Design pick and mix


Take your pick, but with Tent London opening today at the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch, east London, there are now three design and interiors events for you to choose from.  Tent London (19th-21st September) shows interiors products from 40 global design brands and over 200 independents.

At the Old Sorting Office on New Oxford Street, London, designjunction (18th-22nd September) features more than 150 brands showing furniture, lighting and product design from around the world mixed in with flash factories, food joints, and installations.

Further west at Earls Court, London, is 100%design (18th-21st September) UK’s largest design trade event.  So dig out those comfortable shoes, there are many square feet of exhibition space to cover!  I shall be seeking out some carefully curated gems for everyday living.


Materials Moulded by the Environment

Materials Moulded by the Environment, a talk by the architect of the new Viewpoint learning facility for Camley Street Natural Park drew quite a crowd at the V&A yesterday. Viewpoint is a small man-made islet on Regent’s Canal forming part of a natural habitat in the heart of King’s Cross, a borderline between the built and unbuilt. The islet is a retreat and viewing platform that was commissioned for the London Wildlife Trust. The architects, AOR, are emerging young designers from Finland and they intended the design and materials of Viewpoint to be rooted to its location, exploring the relationship between man-made and natural. AOR were joined in the discussion by Helena Sandman, another architect whose focus and inspiration for design is drawn from the local context. Her practice’s work for NGO projects in a number of developing countries is also firmly rooted in the materials and traditional building techniques of the local environment. This recognition and response to the climatic, social and cultural context gives the buildings a physical and emotional durability. The design is drawn from its context, rather than alien “air-conditioned, glass boxes” (sic).

Department of Seaweed


After Materials Moulded by Environments, I was uplifted by a sneak peak into the studio of Julia Lohmann, V&A Designer in Residence and Head of the Department of Seaweed.   The studio is a magical space with long tendrils of  seaweed drying overhead, rattan skeletons awaiting their seaweed sheath hanging from other bigger sculptures in progress and a selection of artefacts from masks and handbags to stained ‘glass’ and Urushi lacquerware.   The Japanese influences are evidence of Julia’s long residency in Sapporo Japan.

Julia’s research is exploring seaweed’s potential as a sustainable alternative to manmade materials such as plastic and glass or leather.  The Oki Naganode installation currently on display in Gallery 108 at the V&A shows seaweed’s potential as a design material.  This huge installation has been made from Naga Kombu, Japanese seaweed, hand stretched over a cane frame and fused into position.  The material qualities of the marine plant vary, but the wonderful warm colours, and textures are inviting to the touch.  The lampshades created from crinoline rattan cages covered in seaweed that has been cut with a delicate filigree cast a gentle glow.  During her current residency at the V&A, Julia is able to compare seaweed’s qualities of colour, texture, tensile strength, malleability and stability with other materials  and artefacts in the V& A’s collection, and analogies in creative and technical processes used to turn materials into objects.

Julia currently imports the seaweed she is working with from Japan where it is cultivated on a commercial scale for the food industry.  The research process requires a consistent standard of material in order to replicate techniques, however Julia uses co-design processes to create her work, and is promoting open-design strategies to further share her research and work processes with craftsmen from other disciplines, and ultimately geographies.  So, in time Julia’s techniques could be shared with other seafaring communities to explore their craft heritage and techniques in this medium.  As I swim off the coast of the British Isles, I will look upon the seaweed fields swaying in the currents with a renewed appreciation next summer!  What a wonderful substance that slippery seaweed it.

There are further open studio sessions this week, and a seminar on Friday 20th September, as part of the London Design Festival.


Sofa saved!


After much anticipation, the sofa for my office has returned, and is looking very smart in its new livery of 100% wool Caledonia Peppermint from Kirkby Design.  The upholsterers, Escott’s, a family-owned business and member of the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers, provided a very efficient, competitive and personal service.   The sofa is just the colour we want, and I saved myself a third of the price of an identical sofa I saw in a mid-century shop!  I think it will be a popular addition, my daughters climbed straight on to the sofa for a story, so time to find a suitable throw to spare the fabric from sticky fingers, and I think they would like a cushion or two too!

To find an upholsterer in your area you can search the directory of members on the Association’s website or call them directly on 01494 452965.

London Design Festival…on your marks, get set..


The London Design Festival starts in 3 days, so time to pop out your calendar, consult the online events’ planner, download the map and plan your assault.  There will be product launches, demonstrations and pop-up shops galore.

Some top of my list are: The Designers / Makers pop-up shop at 135 Colombia Road with 40 designers submitting their responses to Flora + Fauna; the exhibition at Coexistence, 288 Upper Street in Islington, exploring Roger Batemen, of Sheffield Hallam University‘s work with flax and plant-based polymers; the launch of the Bloomsbury shop from Thornback & Peel selling mid-century furniture upholstered with their hand-printed fabrics; The Scarcity Project; The SustainRCA Show & Awards 2013 and a whole host of events at the V&A!

