Friday, 30 September 2011

That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up…*

Well, it was all worth it – the pain, the sorrow, the adulation, the inspiration, the dehydration - the London Design Festival didn’t disappoint at all! Over the course of a few action packed days I managed to drag myself around the majority of the main shows and design trails and even managed to attend a few of the key parties where, as I predicted, a serious amount of champagne and pretty little calorific canapés were consumed! This week it’s back to reality with a dirty great big sobering bang… actually, if I’m being honest, a bit of normality and routine this week is good – I can get back to focusing on all projects I have on the go at the moment… and I can also stop feeling guilty about outsourcing my puppy to other people for the best part of an entire week (whilst hubby was enjoying himself on his ‘business trip’ to NY).

Reflecting on the week, one of the things I realised that I absolutely love about the design festival is that it genuinely offers ‘up and coming’ product designers the opportunity to showcase their wares on a relatively big stage (i.e. London)… Three of my favourite finds from the festival were all from new designers who haven’t yet made it big, but I am absolutely certain are on the road to huge success. It’s also worth bearing in mind at this point in the blog that a number of my closest friends are either pregnant or have just had a visit from the stork (like the tooth fairy, but certain to cost you more in the long term) – as consequence, I seem to have become preoccupied by children… not a bad thing, as I discovered a number of absolutely adorable pieces of craftsmanship and design…

1) My ultimate, super, absolute favourite is this chair that doubles as both a traditional rocking chair and a horse rocker – I just think that it is totally adorable, but also quite contemporary…

(Image from Westergaard Design)

2) Continuing on the theme of horses and horsiness (if that is in fact a word), I would like to move on to the subject of cows… I was also drawn to this high chair for toddlers - it allows little ones to get up and down from the table using the set of stairs which are built into the seat (perhaps even on occasion without adult supervision, as there are very artistically designed Health and Safety compliant handrails, or horns as we like to call them in ‘cow speak’). This design immediately provides children with a greater degree of independence at the dinner table (or ‘freedom’ as Mel Gibson would have put it in Braveheart, which also features Scottish cows) - pure genius or, in fact, pure disaster depending on the parent and/or the child and/or what they are actually eating at the time…

(Image from Tamasine Osher Design)

3) Finally, and on a more serious note, I also found this kneeling stool and desk for kids – it naturally encourages them to sit in a neutral posture (which has been scientifically proven by scientists to be critical during the early years of spinal development). With conventional seating and desks, children tend to "hunch" up, putting considerable strain on their neck, shoulders, upper and lower spine. They also do an adult version, which unsurprisingly is considerably bigger and more robust, but also very comfortable

(Image from ubiquity design studio)

Three striking pieces of product design that are, rather aptly, in their infancy. I know they already do an adult version of the spine friendly desk and chair, but I quite fancy an adult version of the cow… don’t you?

*Walt Disney

Friday, 23 September 2011

…and you thought festival season was over…

Very excited… It’s arrived… After weeks of anticipation, sleepless nights, impatiently counting the hours, veterinary strength tranquilizers to keep me calm, London Design Festival is finally upon us. I may be exaggerating my excitement levels a bit (or a lot actually, as I am horrendously busy at the moment), but let’s not underestimate what this is – a celebration of the best of the best in the industry and an opportunity for designers to run maniacally around large open spaces filled with temporary stands, drink gallons of fizz and consume far too many canapés. This week is one of my favorites of the entire year and, as a consequence, I turned down a trip to New York, a break in the Alps and a trip to Monaco (I find that holiday opportunities are a bit like buses) so that I could be here in London – so, if you read between the lines, what I am really saying is… it better be bloody good!

The annual festival includes over 250 events and activities and covers a variety of different design disciplines. I thought that you might be interested to learn about some of the main events (most are on through this weekend), as many of them are open to the general public on selected days.

