26 May 2023

I finally made it to Clerkenwell Design Week – CDW2023

This year I finally made it to Clerkenwell Design Week. A silly name seeing as it’s only three days Tues-Thurs, but hey. I’ve missed it many times in the past because it clashed with work commitments, tour guiding etc. or perhaps I was out of the country. Or simply lazy.  I dunno. 
This year, due to a job being postponed, I suddenly had a big blank gap in my diary so I hopped on the tube to Farringdon where a girl at the CDW kiosk in front of the station printed off my badge and attached it to a snazzy pink lanyard and off I went to explore. 
And, Oh my god, I had no idea how extensive this event was. I ventured into places I have either never had cause to enter before or they just weren’t known to me, being as my Clerkenwell of old was a world of typesetters and printers, and then crafters, artist and designer-makers. But these days, with print gone digital, and the artists mostly moved to Docklands, the Clerkenwell area is the domain of interior design solutions – bricks, flooring, heating, ceramics, shelving systems, integrated this that and whatnot. And wow. I learned so much. Let’s do this in the order I visited…

From Farringdon station I turned left down Cowcross St where a free sample bottle of Multivitamin Gummies was thrust into my hand (the first of many promotional freebies) and I made my way round to St John Street. First stop was EHSmith architectural solutions. I was lured in by the arrangements of bricks on the walls looking like the best swatch book ever. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a paint chart or a Pantone selector. So I accepted a good black coffee at the welcome desk and wandered about the showroom taking snaps of the wide selection of product samples (above) and this was to become my style of pics for the whole day. 
I chatted to the staff about how nice it is that some new builds of late are implementing fancy brickwork or hand fired tiles and was just about to leave when I noticed the artwork bricks in the window display. I queried their relevance and was encouraged to go downstairs and see the guys who were setting up a table for their ‘Draw On A Brick‘ competition. Basically, they give you a large brick and you can paint/ draw on it there (lots of sharpies, paints etc available) or you can take it away to work on it at home and get it back by 14th July to enter the comp and possibly win an all expenses paid trip to Vienna. Blimey. Vienna is still on my Go To list so I went back for a brick later. 

Opposite EH Smith I noticed that The White Bear was open again. It had been a lovely old Victorian boozer that I last visited just before it closed in 2019. I’d been concerned that original features that were still hanging on in there, like carved wood, tiled areas and fireplace, would be replaced so I popped inside and chatted to the lovely Italian fella in there, and I can report that, phew, it’s all been retained and you can still buy a pint of draught in there and enjoy it with a pizza. The Italian influence in the area was to become further evident as my day progressed. 
A few doors along is Forbo, a flooring specialist. Again, walls of lovely square swatches (middle pic above). I particularly liked the marble, terrazzo and textured surfaces. At the rear of the showroom there was a woman from Chocofruit, which is basically skewered fruit slathered in chocolate. I accepted a banana and strawberry combo over which she dribbled dark and white chocolate, sprinkled with crushed nuts. If you think that sounds naughty you should have seen the sample display of a whole banana on the counter covered in a veined pattern of three chocolates which I said looked like many cases of wrong!  This gloopy concoction seemed to me to be a strange messy thing to be eating in a showroom. I had trouble getting it in my mouth without smearing it all round my face or dripping on the floor. The floor was lovely by the way. Well, obviously. 
Then into Elite’s London showroom a few doors further along. Here I spent ages chatting to lovely Michelle a bit about their office furniture but mostly about how attention to detail is key. Our main concern being, to do things right first time and you won’t need to fix them later. An absolute delight. And more swatch books of fabrics.  

I could have chatted to Michelle all day but I c
rossed the road to RAK Ceramics. First thing I spotted was what I thought was two huge slices of marble at the rear of a bathroom installation. But it turns out this was/is ceramic. And wow. What an amazing product, and surprisingly cheap as I later found out when I was shown around by Andy. He explained the Italian core of the business and how they make the products and all the colours and ‘marbles’ available. If I was doing up my bathroom or kitchen I’d def be looking into this stuff. Oh, and whilst we were talking we accepted and enjoyed some marvellous small bowls of excellent food. Almost every company taking part in CDW was partnered with a food or drink outlet/sponsor. Tho I did notice in other places that most of it was being quaffed or scoffed by what looked like staff members sat around tables talking not actually talking about products. Ha ha. 
My next stop was interesting and had I not stopped to chat to the guy at the door of 140 St John St to ask what was inside I prob would have walked past. I’m glad Andy piqued my interested because on the 4th floor I found Rockfon, a company offering some very clever and simply attractive acoustic products, Fiona explained the products to me and I became so engaged in the subject of clever, almost unnoticeable yet attractive acoustic solutions products that I forgot to take any snaps. I returned on Thursday to listen to a talk about the problems with noise levels in today's pubs and restaurants. Interesting, but I'd been hoping they'd share their ideas of how to assuage these problems.
In the Brewery Yard area, I first visited Sedus to learn more about how working environments are now multi-use adaptable spaces. They’ve got some lovely adaptable chairs and I was delighted by an almost dolls' house scale model which includes Lego pieces of Father Christmas and other random characters.

In another building, I think it was Wagstaff & Umbrella Furniture, I got talking to a young man called Yorke who was there representing his father’s company making living walls, by which I mean plants that are alive but not living. I’m still a bit confused about that process and I’m not sure about the vibrant unreal colour of the manipulated plants as the green is too blue-green to me. I dunno. 
Near there is Camira, in their own words, and literally, ‘a textile revolution’ - they recycle old fabrics into new ones. And such gorgeous weaves and colours too. After that, I started noticing Camira fabrics in other showrooms. 

