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London Design Festival postscript - part III

This is the final post in a week of looking back at some of the stand-out moments of the London Design Festival, 2011 (stand-out for me, at least – and I hope, of course, that you like them too). Right then, feast your eyes on this lovely, and – today – slightly random collection of gorgeousness...

1. Tiny universes 
At Origin, the east London craft fair, I was struck by the quirkyness of Lisa Swerling's unusual artworks. Her "Glass Cathedrals" (top two images in main collage, and inset, left "How Much is That Doggy") are, in short, glass-fronted boxes containing miniature figures – up to all sorts of crazy stuff. Here, in "Faith in Superglue" (top), we have a chap marvelling at the suspension of gravity underneath a double decker bus, while (below) in "Cleanliness is Next to Godliness", a woman furiously scrubs a vast checked floor. 

I like Swerling's own explanation of her work: "There’s something about the scale of these mini universes that makes their pursuits by turns heroic, tragic, humorous, wistful," she writes on her website. "The ideas behind the Glass Cathedrals are based on the sorts of thoughts I’ve been having since I was six: Why do I have to tidy my room? Help, I’m going to die one day. I don’t want to jump in the pool, but I will anyway. Yay, glitter! etc. Like a lot of people, I have these moments of inspiration about what it is to be a funny little human traveling around this big planet. What to do with these thoughts? I started putting mine in boxes…" 

Prices for these brilliantly weird and thought-provoking miniature universes are not – pardon the pun – small, but you're investing in a unique piece of art: small boxes start at £330.

2. Vibrant African fabrics 
I live in Brixton, south London, a very African/Caribbean neighbourhood, and so am lucky enough to have several stalls and shops in and around the market selling piles and piles of eye-poppingly bright, joyfully graphic African fabric – like those pictured at the bottom, above, by La Petite Congolaise, which was part of the African & African-Caribbean Design Diaspora event. I could stand in those shops for hours and have stacks of fabric I've bought on a whim because I couldn't resist it, waiting to be turned into cushions or curtains (though one piece, a gorgeous Yves Klein blue backing with a repeated bird graphic in black, was kindly transformed into bench cushions for my kitchen by my clever friend, Camilla).

The great thing about La Petite Congolaise, aka Laurence Kanza – British-born, but of Congolese descent, hence the name – is not only that she sells cushions already made up, but also that her website is bursting with advice for colour and pattern novices, on how to mix or match her fabrics. Cushions (with brilliant names such as "Margot", pink inset picture, "Jeanne" or "Fernande") start at £55.

3. Colourful cupboards 
I don't know much about Bristol-based cabinet maker Charlie Crowther, whose beautifully-hued, simply designed furniture (like "Green Storage", left) was part of 100% Design, but you can find out more on his website

The Fifties gelato coloured cupboard, above, in main collage, is called "Two Halves Cabinet" and was designed in partnership with Christian Taylor, usually found designing cool t-shirts under the banner of Uno One Print & Design.

London Design Festival postscript – part II

As promised, some more of my highlights from last week...

I couldn't stop staring at Kirath Ghundoo's gorgeous Mix n Match range of wallpapers, at 100% Design.The brilliant but simple idea is that you – yes – mix and match different rolls (£150 each) of the designer's colourful, geometric rolls (pictured above, main image, and below, bottom), to create any number of your own designs accordingly. Beautiful.

Equally dazzling were the striking new fabrics for Ercol, on display at Tent (above, top). They were created by New Designs student fabric design winner, Henoc Maketo, who draws inspiration from his native Congo (DRC).

And I couldn't resist these bizarre but brilliant porcelaine figurines of a chihuahua and a pug by Berlin-based ceramicist, Uta Koloczek (above and below).

London Design Festival postscript – part I

It's been a full old weekend, following a jam-packed week, with the London Design Festival to get the most out of. And I've discovered so many exciting new designers, makers and cool companies – all of which will be appearing on these pages down the line. For now, I'll post up a few of my highlights throughout the week to give a bit of a flavour. 

Scanning through my snaps, colour seems to be a continuing theme – lots of it, while animals and nature also feature heavily, and there was plenty of delightfully surprising quirk (from spotted ceramic chihuahuas to mix-n-clash wallpapers and beautiful art made out of centimetre-high plastic people). So stay tuned. But for now...
Clockwise from top right: affordable vintage clocks by London Timepiece at Tent London; I loved the stunning and versatile textiles by name-to-watch, Chloe Scadding at Designer's Block – versatile, because each colour is a separate, laser-cut pattern, so any number of combinations of colour/graphic can be created; I don't know who made these gloriously hued discs that were suspended from the entrance hall ceiling at Designer's Block, but they're stunning, aren't they? There's an interesting idea for high-ceilinged homes; finally, the simple combination of driftwood and acid brights drew me in to Ella Robinson's stand at Origin, which continues in east London's Spitalfields until Wednesday.

