They were showing off, for example, the skills of woodworkers and upholsterers in High Wycombe, the weaving mills of the North and Wales, the potteries of Stoke, and the glass-cutters of Cumbria.
But this was craft with attitude, sharpened to a cutting edge by clever, contemporary design.
Splashy artwork fabric with drops and drips covered an otherwise demure sofa by Clapham’s Russell Pinch. British designer Jo Sampson used Rebel as the name and theme for an elaborate range for Waterford, with glittering, cut-crystal studs and swirly glassware.
More City gent than punk rocker were elegant, handmade leather-covered tables by Bethan Gray, while Tom Raffield brought a van from Cornwall full of his wildly whimsical lampshades and their curlicues of steambent wood.
Thanks to the modern magic of digital printing, designers can put hours of patiently hand-done artwork on to cloth and paper, and still present the finest detail of line and colour — witness the Cuban fantasies of Julia Kouamo, with enchanting details sketched and photographed on a recent trip. Artist Ashley McDow, trading as Occipinti, spends hours painting flower designs for her printed wallpapers and fabrics.
The dripping heads of wisteria in full bloom are ravishing. Brendan Young and Vanessa Battaglia of Mineheart, based near Cambridge, splash surreal graphics over cushions, rugs and wallpaper.
One of the oldest crafts, but now come designer updates, albeit constrained by the formality of the process itself. Colours and textures are unexpectedly avant-garde. In the van is Tori Murphy who designs her cloth in Nottingham, gets it woven in Lancashire, and washed in Yorkshire.
Then back it comes to be stitched into furnishings. “The logistics are a challenge,” Murphy confides — just one of a new designer tribe that underpins talent with formidable business skills. More weavers with attitude include Clerkenwell’s Eleanor Pritchard, and Melin Tregwynt.
British garden birds were everywhere at Maison & Objet, thanks to the illustrators of fine-feathered patterns for textiles and china. In a Deptford studio, Lorna Syson puts finishing touches to the sketches she made on her Leicestershire honeymoon last year. Spot the finch, the great tit and a cheeky robin.
Ercol is a quintessentially British furniture brand but Paola Navone, Italian design doyenne, is its latest collaborator. The resulting “nest” sofa has the brand’s signature spindles in a pale, silky hardwood, with plump cushions and a profile more elaborate than usual. The frame owes its audacious curves to the steam-bending skills of the craftsmen in High Wycombe. Meanwhile, in lighting, Anglepoise showed sleek LED updates of its classic springs, and Innermost pushed the design boundaries.
Big French furniture brands previewed their spring collections. Ligne Roset, with London stores in Mortimer Street and Commercial Road, showed quiet, good-looking furniture, well-suited as investments for London’s small homes. Tapping into the vogue for mid-century modern were reissues of Pierre Paulin’s neat, good-looking Sixties and Seventies pieces. Table tops were wafer thin, with metal printed to look like marble. Rugs and lamps had those unexpected touches these leaders of Continental style do so splendidly.
FABRICS AND WALLPAPERS
Elsewhere in Paris, the big fabric houses staged Déco Off, a competing event with showrooms vying to out-display each other. Winner hands down was our own Cole & Son, turning an art gallery into a surreal bower for its new Whimsical collection.
Paris label Manuel Canovas gave us beautiful windows of indigo blue, and Harlequin took pattern to the tropics. Osborne & Little’s ocelot-print flock wallpaper is based on real skin from an antiques market, while Sanderson did roses with aplomb, bringing treasures from its archive up to date.