Decorex highlights

PETDecorex International was the long tail of my London Design excursions.  A design show that is definitely established, decidedly high-end, and distinctly for the trade, I was curious to see what it offered for carefully curated.  The ‘feature’ entrance, designed by Kit Kemp, was worthy of the superlatives.  ‘Beautiful’, ‘stunning’ and ‘luxurious’ can be overworked in the Decorex environment, but they are were fitting adjectives for the the display inspired by the Silk Route.  I loved the hanging pendants from PET Lamp.  The clue is in the name, as the lamps are made from recycled plastic bottles and woven using traditional artisanal techniques in Colombia.

Once into the fray,  I was spoilt for choice. I went to admire the new designs on the stand of Fine Cell Work, the social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework to foster hope, discipline and self esteem, where a needlepoint demonstration was underway.   Another organisation with a strong ethical purpose is GoodWeave who are working to end child labour in the carpet industry and boost educational opportunities for children in weaving communities in India, Nepal and Afghanistan.  Their website has a directory to find rugs ethically produced by GoodWeave approved producers.


Then onto textile companies, and the riot of colour of at Timorous Beasties (seen here on their Omni Splatt cushion, £144), was in glorious contrast to the cool, clean botanical prints at Ivo Prints.  Ivo Prints have been producing textiles and wall coverings under license to The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew at their small factory in west London since early 2011.

FABRICSThe Kew Collection also includes  home accesories, cushions, bags and other gifts and a share of proceeds supports Kew’s conservation work .  The collection is closely connected to its subject matter, with evidence of the seeds in the weaving as a reminder of the natural and plant based origins of the cloth.  Only water-based, non toxic pigment colours are used to print the collection.

Water-based paints and pigments feature highly at Little Greene.  Little Greene Dyeworks started in 1773 making dye solutions to the cotton trade.  Today, all their products are still manufactured in the UK, with a determination to produce high-quality paints and papers that are environmentally-friendly.  They use only natural, organic and safe-synthetic pigments.   Oil-base paints use vegetable oils, making them child-friendly.  And a contribution for every paint and wallpaper sale goes to English Heritage, with whom they have collaborated to develop a range of authentic historical paint colours.  I particularly liked their sculpture, pictured below, which reminds me of the children’s song, “we’ve got the whole world in our hands”.


Elsewhere, I was drawn to the tactile display of woollen fabrics on the Moon stand.  Established in 1837 in Leeds, Abraham Moon & Sons Ltd, remains the only vertical mill left in Britain.  From fleeces to final dispatch, they control the entire manufacturing process with dyeing, blending, carding, spinning, weaving and finishing processes all taking place on one site.  Their Natural Wool collection makes extensive use of un-dyed wools.  As well as furnishing fabrics, Moon also produces throws and fashion accessories including cushions, baby blankets and scarves under their Bronte by Moon label.   N.B. Abraham Moon fabrics are used to upholster the Moonshine footstool from Galvin Brothers – see my Tent London post.  Gorgeous!

Other highlights were the reclaimed antique tiles from Bert and May.  Bert and May are also able to make reproductions of any tile in their antique collection or your own design or specification to complete a project.  Their new showroom is opening next month.   Finally, and relax, in the folding rocking chair made from sustainable steam-bent beech by Wawa.  It folds to 15cm wide, and weighs only 5kg.  Perfect for confined spaces!!


102 Things to do in Autumn

97819086993741-194x300If you are looking for a little inspiration for the weekend, you need look no further than Alex Quick’s book, ” 102 Thing To Do In Autumn”, R.R.P. £8.99.  The book is great source of ideas on how to enjoy the best of this season of misty mornings and harvest plenty.  Some of the ideas include, making rosehip syrup, making an apple doll, or take part in an alien moth survey of the invasive species of  moth are blighting horse-chestnut (conker) trees.

The leaf-mining moth’s caterpillars eat the leaves from the inside causing the leaves to turn white, and then brown.  Infected trees are weakened, and produce smaller conkers.

