wallpaper consortium Commonroom, launched by Kate Hawkins and Sarah McClean, were newbies to Decorex this year. Starting in 2014, the women have commissioned a range of talents to create original wallpaper designs. This year the duo behind The Grantchester Pottery—inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and the crosshatch patterns of Jasper Johns—created a new blue and black wallpaper called Stony Point.
Photography by Lou Liddiard-Imeson
EK Colours founder, ceramicist, and Central St. Martin’s grad Esther Khang created a new range of hand-finished ceramic tiles available in letters of the alphabet in a fun, historically inspired font that are a perfect fit for kitchens or hospitality projects.
Photography courtesy of EK Colours
Lee broom | Opticality
Opticality is Lee Broom’s experiential and experimental installation utilizing wall-to-wall mirrors juxtaposed with dozens of his monochrome Optical Floor Lamps. The effect was dizzying yet mod.
Photograph by Luke Hayes
Burberry, the fashion brand known for its riffs on tartan and tailoring, relocated its headquarters this year. An exhibition called Makers House opened following Burberry’s September fashion show, highlighting demonstrations of Old World techniques in partnership with The New Craftsmen, a collective highlighting British craft. The presentation was staged on two floors: upstairs showcased the collections for Spring/Summer 2017 while the downstairs presented bookbinding, stitching, sculpting, silk-screening, passementerie, and calligraphy, along with the handiwork of Aimee Betts, a mixed-media designer showcasing traditional embroidery techniques that bring to them the vanguard of contemporary design.
Photograph courtesy of Burberry
Cole & Son debuted a collection of Damask wallpapers with their interpretation of historical and ornamental themes featuring Pushkin, offered
in colorful combinations like emerald and lime.
Photograph courtesy of Cole & Son
If you’re craving a nip, a toot, a tot, a half, or a wee one, then look no further. New York-based designer Joe Doucet created a new collection of lead-free clear crystal whiskey decanters called Alba, masterfully handcrafted by the Istanbul-based Nude Glass.
Photograph courtesy of Nude Glass
Aptly named Smile, the cross-laminated sculpture in the courtyard of the Chelsea College of Art was created by architect Alison Brooks in honor of the festival. Constructed of American tulipwood in the form of a cantilevered arc, the windows offer vistas at either end. Brook’s firm partnered with the American Hardwood Export Council and ARUP, the British-based engineering company, on the piece.
Photograph courtesy of London Design Festival