1) Tent London 

For me Tent London is mainly about up and coming designers who are exhibiting their prototype interior products with the aim of being spotted and to get their work into the mainstream. I really love this event as you get to see what ‘new blood’ coming into the design world are thinking – really inspirational. This is the exhibition for the latest contemporary interior products, including; furniture, lighting, ceramics, textiles, materials and accessories. With more than 200 international exhibitors and over 12,000 trade visitors it’s also quite a big event.
When: 22-25 September 
Where: Old Truman Brewery (E1)
Entry: £10 admission fee

2) Shoreditch Design Triangle

To celebrate this year's London Design Festival, 21 shops and galleries in and around the Shoreditch Triangle have joined forces to bring you a week of special design events. Starting on Saturday 18th September, each location will be holding events to launch individual exhibitions and to celebrate and showcase exciting new work.

I love this aspect of the week… wandering around the back streets of Shoreditch and stumbling across the most amazing galleries that the just popped up for the duration of the festival – truly inspirational.

When: Starting 18th September
Where: Shoreditch
Entry: Free

3) Origin: The Contemporary Craft Fair

This is one of my favorite events during the festival and it is where I usually manage to purchase the majority of the presents I need for party season (see my blog from last week)…

This is the show for anyone interested in contemporary craft. Products range from furniture and interior accessories to fashion accessories and jewellery. It’s also great for buying original handmade items directly from the maker.

When: 22-28 September
Where: Old Spitalfields Market
Entry: £10 for a single day ticket, £15 for a multi day ticket

4) 100% Design

This is one of the biggest events during the festival with over 21,000 trade visitors. The focus is contemporary interior design, it includes three exhibitions under one roof: 100% Design (interiors), 100% Materials (surfaces) and 100% Futures (emerging talent).

When: 22-25 September (Sunday 25th General Public)
Where: Earls Court
Entry: Tickets can be purchased in advance online for £15 or register on the door for £20

5) Decorex International

The running theme at Decorex this year is ‘Cherished Places’. This is an exhibition of interior design products for both professional interior designers and interior design retailers.

When: 25-28 September
Where: Royal Hospital Chelsea
Entry: Only Trade Visitors

6) Design Junction 

Bringing together a stellar line-up of leading UK and international lighting and furniture brands, this event is set to excite, inspire and challenge anyone with a passion for design.

When: 22-26 September 2010 from 11am to 6pm
Where: Victoria House Basement, 37-63 Southampton Row, WC1B 4DA
Entry: Free

7) The Dock 

Last year the Veuve Clicquot party hosted by Tom Dixon at the Dock was the pickled liver of Design Week. Set on an industrial waterside estate, The Dock, hosted by Tom Dixon and sponsored by Derwent London is rapidly turning into an epicenter for design innovation. During the festival visitors can expect indoor, outdoor, food and water-based installations, exhibitions and on-the-spot workshops and demonstrations. There are over 25 exhibitors including; Aston Martin, Moooi, Lladro, The Floating Cinema, Print Club London, Designers in Residence, Piet Hein Eek and Innocent Drinks.

When: 19-25 September 2010
Where: Portobello Dock, 344 Ladbroke Grove, W10 5BU
Entry: Free

Well, it’s tired me out just writing that… with stuff going on all over London you need to be a logistical genius to get round it all, but with a good chunk of time, a bit of sensible planning, some flat shoes, a public transport system that works (largely outside of my control, but assume something is going to go wrong) and a few dozen Nurofen (remember the champagne…), it’s set to be a brilliant week. I’ll be so exhausted by the end of it all, I’ll need a holiday – maybe a trip to New York, a relaxing break in the Alps or a weekend away in Monaco…

Friday, 16 September 2011

‘There's a party goin' on right here...

...A celebration to last throughout the years

So bring your good times, and your laughter too

We gonna celebrate your party with you’*

Just like hurricane/tornado season in the US and the rainy season in various parts of South East Asia, I am about to embark upon party season... a combination of birthdays and other celebrations that runs from my husband’s birthday on the 15th September right through until New Year. And in my family we take our party season very seriously... Very seriously indeed. In fact, it’s on the verge of becoming a competitive pursuit... In the run up to the commencement of party season, preparation and inspiration is key. So, this week I have been out and bought a dazzling array of wrapping papers, bows, ribbons and other miscellaneous decorations. Enough in fact to see me all the way through to Xmas and beyond - I have the resources at my disposal to professionally wrap just about anything - I even wrapped the dog last night. What’s really disappointing is that many of the shops I have been visiting this week have already got a ‘Christmas Aisle’ - what happened to Halloween??? Actually, I even saw my first Xmas advert on the tellybox this week... maybe I’m becoming a bit cynical, but it’s all getting a bit commercial - that said, I’m not particularly worried - I’m materialistic and I love any excuse for nice presents (and lots of them).