So some suggestions are merely joyful, others have other virtues!


Tent London & Super Brands highlights


In the Scale of Carbon sat at the centre of the Super Brands event during the London Design Festival.  The exhibition, by the Materials Council, represented the volume of various architectural materials that can be produced for one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions.  Each of the materials was physically represented in a cube form and, the larger the cube the greater the quantity of that material that could be produced for the same volume of CO2 emissions, or ’embodied carbon’.  A literal measure of sustainability.  Carbon isn’t the only measure, but it is an important one.  The average new UK home releases around 50 tonnes of CO2 embodied carbon in its construction, that is enough carbon to drive around the earth 11 times!

Next door, Interface, a leading commercial carpet tile manufacturer, showcased its Net Effect products.  Net-Works is a partnership programme between Interface and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Aquafil to tackle the problem of discarded fishing nets.  Net Works takes discarded fishing nets from remote fishing communities and recycles them into carpet tiles, the Net Effect products.  The programme aims to collect 200kg of nets from each village every month.  The result, beautiful carpet tiles that capture the colour and texture of the ocean.

There was plenty more biophilic design on display:  Hand drawn wallpapers inspired by rural Shropshire from Katherine Morris at Earth Inke.  The teasels in cream tea were developed using natural clays from Shropshire; Abigail Edwards had sky, seascapes and owls adorning her wallpapers printed with hand mixed non-toxic water based ink; and the english countryside are the chocolate creative’s inspiration for theirnew English Romantic Collection of cushions.

gyo_eg_product_thumbnailBold & Noble‘s collection of wallpapers and screen prints cherish a connection with nature with depictions of trees or birds around Britain, a ‘Grow your Own’ calendar or reminder to Bee Kind referencing bee-friendly plants (£43, 50x70cm).

I loved Daniel Heath‘s antique wall mirrors, and reclaimed Welsh slate tiles engraved with an Espalier (fruit trees growing horizontally) design complete with jays perching between gnarled apple branches ripe with fruit.

Recycling and upcycling was in evidence at Furniture Magpies, GalapagosSukie’s recycled papers and cards, and the vibrant textiles of Parris Wakefield on furniture from Out of the Dark, a charitable social enterprise that recycles, restores and revamps salvaged furniture.  Chunky knits were used  to great effect as upholstery by Rose Sharp Jones and Melanie Porter.

Design and craftsmanship were plentiful at the Galvin Brothers, nominees for Best British Designer at the Elle Decoration British Design Awards, 2013. Their Moonshine footstool was a hit.  All of Sebastian Cox‘s work is made frothumb.phpm British hardwoods from well managed forests.  The ‘Rod’ desk lamp is made from  compressed hazel fibres for the shade and steam bent hazel for the rob.  It has an LED bulb, and R.R.P. is £175.  The hazel is hand coppiced in Kent.  I also liked the Suent, lightweight chair with its woven seat.

Finally,  Studio180° launched their eco modular sofa and horsehair mattress.  The sofa is made of the highest quality natural materials with out glue or steel coils, and the “Cradle-To-Cradle” circular economy model is at the heart of the design.  All the materials used, except zips, are either biodegradable or recyclable and free from toxic flame retardants and harmful chemicals.  The chaise-longue element is provided by a full mattress made of horsetail hair.  Horsehair, with its natural springiness, has been used in bedding for centuries, and is still used by premium brands such as Vi-Spring.   I could have lingered for a long time on the Sen sofa, but duty called!


Design Junction


After pedalling furiously across London from 100% design, it was a relief to have a rest in the beautiful handcrafted Scapa rocking chair from Pengelly Design.  The chair, designed by Simon Pengelly, combines a contemporary wooden frame with a traditional technique of weaving oat straw into chair backs. Pengelly Design are collaborating with Jackie, pictured adding the finishing touches to a chair, and Marlene Miller of Scapa Crafts in the Orkney Isles to produce the chair in oak, ash or painted frames.