I peeked into a few more places including a couple offering carpet squares. I’ve yet to see any examples that don’t make me feel like I’m at a temporary event/exhibition and many of the new designs I saw here have the effect of looking threadbare even tho they are brand new, so I don’t really understand the appeal at all. Perhaps I should have had a proper chat to someone about sustainability/recycling, as I might have been enlightened.

On the flip side, I do see the allure of a good hardwood floor and I spent ages in Havwoods in Gt Sutton Street, letting Richard explain to me the different surfaces and finishes as I am keen to replace my own living room floor at home (one day!). Whoops, despite many drawers of lovely surfaces, I only took one pic, shown above right, because it reminded me about woodblock paving. 

Then just up the street near a colourfully-tiled infinity room by Yinka Ilori, I went into The Gallery where I got chatting to Spencer, the project advisor for Unilin. To cut a long story short here, Spencer knows his onions and when I asked him about the eco friendliness of his company’s panels, used for kitchen cupboards, shelves etc, I was really impressed, enlightened and encouraged to hear how the far ahead of the game Unilin is. Go google. As I said to Spencer, five stars on all accounts. 

In Zip Water I had fun being contrary. Basically, I just don’t understand these new scalding hot and freezing cold multifunction mixer taps that I am told are being installed in a very large proportion of new builds these days. As I said to the guys, they are ok in a work, hospitality or canteen environment (tho you’d need unattractive H&S warning stickers nearby) but how can something that squirts out 97degF be safe in the home, especially near children? And that huge unit under the sink taking up valuable space – what’s wrong with a kettle?! And why do people need shower nozzles on a kitchen tap when they have dishwashers for plates when the trend these days is to get food delivered in disposable cartons by courier? What is the world coming to? People obviously have much larger disposable incomes that I do. Oh how we laughed. Dan says and he’ll send me more info. I’ll take some convincing!!  Oh, instead of alcohol, croissants or chocolate fruit, here there was a Pic 'n' Mix sweet dispensary. I filled up a small bag with cola bottles, jelly worms and choc discs and continued my investigation and education…

In Bastwick Street I visited the marvellous showroom of Sixteen3 on the first floor of one of my favourite Art Deco manufactories in this area. At first glance at the furniture here and you’d think, oh yeah, more modular bench seating, shelves and dividers. Until you then notice the clever recycled products made from things such as plastic, bamboo and cork, all available in a lovely range of colours whether for the hard or soft elements. Clever, understated, well designed pieces. I really like the little marble-effect tables made from carrier bags, each one totally unique.

A quick nip into another Italian interiors showroom in Old Street, also with large scale ceramic panels. Somewhere around here I'd lost the name card from my lanyard. Every company I had visited had used to keep a tab on visitors and the paper, tho thick, had taken quite a bashing. I retraced my steps but couldn’t find it. It wasn’t a pre-requisite so I carried on even tho by this time, about 5:30pm, I was starting to fade. I crossed over to Ocee & Four (uplifting positive quotes on their cards) where I heard about their adaptable tables and chairs alongside laughing Laura from Manchester. 
I found an art gallery open in Albermarle Way, not part of CDW, where Alison Hainey, artist, showed me around its lovely Georgian interior and her studio. I really like her work. Her deep dirty colours and melancholic subject matter is right up my street. 

Finally, a walk through the Italian ceramics tent adjacent to St John’s Gate. And it again occurred to me how many Italians are today trading out of Clerkenwell. Sort of a second wave following on from the organ grinders, ice cream makers and restaurant owners that settled at the western side of this district over 100 years before. 

I thought I'd had enough. But no there was too much to see. On Wednesday afternoon I returned for a few hours to investigate some showrooms and installations around Clerkenwell Green. Old buildings such as theSessions House being used to great effect these days. I found innovative bathroom solutions, Spanish ceramics, South African textiles and some innovative lighting solutions in the underground cells of the old Detention House including some more acoustic solutions, this time made from waste cotton – the gorgeous tiles that look like papier maché (see middle pic above). 

And then I went back again on Thursday! After the restaurant acoustics talk I collected my brick then investigated the spaces within St John's church Clerkenwell. I haven't been inside there for over fours years. Lots of lovely floorings and textiles in the church. I particularly liked the topographic rugs. The crypt below has been given a whitewash since I last visited, which makes the space better and brighter for events such as this yet leaving William's memento mori and the unknown knight undisturbed whilst surrounded by Kasthall's gorgeous rugs. By now it was 5pm and many showrooms were closing. I wish I'd got to Schotten & Hansen earlier so that I could have coloured up a swatch of wood (see below left) Ooh.
I ended my experience at Viaduct where there are some amazing unique lighting and furniture pieces on show. But I was too late to see the marvellous Mr Smith is action at his letterpress. I did chat to him for quite a while though, even though he'd as good as lost his voice after demonstrating his work. 

I'm exhausted and so very pleased I had the time to visit this year. It’s been a delight. I’ve learned lots and I have met some interesting people. Thank you CDW2023 
One more thing... I kept noticing that everyone I spoke to had pale eyes, either blue like mine or green or light yellowy hazel. A weird phenomenon. I’m sure I only met one person who had brown eyes (a Zip mixer tap man). I wonder, is there some kind of correlation here re an interest in creative innovative stuff? Just a thought. 

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Thanks, Jane