The buzz at the entrance to the Design Factory was palpable for the opening of Clerkenwell Design Week 2014. By lunchtime the queue to get in was snaking up the street, and with good reason, as there are some exciting stories to tell.
I raced upstairs to see the first pieces from a new collaboration between Sebastian Cox and Benchmark Furniture. The Chestnut and Ash range, made from coppiced chestnut and well-managed ash, includes the SHAKE and LATH series. The SHAKE cabinet (pictured left, w80 d41 h180) and SHAKE sideboard (w150 d45 h80) are made from a solid dovetailed ash carcass with doors made from cleft chestnut shakes, hence the name. Cleaving is the controlled splitting of wood along its grain to create a unique, textured detail that speaks honestly of the materials crafted with such skill.
The LATH chair revisits the traditional ladder-back chair. With laths split from freshly coppiced chestnut and a frame made from ash cut with a CNC router, it is epitomises this new, true collaboration. The chair (w42 d50 h98) is available with a seat in either veg-tan leather, or natural Danish cord (both are pictured with the SHAKE sideboard).
Sean Sutcliffe, MD and co-founder of Benchmark, came across Sebastian’s work when he was judging the Wood Awards 2011 (Sebastian won the Outstanding Design category). Sustainability and craftsmanship have been integral Benchmark Furniture since it launched in 1983, and in 2007, Benchmark won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category, the first furniture maker to win this award. It is the perfect springboard for Sebastian’s designs.
Whittling away the hours, and sharing some greenwood working gems alongside a splendid Benchmark table was Barn the Spoon (here he is on the right whittling with Sebastian). Barn started woodworking when he was 12, and has not stopped since. He has a shop at 260 Hackney Rd, runs courses and the annual Spoonfest (tickets for 2o14 are already sold out). Working with all manner of wood from London, sycamore, cherry, beech, birch and spalted alder (which has a lovely speckled look), Barn fashions that most essential, and treasured of kitchen implements with great eye for the grain.
It was impossible not to enjoy the arrestingly colourful outdoor furniture from Jennifer Newman. The M-Bamboo Table and M-Bench were voted “Top Product” when first exhibited at last year’s Clerkenwell Design Week. This year, they were back in exuberant fashion made from a base of aluminium (88% recycled and recyclable) with a durable powder-coating finish available in any RAL colour. As with the M-Bamboo, the top of the prototype table pictured is made of bamboo, which grows to maturity within 5 years, with light bamboo for inside, and dark bamboo for outside.
There is other colourful, functional outdoor furniture on the market, but look closely and the joy is in the detail of the Jennifer Newman pieces. The crisp, clean lines as the aluminium folds around the seat of the A-Frame Bench are precise. It takes skill to wrap like that, just ask my husband at Christmas!! The planter on castors would be the perfect home for any citrus or similarly fair-weather plants as they can be rolled into warmer locations when the British weather dictates.
Around the corner, I lingered at the DISCIPLINE stand admiring their concise 2014 collection and manifesto that promises, “Natural materials, sustainability, durability, beauty and simplicity.” DISCIPLINE works with 16 international designers to create function objects for everyday enjoyment from bamboo, cork, glass, leather, metal, stone, textile and wood. I particularly liked the Drifted chair with its cork seat, but it was too early in the day to justify a sit-down! The Drifted series, designed by Lars Beller Fjetland also includes stools, is available in a combination of natural, red and black painted base with dark or light cork seats, priced from £170 for a stool.
Elsewhere, there are further contemporary reinterpretations of traditional chair-making techniques. In particular, leaving the end grain of the legs exposed is used to great effect with the Holton series at James UK (pictured on the left in walnut) and the Occasional Peg table (440mx520mm) from Barnby and Day (pictured here on the right). I was also partial to the brass detailing on Another Country’s Bar Stool One. The various foot rest options are apparently well-suited client of all statures and standings, and the back support steadies those late at the bar!
There is plenty for the bijoux urban home, such as this clever and versatile folding Proppy chair from Devon-based Tandem Studio. The chair can be used inside or out and is surprisingly comfortable with an adjustable back rest. When not in use it can hang from a wall bracket, awaiting the next guest, or freeing your floor space for other things! Available in solid oak or beech and finished in Osmo oil from £225!
For those inspired by RHS Chelsea Flower Show but without an inch of outdoor space, the boskke Sky Planter provides a bit of green indoors. Hanging from the ceiling the Sky Planter uses a terracotta disc to feed water gradually to the roots. Made of ceramic or 100% pre-consumer recycled plastic the planters could keep fresh kitchen herbs very much to hand.
Today, Thursday 22nd May, is the last day of Clerkenwell Design Week so get there while you can, or you’ll have to wait until next year!
Photo credit: boskke; the rest my own!