I'll be featuring more lovely stuff from some of these people imminently, as well as a whole load of other talent that took my fancy.

Introducing... Custhom Design

I've fallen slightly in love with these stunning Staffordshire dogs, £120 per pair (limited to a run of just 10 pairs). I just love how they've taken a classic bit of mantlepiece decoration and pared it right down – and that teal/gold colour palette is so striking.

These little beauties are by CUSTHOM Design aka Nathan Philpott and Jemma Ooi, who met as students at the RCA, is an exciting, young and innovative studio. Check out their other work at their launch party this Friday, 6-9pm at Start Space, Columbia Road, east London as part of the London Design Festival – or pop by the week-long exhibition, running from now until Sunday.

The CUSTHOM USP is about combining traditional craft techniques with cutting edge technology – so don't miss their mind-bending heat-sensitive wallpaper, which changes colour and design as temperatures rise (anyone remember that jewellery in the late 80s that did the same? I think I had a little snail-shaped necklace as a kid...). Nathan is also fascinated by "digital embroidery"... see the wallpaper (from £170 per roll) below, and don't miss the show to find out how it all works.


Guest post:
Katie Treggiden's London Design Festival highlights

Last week I wrote my Independent on Sunday Insider column about the London Design Festival – it was kind of a beginner's guide to the sprawling, capital-wide event which kicks off today. And for tips, I went to LDF old-hand, Katie Treggiden, who writes the award-winning blog, confessions of a design geek. 

She was so knowledgeable that I thought I'd tap her up for some tips on hot new designers showing their wares at the event. Which you can now read, below... so I'll leave you in Katie's capable hands (but not before pointing you in the direction of her brilliantly useful navigation of the Festival on her blog in case you're thinking of hitting the capital's streets this week – and don't miss her new book either, details below)...

Being Blease Loop mirror, £145

Katie Treggiden, aka the Design Geek
I write a blog called confessions of a design geek so it won’t come as a surprise that I’m obsessed with design and a bit geeky.

But you don’t need to be either to love the London Design Festival. If you’re into interior design, LDF is the place to be. Whether you’ve got money to spend or are looking for inspiration, nothing beats the rush of spotting a trend for yourself or finding a new designer to fall in love with.

With 133 events on the first day alone, it can feel overwhelming, but don’t let that stop you dipping a toe in. Here are five things I’m excited about:

Geek power some of Katie Treggiden's favourite things: (clockwise from top right) Jack Smith's Bird Box, £23,  part of the Today's Specials stand; Guardsman egg cup, £6, by Martha Mitchell Design, at ContemporaryLab; Moji Salehi cushions, £55 also ContemporaryLab; work by Clare Knox-Bentham; "Leaf" fabric, by Sarah Jayne Guest, at ContemporaryLab; "Beech & Butter" doorstops, £5.50, by Jack Neville, at Today's Specials

1. ContemporaryLab, TENT, Hall T3, Stand M12
Showcasing the best in new graduate design, ContemporaryLab was founded by undergraduate Emma Brocklesby in May 2011. In a proactive move to provide opportunities for herself and fellow graduates, Emma has curated a collection of homewares and accessories that will appeal to buyers of all budgets.

2. Tom Gyr / Tercel Design, Decorex, Stand J319
Tom Gyr is a furniture designer with a passion for British manufacture. Working in forge to create contemporary furniture using traditional methods, he has created a new range; 'Thames' with Tercel Design. Drawing upon the iconic river's shape, it features products from furniture to lighting, each one handmade by the forge's blacksmiths.

2. Today’s Specials, Netil Market and Portobello Road Market
Today’s Specials run two market stalls, supporting new designers by creating a retail space without expensive overheads. They champion products that are ethically produced in the UK with an emphasis on handmade. Their line-up for LDF includes the slick, the quirky and the downright gorgeous.

3. Being Blease Loop Mirror, Hidden Art ‘Inspiring the Future’ collection, Stand 68, 100% Design
In line with their ethos of supporting new designers, Hidden Art will be launching eight products from independent designers at 100% Design. My favourite is the Loop Mirror (see main image, top) from Being Blease, founded by CSM graduate Paul Blease just this year. It comes in range of colours that will tempt even the most restrained interiors nut into buying the whole collection.