As I said, it was my husband’s birthday yesterday (so I’m a bit jaded this morning) and in trying to find inspiration for decorating the house I found these images and it reminded me of the zigzag streamers that my Mum used to make for our birthdays when I was a child. I wanted to share them because they are absolute genius and, like most great ideas, they are very simple and very effective... note, this is a relatively low level category of genius - definitely not in the same category of genius as, for example, nuclear fusion and solving the global energy crisis.

I just love how fabulous this room looks with all the zigzag streamers hanging from the ceiling - it’s a great way of making your loved ones feel special without costing the earth! It’s also another little Blue Peter project for you (and the kids)...

Images from Oh Happy Day

Step 1. Buy lots of large pieces of paper in bright colours. The brighter the better...

Step 2. Cut them into long rectangular strips

Step 3. Along one side, cut into the paper, but not all the way through (and repeat every 5cm until you have reached the other end). This is the most important step in the process - if you get this wrong you will end up with large confetti rather than streamers...

Step 4. Turn the paper over and along the other side cut into the paper between the existing cuts, but again not cut all the way through...

Don’t worry if your cutting is not particularly straight, or if the distances vary slightly - it will still look fantastic and you will have inadvertantly created a ‘bespoke cut streamer’ - you can charge more for these...

Step 5. Pull either end of the piece of paper and, rather amazingly, you will have your zigzag streamer..

I just love it!

So, I’m off to set up my streamer manufacturing plant - I need many, many, many zigzag streamers to get me through to the New Year. All these parties are just so exhausting (and, just to make things even worse, we’re about to embark upon London Design Week, which isn’t exactly a sober affair). I suspect by the time I stumble drunkenly into 2012 I’m going to be more in the mood for An Emotional Fish rather than Kool and the Gang...

‘Let’s celebrate

This party’s over

I’m going home.’**

*’Celebration’ - Kool and the Gang **’Celebrate’ - An Emotional Fish

Friday, 9 September 2011

A public (or private) hanging...

Fortunately in the UK we now prefer hanging art to hanging people (the last public hanging in the UK was in 1868). This is obviously a good thing because, in most cases (taste permitting), art does look much much better when hung (rather than hanged)... so, this week I am going to focus my blog on the 'art of hanging art', or ' wallpapering with frames'... it is worth bearing in mind that there are many different things to consider when hanging art, there are no hard and fast set of rules that you can adhere to and, being 'creative and arty', there are a variety of different existential philosophies that exist on the subject - I am going to introduce a few simple concepts that you may find helpful...

There has been a general trend in recent years towards transforming plain dreary walls into conversation points and destination spots by ‘wallpapering with frames’ (for want of a better phrase) - think about the decor that you see in some modern bars or, as we like to call them these days, ‘gastropubs’ - they are dominated by walls of pictures. Creating this effect can feel like a daunting task (if for no other reason than deciding where to start...) so I am going to outline some simple principles and advice that will hopefully make it a lot easier for you to achieve an effective and impactful result...

As I said, although there are no rules for creating an effective and impactful wall of art, there are some principles that you can follow. For the purposes of this blog I am going to use the image below to try and illustrate this.

(Image from Ikea Wall Art)

Start by laying all the pictures you have available on the floor, preferably in front of the ‘target’ wall... (note - not on the wall itself, as this would be remarkably difficult due for the most part to the universal constant that is gravity, as well as a number of the other fundamental laws of physics)
  • Choose a central picture for the assembly (this is the best word I can think of to describe it...) 
  • The central picture is the basis for the entire assembly - it doesn't need to be the biggest or the best, but it does need to have some distinctive quality (but it needn't attract the most attention on its own). Surround the central picture with several large pictures to anchor the assembly. For example, you could surround the central picture with four pictures on the X and Y axis. Or alternatively, place a few large pictures in the middle of the assembly to ground things and provide the platform to extend outwards 
The pictures on this wall seem to be centred around one picture, with other pictures aligned roughly along the X and Y axis. Take a look at my mark ups.