London: Hidden Nature

London’s landscape constantly surprises me, even after more than a decade living in the big smoke I am still finding patches of green, whether a tucked away garden, living wall, overzealous buddleia.  Later this month, 21st September, professional photographer, Roy Matthews is leading an adult learning event at the Royal Academy for photographers of all abilities and camera types to capture London’s hidden natural landscape.  The shift of season into autumn will no doubt only add to the atmosphere.  The day workshop, London: Hidden Nature, runs from 11am meeting at the Royal Academy for a practical session outdoors, followed by a critique at the RA.

Capture an unfamiliar image of London to savour at home or share.

IncrEdibles at Kew moves into autumn


The IncrEdibles Festival at Kew Gardens has transformed from a bountiful summer of tea parties in the rose garden to an abundant autumn.   Small children will be enchanted by the Fungi Fairy Ring.  Rising to 4m tall the fungi have been created from wicker by sculptor Tom Hare and represent seven different native species of edible fungi.  Super-size vegetables are bursting from the beds in front of the Palm House.

medley vegKohlrabi, celeriac, beetroot, fennel, maize and aubergine, to name but a few, created a truly sculptural display.   Proof that form and function can combine in an urban vegetable patch.  This is one to try at home……

IncrEdibles Festival Autumn is on until Sunday 3rd November, though surely all the magnificent pumpkins and squash will have disappeared a few days earlier?



Yoga’s tree pose


I am always keeping an eye out for a better alternative for everyday items I use, so here are some yoga props with form, function and made of natural materials.  Cork blocks are an excellent alternative to the conventional wooden block.   The bark of the cork oak can develop considerable thickness and can be harvested every 9 to 12 years to produce cork.  This natural and renewable material is light, strong and non slip, so ideal for use in yoga props.  The tree is widely cultivated in Europe and North Africa, and cork oak forests can support diverse habitats,  that are home to endangered species such as the Iberian lynx.  Cork also feels pleasant to touch, an important consideration for yoga props.  Several yoga prop manufacturers offer a cork yoga block and they are available for around £10.50 from Yogamad and Yogamatters.

I have a similar tactile affection for my natural rubber yoga mat.   Conventional yoga mats rely heavily on PVC and are difficult to recycle.  The Yoga-Mad Tree Mat is made of natural rubber and free from PVC, phthalate, PAH, nitrosamines, and heavy metals.  As with cork, natural rubber is a natural and renewable material, that is harvested mainly in the form of latex.  The natural rubber mat has better grip than ‘normal’ yoga mats I have used.  I have been using the mat in the picture regularly for six years and it still has many sun salutations to go!  Yoga-Mad stocks a range of environmentally friendly yoga mats, from £29.99.

Yoga is about balance and harmony, so seeking out yoga products that are environmentally sound sits well with this holistic practice.

Sleep tight

The seasonal shifts of an Indian summer can cause the thermometer to yoyo and make it tricky to be just warm or cool enough in bed, so I find myself cherishing our wool duvet.  I have long been persuaded of the benefits of wool clothing, and a couple of years ago bought a wool duvet.

In summer, the wool’s capacity to breathe keeps us cool, and in winter, wool’s excellent insulation keeps us warm.  It also keeps you dry, perhaps more than all natural fibres, as wool can absorb water quickly, up to around a third of its weight, and release it back into the environment slowly (polyester and nylon only absorb 1% of their weight in water).  This helps to control humidity,  which makes the environment less hospitable to dust mites, a boon for allergy and asthma sufferers.  Wool will even moderate each person’s micro-climate under the same duvet!  And the wool doesn’t all get clogged down one end, as some other duvets do.  What is more, wool is natural, flame retardant and sustainable as Shaun the Sheep gets a shear at least once a year!

When I bought my wool duvet, I could not find a British product, but at the Little Creatures Festival at London Zoo last weekend, I met Jen from The Wool Room who were supporting the Shaun the Sheep Pom Pom Parade, along with the Campaign for Wool, to make pom pom sheep out of wool and to set a new world record.  The Wool Room produce a range of bedding from British wool as well as a range of blankets and nursery items like baby sheepskins.  Prices for a duvet start from £90.

And if you fancy making a friend join Shaun’s flock at home you can download the official PomPom making kit from the Wool Room website.


Too good to eat?


Butterflies are the product of a remarkable transformation and the same is true of the decorative flair given to vintage tableware by designer Melanie Roseveare, the designer who started Melody Rose.  Vintage ceramics are refired with new and vintage images to create quirky, bite-size pieces of art, some of which can even go in the dishwasher.  The butterfly plate I bought is too beautiful to eat off, and is hung on the wall in my daughter’s bedroom.

After much success upcycling vintage tableware, Melody Rose has introduced a range of new fine bone china tableware, manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent.  Pieces are gilded by hand and fired with designs from the Melody Rose collections.

Priced from £30, the products are available to buy online or at select markets and events, next up will be Tent London, which is running 19th -22nd September 2013, Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London, E1.