5. Clare Knox-Bentham Stand D50, Origin 
Doing incredible things with heat-extruded plastic, Clare is definitely one to look out for. Her installations defy definition. Clare starts with hand drawings and transforms them into a brightly coloured, three-dimensional forms.

Katie Treggiden's book, Interviews, featuring eighteen interviews with designers from big names such as Wim Crouwel and Anthony Burrill to newer talent including Hannah Dipper of People Will Always Need PlatesZoe Murphy and Furniture Magpies is out today to coincide with the start of London Design Festival. The book, which covers graphic design, furniture and product design, is the first in a series in a limited edition of 1,000 and will retail at £10. It will be available from, the Design Museum Shop, the Scene Shop at designjunction and other design retailers, independent books shops and pop-ups. 50p from the sale of every copy will be donated to Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres.

John Lewis new season goodies

I think I want to buy 90% of the John Lewis Autumn/Winter range. A bit alarming... But scroll down and perhaps you'll see why: there is a heavy focus on solid retro stylings and vibrant vintage hues to cheer one through the darkening evenings ahead. 

Here are some of my favourite bits:

Above: I love how cosy this combination of strong, autumnal colours is. I particularly love the orange lamp. Products are from the Retro Reborn range (Red Staten Desk from £245, Multicolour Chest £50, Metal Number £20, Zoe Desk Lamp £40).

Clockwise from top right: This lush schoolroom-like  Flore Chair, £89, comes in five colours and is made from Canadian maple plywood with tubular metal legs; love the simplicity of this Madison Glass Ceiling Light, £35 – and if you like that, you might also like these recycled jam jars; The classic bistro cafe chair, £99 comes in red, black, yellow, green and blue. Why not mix and match colours?; Isn't the colourful, late Sixties/Early Seventies font on this Tea For Two mug, £5, brilliant?; who needs lampshades? This Calex decorative golf ball bulb, £4, is beautiful enough on its own. this one is 25-watt and measures 8x6cm. There are alternative sizes and designs on the John Lewis website (though, annoyingly, no alternative fittings to screw-in); this mini multi-drawer desktop chest, £50 would brighten up any workspace – and is perfect for hiding away pens, paperclips, stray Post-its and more; this Folk Home cushion, £35, is so sweet. Oh for an old Scandinavian townhouse to put it in...

Left: check out lots of lovely Le Creuset colours; oven mitt, £12. Right: laundry bag, £12; ironing board cover, from £9; galvanised steel magazine holder, £12.

Montpellier chic

I've just spent a gorgeous few days visiting friends in Montpellier, in the south of France. Not only was the weather spectacular (and I type as manic rain batters the windows this grey, Sunday afternoon) but it is a most stylish city. The French are good at style. And amid the casually beautiful architecture, all cobbled streets and smart limestone apartment blocks with matching grey shutters, there was some serious shopping to be done...

Don't you just love this paper patchwork counter? A great, creative idea, it houses the till at the chic Boutique Square (5 Rue du Petit St Jean, +33 (0) 4 67 66 32 73). I've seen this done before with wallpaper, but not as coherently as this. Perhaps because it is all paper by the same designer – who is in fact, British, and goes under the banner of Miss Print. I'm thinking I might do a whole wall in my living room like this... what do you think? 

Love these JC Castelbajac pop art plates, also from Square. Struggling, however, to find stockists in the UK – though the French designer does have a London shop and is stocked in Harrods. The label is currently in receivership, which may have something to do with it... A good excuse to go to Montpellier, of course – they had lots of these in stock (and French store Printemps seems to have sold them at some point, for €92 the set). A bargain, if you look at them as art.

Aha, the perfect invention for magazine hoarders also short of seating... a clever strap designed to transform those glossy back-issues into a stool. If you don't happen to be in the south of France any time soon, you can also get these from Made in Design, over here. They're £21.90, and by a French company called Eno.

What a luscious lamp. Another Square goodie. However...

For utter lamp heaven (and prices  allowing more plentiful purchases)Absolute Vintage (their website is coming soon, the lovely owner told me) was stuffed with quirky finds.

There was also a super chic shop called Violette (2 Rue Du Petit Saint-Jean, +33 (0) 4 67 92 99 29). Unfortunately, not the most helpful or charming of shop assistants. But one of ace the things they sold, pictured below and on sale online from Dutch by Design at £24.50 in a choice of three colours, was 'Ceci n'est pas un livre' (meaning: this is not a book, in case your French is as bad as my German).

What is it? A marvellously minimal shelf, that cunningly looks like a book. Look closely and you'll see the 'author' is a mysterious S.E.L.F Shelf.

And it's not all about the shopping. What a stunning view...