Rested, I took in the rest of the show that was filling with after work crowds.  First stop, Melin Tregwynt where their new colour ways, Knot Garden Indigo and Knot Garden Bluestone were on display, as well as a new range of bags made by Brady of Birmingham in the Melin Tregwynt fabrics.

Upstairs, I found a contrasting selection of woollens woven in Wales from Eleanor Pritchard.easterly1  Eleanor Pritchard’s aesthetic is influenced by English mid-century design, characterised by bold geometric and graphic reversible patterns, fused with traditional British textile crafts.  Designed in London, fabrics are woven in 100% pure new wool at a small traditional mill in South West Wales.

Luxurious woollen drapes, offset by shimmering wallpapers caught my eye at Rapture & Wright.  Their distinctive, contemporary graphic fabrics and wallpapers are handprinted in their Gloucestershire studio.  And then it was on to investigate the commotion at the recraft station.  [re]design were launching their new Make-It-Yourself book which contains step-by-step instructions for more than twenty designs made from domestic rubbish.

In contrast to many products we consume, the hand-crafted accessories for the home made by Turner and Harper are built to last.  They make simple things for everyday living with care and quality.


My last stop of the day, was Granorte‘s fantastic selection of cork pendant lamps, stools, bowls and even bird boxes made from waste cork from wine stopper producers.  The cork wall panels created a geometric sculpture on the wall cast striking shadows, as well as providing acoustic and thermal insulation.  The stacking stool was comfortable, and as with all the products, they have a striking simplicity.

Cork has featured heavily in my LDF experience,  and I wondered whether it would feature on my final trip to Tent London.


100% percent design – a few highlights

Songbird-banner100% percent design could have been 100% overload, but I was on a super-market sweep of design shows on Friday, so extremely focused on designers, makers and products that fit the carefully curated bill of form, function and friendly to the environment.

A quick sweep down the ‘Emerging Brands’ alley revealed a few eye-catching stalls.  First, some delightful lamps made from laser-cut birch ply by Drws Y Coed on Anglesey.  Next were clean, contemporary printed fabrics, wallpapers and lampshades from Lorna Syson (pictured above).   Lorna’s collection of interiors accessories use sustainable materials such as wool, nettle and organic cotton.


Desinature‘s collection of lamps and nest boxes reflects a love of the natural world, and desire to inspire people to connect with it.  We loved the honey comb lampshades made of felt and dyed with environmentally friendly inks, and the new Lily lampshade made of FSC-certified paper.  Their products are all made in the UK, and come delivered in a neat, folder that slips through the letterbox.

Once out in the fray, we were also drawn to St Judes’s artist-designed wallpapers and fabrics.  Their fresh, subtle designs are printed in small runs in Norfolk.  The Glade pendant lamp from James Smith Designs in willow and steel cast a wonderful dapple light.


Watching Ben Creed, craftsman and designer at deVOL kitchens  at work in the flash factory behind the deVOL stand, it was fascinating to see all the tools and sawdust surround the spindles and seat in progress.  An opportunity to pause and reflect on the skill involved in working with wood.

A quick pitstop at David Colwell’s stand to admire the O range.  The chair, made of steam bent ash and recycled copper tubular rivets, is extremely comfortable.  Using the latest in saw technology, David has developed a method to eliminate two thirds of the timber processing and virtually all of the need for dust extraction from the construction of the chair.

With a last gasp before I headed over to see ao textiles, I took in the Corkigami chair from Carlos Ortega.  The seat is made of cork and water-based PVA glue, and the whole chair can be easily assembled and dissembled.  Around the tree has made another innovative use of cork, as an upholstery material on its chairs.  There was more cork on display at Design Junction……

ao textiles’ natural alchemy


The ao textiles workshop at the V&A last Friday was a homegrown affair with Penny Walsh hand-dying fabrics in dyes made from plants, including woad, marigold, and indigo, as well as other natural dyestuffs.  The development of hand-dying stalled with the advent of man-made dyes around 1860, but knowledge of plant sciences is now much more advanced.  Penny’s methods are drawn from historic recipes as well as advice from chemists to adapt these recipes for contemporary requirements.   Research into plant dyes worldwide and the use of low impact mordants and assistants has enabled Penny to create a vibrant array of colours.


