Since its inception three years ago, Clerkenwell Design Week has been more than a commercial launch pad for big companies. Some of the 50 firms introducing new products this year are big players — but there is much more on offer.
This year, Draisci Studio has collaborated with umbrella maker Fulton to produce a field of red and pink “poppies” — actually suspended umbrellas — in St James Church garden, in Clerkenwell Green.
Aberrant Architecture, which will help represent British architecture at the Venice Biennale this summer, has created The Small Coal Man’s Travelling Theatre, based on the career of Thomas Britton (1644-1714), a Clerkenwell resident.
In 1678, Britton, a travelling charcoal salesman, founded a ramshackle musical club above his coal shed. The club attracted a diverse audience and a wide range of musicians — from amateurs giving their first public performances to concerts from the most celebrated musicians of the day, including George Frideric Handel.
The tiny 2012 theatre will host daily free performances during the festival.
Most of the shows are found in two of Clerkenwell’s historic buildings — the Farmiloe Building, a former Victorian lead and glass merchants warehouse, and the House of Detention, once a subterranean Victorian prison.
But a new venue this year is the 12th century crypt and garden of the Order of St John’s Priory.
More than 40 showrooms will be open to the public.
Visitors can take a break at Gen Lane, a pop-up gin bar in the Farmiloe Building, designed by Alexander Hills and Mathew Freeman, as a “new generation Gin Lane” in homage to Hogarth’s famous etching of 1751, or sit under the lights of Ross Lovegrove’s Solar Tree — a 20ft solar-powered street lamp that looks like grass stems on steroids, topped with giant shower heads. Solar energy is accumulated through photovoltaic cells in the “heads” and stored in integrated batteries.
Four of the 10 “heads” and an additional 10 “blades of grass” light up the street below and Lovegrove hopes, eventually, to offer integral free charging points for phones and laptops. Lovegrove persuaded Italian lighting specialist Artemide to sponsor his idea for the light and, as a result, they will remain in place through the Olympics.
Lighting, both as installations and as commercial projects, features widely. Fay McCaul has been developing her knitted lights. Doing the Light Fantastic is a range of bespoke lights that combine fibre optics with iridescent acrylic, using traditional knitting techniques to make light panels as well as a room divider that changes colour with the shifting light.
BRITISH BY DESIGN
There are a significant number of British designers and manufacturers, such as Another Country, Assembly Room, Bark Furniture, Dare Studio, deadgood, the new brand G&T by Bethan Gray, GuyandBrown, London manufacturer Hitch Mylius, Imogen Heath, Jennifer Newman, Liam Treanor, Ochre, the Scottish collective Textiles Scotland, Whetstone Oak and Young & Norgate.
Many of them are working with wood, producing a range of functional, elegant designs, often with a mid-century modern influence. For real mid-century modern aficionados, Race Furniture is re-launching its steel, wood and fabric 1948 Race Rocker, as well as its 1951 steel and ply Roebuck Chair.
Family-run Dare Studio is showing new dining, seating and cabinet designs, including the Spline Chair, designed not to have a standard leg at each corner. The chair comes in American black walnut or white oak (the mid-century influence is clear).
Then there are Bethan Gray’s new pieces for G&T, with an emphasis on combinations of natural materials. Her Carve table, based on the traditional three-legged cricket table, found throughout mining villages in Wales as a solution to uneven slate floors, uses a combination of marble and wood; her Brogue table uses hand-stitched detailing — like the brogue on shoes — on the table’s leather top.
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
There is also a good showing of non-British companies and designers. A London-based young French award- winning designer, Marie Dessuant, specialising in space saving, is launching her Bay Collection, as well as showing her Etagère Vide-poche — compact “shelf furniture” designed for hallways for Ligne Roset.
Arthur Analts, Latvia’s official Best New Designer, also looks at products for small spaces. He is launching his Led Zeppelin ladder and WOW powder-coated aluminium shelf.
With so much to see, don’t forget to head to the new Goldsmiths’ Centre Bench café and restaurant in Britton Street for a break.
* Clerkenwell Design Week, despite its name, runs only from May 22 to 24. Visit clerkenwelldesignweek.com for more information.