  • Lay out the rest of the frames around your anchor point - consider using: Horizontal Lines, Vertical Lines, Diagonal Lines, or, for the super adventurous, cascading from the centre in staggered lines 

The pictures in this assembly also to have been organised using a combination of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines...

  • When arranging the pictures move (for the most part) from large to small as you migrate towards the perimeter 
  • Always allow for more weight or mass on the left - it's just a simple rule of optics (‘weight’ simply means either darkness, size or thickness) 
  • Provide some structure or frame to the assembly by aligning the tops, bottoms and sides of the pictures around the outer edge 
In this example the entire set of pictures has been framed to the top, bottom, left and right...

In the final mark up below you can see how these rules have been applied to the majority of the pictures on this assembly...

  • Once you are happy with the position of the pictures on the floor, cut out newspaper templates of each of the frame sizes and tape to the wall (obviously you have to tape them in the right place or it defeats the objective of the exercise) 
  • Step back and ensure you are happy with the spacing between the pictures and against the wall space and make any tweaks as required 
  • In order to hang the pictures, determine how far down from the edge of the frame the wire or hook is and then mark an ‘x’ on each of the templates along the centre line. Then simply hammer directly into the ‘x’ on the template, tear the template off the wall and reveal the lonely little nail waiting for its companion picture. Please note, it is not necessarily a good idea to get your husband (or significant other) involved at this stage in the process as it will invariably lead to the appearance of ‘power tools’ (man toys) and at least three visits to B&Q/Homebase (delete as appropriate) - the second visit is often to purchase Polyfilla and a sample pot of paint 
  • Finally, when all the hammering is complete and templates removed, hang your art/pictures/frames and simply stand back and enjoy the view... 
When you are thinking about the frames and images that you use, it really depends on the look and feel you are trying to create in the space and, obviously, personal taste:
  • Colour - consider; all white frames, all black frames, a mix of the two, frames that are all the same colour or an eclectic mix of frames which are consistent in terms of colour pallet 
  • Don’t be restricted to artwork - think about framing everyday objects, postcards, maps, children’s artwork or hanging items that are not in a frame to add diversity (I would avoid hanging people as this is now illegal in the UK) 
So, that’s about it on the ‘art of hanging art’ - as I said, it’s much better than hanging people and probably much more fun. In fact, if you can introduce toilet rolls and sticky backed plastic to the process you could have a genuine Blue Peter project on your hands... just give it a go. At the end of the day, there’s always the Pollyfilla and sample pot of paint if things don’t go exactly to plan...

Below are a few examples of walls that have caught my eye...

(Image from Norwegian Elle Interiør)
(Image from Living Etc)
(Image from

Friday, 2 September 2011

Does my bum look big on this?

So, last week I gave Thomas Edison a hard time because he doesn’t know anything about interior design. That’s probably a bit unfair - his house may have been absolutely lovely. Well, to be honest, it’s more than a bit unfair because; 1. The light bulb is pretty important in the grand scale of things (design and otherwise), and 2. He is (at time of writing) dead and therefore not in a particularly strong position to defend himself. 

Anyway, amongst all the remarkable stuff that he did during the course of his life (he died in 1931 at the grand old age of 84 - not a bad innings back in the ‘good old’ days), he developed the basic principles of mass production. Now, I do fully appreciate the ramifications of mass production and the huge impact (both positive and negative) that it has had on our lives so, in keeping with the seriousness of the subject matter, I am going to focus my blog this week on... the humble plastic chair... In fact, I want to celebrate the first mass produced plastic chair... one of the most versatile chairs ever designed - an absolute design classic and one of the most reasonably priced designer chairs that you will find pretty much anywhere. These chairs work everywhere... kitchen, living room, dining room, drawing room, study, bedroom, bathroom, entrance hall... you get this picture. In fact, I am currently thinking about getting one for my study.