The sources of these colours are renewable and bio-degradeable, but they are also stable.  Penny reminded us of the rich colours in the Tudor tapestries hanging in the galleries that have held their colour for centuries.


Once dyed the fabrics are then worked into highly decorative pieces embroidered by Karen Spurgin or more elaborate dying techniques, such as marbling, by Emma d’Arcey.

Emma gave a demonstration of the traditional marbling technique.  First paint is spotted on the surface of the water and seaweed (carrageen) solution. Then it is feathered using a very fine brush pulling stripes vertically, then horizontally.



Finally a custom-made comb is pulled through to complete the pattern before the fabric is laid on top to be printed.  Once printed it is rinsed and left to dry.  As well as abstract patterns, Emma’s work includes incredibly intricate, almost photographic floral and mineral motifs.

ao textiles have collaborated with Gainsborough Silk Weavers to create luxurious jacquard fabrics for couture and high-end interiors, combining sustainability and traditional artisanal skills.  For example, ‘Mineral’ uses a recycled warp from Gainsborough’s yarn from past productions combined with a naturally dyed weft.  All ao’s naturally dyed yarn uses unbleached silk or cotton.


A highlight of the workshop was Julia Lohmann popping down from the Department of Seaweed to experiment with dying and marbling the kelp seaweed.  We await the results with interest.


Winners of the SustainRCA Awards announced

mauricio_affonso_1 Quicksand

Last night at the Royal College of Art, the winners of the SustainRCA Awards were announced.

Winner of the moving mind category – Minho Kwon for the The Neo Tower of Babel

Winner Solutions for Society category – Shruti Grover for Gu Bank an offgrid sanitation and incentivisation solution for male migrants in India’s growing urban slum settlements.  80% of Indian cities do not possess even a partial sewage network, and 60% of the population practice open defecation, thats 662 million people

Winner of Inspired Products category – Chris Natt for Blastproof, a collection of simple tools for manual clearance of land mines.

Winner of Visionary Processes category – Mauricio Alfonso for Luffa Lab, another beautiful and sustainable material from the sea.  Products included an acoustic tile.


The indigo colour is obtained by reusing wastewater from the denim-dyeing industry.  The highly absorbent fibres of the luffa can be used to soak up these harmful dyes that would otherwise be discharged.  Definitely form and function, lets hope these tiles are soon available for home or office interiors.

The event was buzzing, literally as we were fuelled by delicious eats from ento, canapés made from edible insects, even my vegetarian companion declared them delicious.  Why insects?  They are more space and energy efficient than traditional livestock, high in protein and nutrients like omega-3 while low in fat and cholesterol.  Yum!

Make It Better


Make It Better: designing products that don’t cost the Earth took place at the V&A earlier this week with contributions from Sophie Thomas, co-director of design at the RSA,Julian Kirby, Friends of the Earth UK, and Ugo Vallauri from the Restart Project.

Sophie Thomas kicked off with some eye-watering statistics for the amount of waste created in current manufacturing and consumption pattens.  “Currently for every tonne of household rubbish, a further 5 tonnes of materials were used in the manufacture of that product”, and 90% of all products are waste within 6 months of purchase, and as much as 80% of products are discarded after a single use.  Just hold that thought for a moment.