How to... create your own space

My own space at home is the little room I’ve just turned into an office. I have a desk and a day bed (aka a single bed disguised with cushions) but the walls are bare and the shelving not quite right… In short, it still needs quite some work to make it a place I enjoy sitting in every day. 

So I was most inspired flicking through a gorgeous new book called A Space of my Own (Ryland Peters), by Caroline Clifton-Mogg, left.

And if you hanker after somewhere nice to sew, send emails in peace, sort the bills or just read a book without everyone else in your home in your face – you might be too. The pictures – a few of them below – are full of ideas.

Here are my favourite of her tips on transforming tiny corners and spare rooms into just that (plus one or two of my own)...

More, more, more
 “Almost everyone can carve out a space of their own at home that’s better than the kitchen table,” says Clifton-Mogg. “The smallest corner of a room can be converted – and you will immediately notice the difference makes to your life: more productive, organised, even more creative.”

Seek and hide But how to magic this space? Clifton-Mogg advises: “Look at every bit of your home in a slightly different way. In a familiar building, we walk past alcoves, skirt half-landings (potentially perfect as they’re architecturally defined as separate), and don’t see odd angled spaces under the stairs. And as for cupboards and corridors…” How about a desk-height shelf hinged to flip up when not in use, with wall-hung cupboards or shelves above?

Sleep easy If you’re converting a room but need it for guests – consider a sofabed, “for a more professional aspect”, says Clifton-Mogg. And if you run a home-business and will hold meetings there, your desk should ideally face the door: “Psychologically it’s better than facing a wall”.

Nice personality “Whether your space is separate or part of a larger area, it is important to decorate it in a way that not only acts as a subtle demarcation, but which also inspires while you work. The more of your own things you have around you the more comfortable you will feel.”

It's behind you! From years of renting a patch of office I’ve learned that unless you have room for a massive desk, the ideal – if possible – is to have a shelf or ledge of some sort behind the chair, or a low cupboard to one side: overspill builds and if it can only live on the desk the desk won’t do its job.

The future's bright Being by a window is wonderful – but, from experience, get a black-out blind for sun-glare if you’re computer bound. Try John Lewis. (It’s also good if you’re prone to distracted procrastination…)

Added interest Corporate furniture depresses me. Clifton-Mogg, too: “If you feel dejected at the idea of conventional office furniture, think laterally,” the book says. Its quirky desk suggestions include an upturned door balanced on two filing cabinets (spray painted ideally) and old kitchen tables (with drawers).

A postcard of you Not keen on a pinboard but want that effect and flexibility? Fix string to a wall: with clothes pegs, attach nice postcards, invites and things you like having around you.

Wall-hung Wall-mounted lights free up desk space. If there are shelves above, consider designs intended as kitchen down lighters.

Small and beautiful Shelves equal order, says the book, without which “all else will be in vain”. For a small space, do a wall-mountable ‘infinity bureau box’ (£80) or a slim, lean-to oak shelving/desk unit (£199). “Even a single shelf on simple brackets will make a difference, and a set of shelves, on adjustable brackets, will change your life.”

A chandelier – made from
wine glasses

I recently posted about my friends' gorgeous holiday cottage in Deal... One thing I forgot to include in the post – amid all the beautiful vintage homewares – was the wonderful wine shop we went to. Borough Wines, originally in London's market of the same name, recently set up an outpost in the Kentish seaside town. A brilliant, couldn't-be-Frencher man called Benoit dazzled us with his knowledge and tastings, but I was just as impressed with the shop's lighting. Check it out, below, and you'll see why...

What a gorgeous chandelier, huh? Not only is it cunningly and most aptly made of wine glasses, but it also manages to be glamorous yet utilitarian all at once.

I wondered how the chandelier had come to be – I had idealised visions of Benoit Gallic-ly constructing it as he swigged his way through soupcons of Bordeaux to free up the glasses... and I looked up "chandelier frames" with this in mind. What I found, was much simpler: you can buy these marvellous things ready-made. And not just made out of wine glasses...

The top chandelier comes in various sizes, and is constructed from old-style milk bottles. Find it in various sizes at Amazon, for £174.99, made by Leitmotiv a super cool but not terrifyingly expensive lighting designers (you can't buy direct from them, from Amazon seems like the cheapest distributor of their stuff).

The wine glass version is £163.90 at Litecraft, currently on sale for £147.51 (down from £273).

They'd both be tricky to find the right spot for though... I think the only place they'd work is in the diner part of an open plan kitchen, or over the right dining table. Too far into a kitchen would just be too greasy, and anywhere else in the house (unless you have a bespoke wine tasting area) could feel a bit random. What do you think?

