London Design Festival Wrap
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London Design Festival Wrap
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The London Design Festival has, since its inaugural edition in 2003, become one of the world’s most important annual design events. It sprawls – like London – over a vast area, encompassing everything from trade fairs to the launch of new collections to site-specific installations. But whether giving into the temptation to stroke the velvet-like flocked covering of Fredrikson Stallard’s ‘Is-it-a-sofa-or-is-it-a-geological-specimen-plucked-from-Mars?’ Species at the Momentum show held at their theatrical Holborn headquarters, or sampling the handmade Pierre Marcolini chocolates at Tom Dixon’s Multiplex shop in the Old Selfridges Hotel (which continues until the 15th October) it was clear that the best of this year’s edition was united by an emphasis on craft, materials, and the unique versus the mass produced.

 

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A coat sculpture from Faye Toogood’s The Cloakroom
Courtesy of London Design Festival
 

“The more virtual we are, the more we crave physical,” explained Ilse Crawford, who opened the seminar programme at 100% Design at Olympia with a talk on design that engages with the senses, emphasising the importance of good materiality. At Decorex in the grounds of Syon Park, the designer-maker Nic Webb’s stand stood at the centre of the fair, showing his hand-carved bowls, in woods ranging from cedar to yew, sycamore to lime, as well as the tools that he uses, while De Gournay devoted a second stand to demonstrating how their exquisite hand-painted Chinoiserie wall coverings are made. The VIP room, curated by The New Craftsmen, was transformed into a creative platform for the skills, materials and processes that make up craft across the British Isles, and included lighting from hand-weaver Catarina Riccabona and potter Akiko Hirai, as well a demonstration of basket weaving by master basket maker Hilary Burns. At Tent London in Brick Lane, Mourne Textiles, which for three generations have produced the mid-century visions of the Norwegian designer Gerd Hay-Edie, imported a loom for master weaver Karen Hay-Edie, daughter of Gerd, to work on. And even the large-scale installation on Greenwich Pensinsula, A Bullet From A Shooting Star by Alex Chinneck (which he hopes is staying in place “for at least the next year”) was supported by a workshop at which one could make one’s own pylon. (Incidentally the Peninsula, once home to the largest oil and gas works in Europe, is being heralded as London’s latest luxury residential area: Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio has designed a limited number of apartments - employing local companies and craftsmen wherever possible.) 

Crawford explained her devotion to material as being because “the quickest way to the heart is through the senses” and installations at LDF’s foremost hubs affirmed this. At the Victoria & Albert Museum, Curiosity Cloud by the Austrian duo Mischer’Traxler for Champagne house Perrier-Jouët suspended a number of hand-blown glass globes within the Norfolk House Music Room. Each contained a hand-fabricated insect, which hummed and batted against the glass, making the piece entirely fitting of its surrounds – and totally mesmerising. Also at the V&A Faye Toogood’s The Cloakroom invited us to ‘check out’ one of the compressed-foam coats – a wearable sculpture – and, with the aid of a map, embark on a voyage of discovery. For 10 sculptures of coats, each manufactured in a different material, from studded rubber to marble, were hidden amongst the museum’s own exceptional collection of art, craft and design.

 
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Alex Rasmussen’s The Wave
Courtesy of London Design Festival

Toogood was also one of the ten designers showing in Somerset House’s West Wing: here she created The Drawing Room, in which pieces from her Roly Poly furniture collection were joined by cardboard origami chickens and ducks, and the surrounds were charcoaled onto plastic sheeting – the overall effect one of a derelict country house. This was the neo-classical building’s first hosting of LDF ahead of the first ever London Design Biennale, due to take place there in September 2016, with 10 designers each given a room. They included Arik Levy, whose FractalCloudWarm light sculpture, due to its pulse width modulation, provided a challenge to the ubiquitous Instagrammers keen to capture its beauty. Alex Rasmussen’s The Wave was made using over seven hundred anodized aluminium panels, invisibly fastened to form a structural swell, and each reflecting the blue crystalline shades of the Pacific (the piece was inspired by one of Rasmussen’s favourite surf spots in Santa Barbara). One was invited to walk upon it: a transporting experience, despite the greyness of the rain-spilling London skies outside.

Meanwhile Somerset House’s Embankment Galleries, supported by Gallery FUMI, showed a work by Max Lamb (who had a significant presence at this year’s LDF: he showed Scrap Poly at Decorex - an ongoing collection of furniture created from offcuts of expanded polystyrene coated in rainbow-hued rubber – and his fabricated marble, Marmoreal, for dzek was exhibited in a garage in South Kensington.)  My Grandfather’s Tree tells the story of a 187-year old ash, once located on Lamb’s grandfather’s Yorkshire Wolds farm, which had to be felled as it started to rot. “I decided I wanted my Grandfather’s tree to survive beyond its rooted life, to offer the ash an afterlife and celebrate the nature of the material within.” The tree has been cut into 131 logs, which in turn have been sanded, oiled and numbered based on what part of the tree they came from. Lamb has suggested that they could be stools, tables or simply decorative objects with which one can bring a little bit of nature into the home, “and leave as much to the voice of the material as possible”.

It wouldn’t be too great a stretch to link that last comment to the great 20th century furniture designer Robin Day’s love of wood – although best known for his Polypropylene stacking chair, Day grew up among the beech woods and timber furniture factories of High Wycombe, and his work in wood was explored in a fascinating exhibition back at the V&A which included objects he had made for the family home, that, unlike the Polyprop Chair, were never mass produced. We have a history of great design in this country, and of great innovation. Going forward, Mark Henderson, Co-Founder and CEO of The New Craftsmen posed the question at a Decorex seminar on the future of craft: “We were the first country into the industrial revolution – will we be the first country out of it?” And it seems possible. Certainly the qualities that London and her designers espouse – those of craft, materiality, the unique versus the mass produced – are the very same qualities that we love and look for at Esensual Living.

 

 

 

 

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De Gournay’s demonstration of hand-painted Chinoiserie wall coverings at Decorex
Courtesy of Decorex
 

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