So the Great Recovery is about doing, and designing things better to recapture the materials, and their value in the process.  Currently, only a fifth of the resource flows in the UK are fed back into the economic cycle, the rest is waste, and waste is a design flaw.  The Design Council estimates that 80% of environmental costs are pre-determined during the product conception and design stage.   The Great Recovery Report, argues end of life needs to be in the design brief, to design for longevity, design for service, design for re-use in manufacturing and design for material recovery.  Recycling is a low value option of last resort, when there are other more valuable circles in the system.
For business, the incentive is to mitigate the supply risk of volatile resource costs due to increasing scarcity.  Many of the electronic goods we depend on, smartphones, tablets and personal computers, require elements that are increasingly scarce, and we are just not recovering them.  There are 40 elements in your mobile phone, and current best practice can recycle 15 of them.  Julian Kirby gave an eloquent illustration of the real costs of resource extraction (mining), and Friends of the Earths, Make it Better campaign.  As the pressure on resources is increasing so other costs, environmental damage, and social issues, such as land grab, are also flaring up.
All of the speakers addressed not only rapid product obsolescence, but psychological obsolescence, that is the desire for the newest, latest gadget or product release.  Many products are tossed aside far before they ultimately fail in the rush to upgrade.  With the thought that the greenest phone is probably the one you have in your hand, check out the Restart Project, which runs free community events, Restart Parties, where volunteers experienced with electronics help others learn to repair and perform maintenance to their broken or slow devices.
The next Restart Party @ Heath Street Baptist Church (Hampstead)September 26, 2013 at 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm84 Heath Street, Hampstead, London NW3 1DN, and there will be another event at  @ Centre for Alternative Tech, WalesSeptember 28, 2013.

What a corking idea


The Progressive Extension of the Field of Individual Development and Experience installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum is a collaboration between FAT architecture and Amorim, the world’s largest producer of cork.  A walkway up in the Medieval galleries has been covered in a series of tiles in a geometric trompe l’oeil pattern inspired by the cellular structure of the cork.

Sean Griffiths, an architect and director of FAT, stressed that cork “really is a 21st century material which is highly sustainable. Using cork has allowed us to work in a very different way, starting with the material as generator of the concept. Cork has a very natural appearance which is supported by an intricate geometric structure and the main idea of the design is to capture the relationship between these aspects of the material. The design also makes use of the strong visual acoustic and tactile qualities of the material.”

I had been striding down the marble floor of the gallery with the clip of my heel ringing out, and then when I stepped on to the installation the cork softened my stride and absorbed all the sound.  I wanted to reach down and stroke the smooth surface.

As well as the tactile properties of cork it is also a great thermal insulator, do not absorb dust and are resistant to bacteria and fungi, so an environmentally-friendly flooring for kitchens and bathrooms.  Cork floor options are more varied than you might remember from the 70s and 80s!  Watch this space for more.


If it’s broke, fix it and win £5million


The Technology Strategy Board has just announced a competition to “invest up to £5m in collaborative research and development that aims to preserve the value of products and/or materials at end-of-life and keeps them in productive use for longer” with business.  The competition aims to stimulate innovation and progress towards a circular economy.

The TSB  is seeking proposals that make supply chains more circular, that is to reduce the environmental impact of material life-cycles and dependence on materials with a supply risk.  TSB expects applicants to cut general waste stream losses in half, or more.  Speaking yesterday at the LDF session entitled, Make It Better: designing products that don’t cost the Earth, Sophie Thomas of the RSA, noted, “currently for every tonne of household rubbish, a further 5 tonnes of materials were used in the manufacture of that product”.  Waste is a design flaw.   To this end, the TSB is offering two days free access to Design Mentors for applicants prior to submitting an initial expression of interest.

The opportunity in a circular economy is to use materials many times, and to retain the quality and economic value of those materials at a high level.  The prize for business is to reduce their supply risk as the prices of increasingly scarce materials, become increasingly volatile, and cost reduction.  A report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation together with McKinsey & Company setting out the economic case, estimated benefit to be over USD $680bn a year at EU level for the medium complex goods sector alone

Full details of the competition are available online at the Technology Strategy Board website.

Get your thinking caps on!