How to… tackle an old house (Antoni & Alison style)

If you saw today's Insider column in the Independent on Sunday, about the studio/house of Brit fashion design duo Antoni and Alison – and how they did it up, you might want to see how it looks. 

Well, here are a few snaps of their quirkily styled and lovingly restored space...

When the creative partners bought the derelict 1820s house they spent a year, says Antoni, “Going ‘Agh! What do we do with it?’” They wanted to respect its history but not to the point it resembled an English Heritage property. The result is a surprisingly beautiful blend of Mr Blobby ornaments and painstakingly salvaged authenticity. On 17 September, as part of London Fashion Week, they open it to the public ( I asked Antoni what he’d learnt during the restoration…

Love conquers all “Never buy to sell on,” says Antoni. “Fall in love with a place.” It’s what gave he and Alison the strength to grapple with a collapsed roof, wall-mushrooms an exterior covered in plastic flowers. There was also a "secret" cemented over basement that the previous owner had filled with relics from his job – as a dustman. In other words, rubbish.

Gotta have faith “The surveyor told us to ‘walk away’ and my dad, a builder, said ‘don’t do it’,” he continues. “But the house had survived two world wars, been a workshop, a dress-making shop, a lino off-cuts shop and been DIY-ed to death. Being told no gave us a challenge.”

Expert touch "Somebody said: ‘Get an architect’. So we did. And it was brilliant because the architect said, 'What you want to do is lose this wall here, rip out this, turn it into a big modernist space…’ and then we knew he was talking rubbish. It made us realise we wanted to preserve as much as we could because we’d grown to love everything about it."

Your history “We asked people in the local pub, went to the records office – anything to piece together the house’s history. It helped us make decisions about what to keep and restore.”

Can’t touch this “Don’t do anything immediately – it took us a year of thinking to start work. We took photos of every inch and laid them out elsewhere to help us make a plan. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed while surrounded by the space.” It is also tempting, he adds, to expose wonderful things as you find them – in their case, the original banisters, among many other treasures. But resist until building work is complete – things are easily ruined amid the dust and chaos.

Truth and rights “The house’s history was important to us – but we weren’t slaves to the era. When we added new bits, even matching wood panels, we didn’t try to make them look old. Nothing is fake: we wanted to be honest.”

Mega mix The duo have chairs – which you can see further up – once owned by the Beatles (bought from the Jesus and Mary Christian Trust and, now, adorned with a specially- made brass plaque noting the Fab Four's probable link), Billy Butlin’s old bathroom (the sink is also labelled with one of the pair's commissioned plaques) and 1940s lighting discarded from a department store. “We deliberately added things slowly and organically,” Antoni explains. “It’s not stuff you’d maybe think would all work in a Georgian house – like Mr Blobby! But he fits in beautifully because he’s loved. And I think that’s the secret: don’t get things just because you think they’re worth something, get them because you think ‘I really love that.’”

Search and rescueSalvo is brilliant. You can post very specific things you’re after – like an 1820s sink – and someone, nerdishly, will have a tip.”

Scene and heard Interview a good few builders on-site: “You wouldn’t hire anyone else without doing so. And listen more than you speak.”

Boxing clever Antoni's dad was a builder. His top tip? “Don’t let workmen box things in. If they make stuff thinking it’ll be on display, they’ll do it beautifully. Box in at the end if you like, knowing there’s perfection underneath.”

Inside job Take a guided tour of the house online:

Introducing...Quirky Etsy shop, Bark Decor

Just discovered a very sweet new Etsy shop full of handmade,
eco-sensitive products – but very beautifully designed ones. 

Bark Decor is based in Boston USA. It's a shame it's not Boston Lancashire – but the good news is that they ship to the UK for a very reasonable rate (about £4, depending on what you buy). Here are a couple of things on my want list...

This beautiful French alphabet print, $18 (around £11) comes as part of a full set, pictured below – and it works out cheaper to buy the full set (x3 for around £28 and x7 for around £60, p&p £4). Each signed print measures 7"x 12" including a 1" border. Gorgeous.

Hand Screen Printed Pillow Cases Set of 2 These screen-printed pillowcases, $22 (around £13.50, plus around £4 p&p) are so unusual – and a quirky twist on white that won't mess up a minimal colour-scheme. The brilliant bear on a bike (with, yes, a human arm in his benevolent-looking face) is officially titled "Commandeered By Wilderness", while the Aztec-y design is "I Slipped into Reverie". The pillowcases are 180 thread-count, cotton blend and the ink is eco-friendly and water-based. There are a few more prints to choose from at the shop and the designs also come as t-shirts and flour sack tea-towels.

Find out more about Bark Decor