A craft village to its roots, Clerkenwell is steeped in manufacturing history. Once famous for clock making, it is still home to ancient but thriving crafts, from bookbinding to jewellery making. And this is one part of central London that remains skyscraper free.
Clerkenwell’s renaissance has been rapid, going from a City backwater to a bustling mix of creative media studios, more than 200 architecture practices and 80-plus hip furniture shops. Now it hosts one of London’s most vibrant design festivals, Clerkenwell Design Week, May 24-26.
This annual jamboree brims with exhibitions, workshops and stimulating talks, many held in atmospheric, historic buildings. Now in its seventh year it’s booming, with eight key venues compared with four last year.
Yet contained within two-and-a-half square miles, it’s easy to stroll from venue to venue — each marked by an unmissable shocking pink banner — along a gently meandering north-south route. All in all, it’s a great opportunity to soak up cutting-edge trends, not to mention early summer vibes — and snap up bargains.
WHERE TO START
Going from north to south, a great place to begin is Italian brand Moroso’s Rosebery Avenue showroom, which is showcasing renowned architect Daniel Libeskind’s Gemma seating range. Like his buildings, these sofas and chairs are angular — but superbly comfortable.
Moving south, beyond buzzy Exmouth Market is new venue Design Fields. Here’s proof that Clerkenwell Design Week has a seasonal element — it usually includes great outdoor furniture ideas. Thonet will show its Bauhaus-era furniture adapted for outdoor use, with mesh upholstery in 12 new zingy colours. And Dedon will display its stylish Ahnda chairs with a weatherproof seat mimicking rattan in a terracotta shade — terracotta and rattan are both thoroughly on trend.
A bit further south is Platform, a show for up-and-coming designers in The House of Detention, once the vaults of a Victorian prison. Artist and sign painter Archie Proudfoot will be festooning cell walls with new text-based pieces in glinting gold, glass and steel. Zita Menyhart Studio will show its stackable, boldly sculptural containers, while Royal College of Art graduates Yen Chen and Ya Wen will present their metallic and turquoise Jesmonite bowls, inspired by ancient ceramics.
Additions, a pavilion venue in St James’s Church garden, will spotlight Taz Pollard’s ceramic vases in neon-bright hues and Future Days’ multifaceted vases in shrill pastels inspired by Eighties design movement Memphis — a major influence on young designers. And there’s more funky outdoor furniture here in the form of Loll Designs’ Lollygagger chair, complete with a specially commissioned cushion in a lush leaf print by Ella Doran.
GO TO CHURCH
Tom Dixon’s theatrical installation will be inside the church itself, including lights with a richly iridescent surface. In the crypt is the venue, British Collection. Highlights include Hand & Eye Studio’s terracotta pendant lights and Very Good and Proper’s Canteen Utility chair — a playful take on the severe, straight-backed school chair, jazzed up by its frame in cheerful pastels.
At the Detail show, bordering Clerkenwell Road, you can see Ptolemy Mann’s ikat-pattern rugs that audaciously team shades such as grass green with burnt orange. On show at nearby Craft Central gallery are Helen Yardley’s similarly abstract rugs with leaf motifs in sizzling oranges and muted mauves. Not far from here at the new showroom of BD Barcelona Design, is a chance to see the Campana Brothers’ new fish tank-like sideboards, punctuated with coloured glass.
BROWSE FOR A ONE-OFF
At the southern end of St John Street is Icon’s House of Culture, a show in the nightclub Fabric, which was formerly cold stores for Smithfield Meat Market. Dare Studio will show its wooden cabinets screenprinted by hip design duo Eley Kishimoto, while Ebb & Flow will showcase its decorative crystal lighting.
Bargain hunters can go slightly off-piste to Creative Clerkenwell, a pop-up shop in Leather Lane selling everything from artworks to printed textiles. These include Charis Tsang’s graphic linocut prints of such iconic London landmarks as Art Deco Florin Court in Smithfield, from £30, and artist Luke Adam Hawker’s limited-edition prints, from £50. So popular are his drawings of houses bearing blue plaques that there’s a waiting list of people wanting to commission them. Given Clerkenwell’s fascinating history, he’s surely already sketched one locally.