Designed by Charles and Ray Eames in the late 1940’s (about 20 years after Edison’s death), they were a defining and revolutionary moment in the design process - the first mass produced plastic chairs, designed and manufactured based on the simplest of principles;

‘The most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least.’

Like many designers, Charles and Ray (and, just so we are clear, Charles was male and Ray was female - Ray was in fact Charles’ wife and not a man called Raymond) started out many years earlier from their rented home in a Los Angeles Suburb. I am pretty sure their unsuspecting landlord had absolutely no idea that they intended to convert the spare room into a workshop (a workshop that they promptly kitted out with a homemade molding machine). They actually named the molding machine ‘Kazam’ after ‘Alakazam’, as they felt it was like magic (remember, they were based in LA so probably a bit eccentric and into recreational drug use... sorry, that’s complete nonsense - just trying to ‘sex up’ the story a bit...).

So, in the spare room... of a rented house... in an LA suburb... using a homemade wood molding machine... and a plastic mould of Charlie’s leg, they developed, wait for it, a plywood leg splint! Not a chair. It was, however, a turning point for them - you have to remember, the world was at war (it was number 2 - the sequel) and plywood leg splints were in high demand. Following an order of 5000 splints from the US Navy, they were able to move to a proper studio and continue to develop and advance their molding process.

Charlie and Raymundo believed that comfort was as important a part of the design process as aesthetics and, as a consequence, creating a seating shell that perfectly supported the body became a huge preoccupation for them. Following a number of unsuccessful attempts with plywood and sheet aluminum, they reverted to fiberglass (it was around this time in the late 1940s that the production technology existed to produce fiberglass shapes economically and in large numbers). They successfully developed two organically shaped seat shells composed of fiberglass reinforced plastic - these were to become the Eames plastic Side chair and Arm chair... two clean and simple organic shapes, sculpted perfectly to fit the body. Job done.

However, the true genius and ‘light bulb moment’ occurred when they evolved the original and simple concept to develop a range of bases that could be paired with the shells, hence providing the basis to create a whole family of seating. The bases ranged from; rod (wire) bases, to wood bases, to the X-base (nothing to do with the X-Men), to the case base on castors, to the stackable base. They also developed a simple set of naming conventions/acronyms for their range of chairs...

  • DSR: Dining height Side Chair Rod Base 
  • DSW: Dining height Side Chair Wood Base 
  • DAW: Dining height Arm Chair Wood Base 
  • RAR: Rocking Arm Chair Rod Base 

Super simple once you understand it, but I must admit that it baffled me a bit until I ‘Googled’ it just now (isn’t the WorldwideInterweb just brilliant).

The range of chairs was first presented at the ‘Low Cost Furniture Design’ competition at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1948 - they became an instant hit and remain hugely popular today. Wherever they are used - either in a commercial setting or in the home - these chairs successfully unite enduring form and quality construction in a comfortable and durable seat.

These days, the Eames range of chairs can be found in a range of colours and, on the genuine article, the shell is dyed throughout so the colours are integral to the piece and hence remain vibrant after years of abuse (as you would probably expect given their simplicity, the chairs have been copied many times and mass produced at even lower cost, but not necessarily to the same quality standards...). Below are a few images of Eames chairs that I absolutely love (probably a few more images than normal, but they are pretty special chairs...) - they illustrate how effectively these chairs can be used in a range of different and diverse interior spaces...

Image from Madam Stoltz' new catalogue

Image from Trendenser
Image from bo-laget
Image from lottaagaton

Image from French By Design
Image from Femina via Emmas.blogg
Image from Danish Femina

Image from Trendenser
Image from Ohdeedoh

So, I have concluded that I may have been a bit harsh about Thomas Edison (did I mention in my previous blog that he is regarded as the most prolific inventor/designer in history and has more than 1000 patents to his name in the US alone?) - based on the link between mass production and modern design classics, it would appear that I haven’t given him full credit for the contribution he has made to the interior design industry. Anyway, enough about him - I was going to finish this week with the Charles Eames ‘banana leaf parable’, but I think I’ll just sign off now and go and buy a chair.
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