Given Scandinavian dominance in the field of industrial design, the influential and popular London Design Festival, a 10-day interior decor bonanza which took place in mid-September, served as a reminder that England intends to make known their considerable contribution – both in volume and quality – to inventive design.
British pioneers in the field, namely Sir Terence Conran and Sir James Dyson, were on hand with their latest creations, but it was the work of newer, myriad firms which stole the show. In the midst of over 300 exhibitions and tours, floral-inspired wallpaper and lamps, benches taut with bright yarn and wallpaper printed on non-woven paper heralded the newest entries in British industrial design.
When I visited London this summer, just after the Olympics’ Closing Ceremony, it was evident to me that the city was resting deliciously in the rosy afterglow of an international event that ran smoothly, and, better yet, ended with a bang. Not only did NBC score record ratings for its broadcast of the sporting events, tickets to the Paralympics sold out rapidly. The London Design Festival, then, was just the extra creamy icing on a glorious summer’s last cake.
The following are highlights from the festival, including photos of swarmed housewares stores in East London, delightful light bulbs (which, however, cost upwards of $40,000) and shoes which route you in the direction of your destination.
1. Ingo Maurer’s bespoke J.B. Dragonfly light ($40,357)
By far one of the more nature-inspired items on display at the Festival, this adorable light bulb and its vestigial insect friends would make the corner of any home glow. On the other hand, its jaw-dropping price tag of $40,357 is enough to skip over to Home Depot for a cheaper alternative.
2. Labour and Wait – your destination for artisan household goods, conveniently located in Shoreditch, London
During my trip, A. Gold, a shop known for its traditional English groceries in the Spitalfields section of London, had been my first stop on a rainy afternoon. They had everything from small-batch jam, handmade by an 80-something Irishwoman, to fresh pastries, but I wanted a tea cosy. The friendly owners pointed me in the direction of Labour and Wait, which is probably the most fascinating shop I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.
There were enough specialized goods to make the hipster-est of hipsters green with envy. Hand-stitched brooms, pocket combs carved from horn, and Japanese enamel jugs shaded in elegant pastels – they have it all. But, like most of the products at the shop, and at the Design Festival, the cosy was prohibitively expensive: £35, or about $75. No thanks. I’ll just use a hand towel.
3. Dominic Wilcox’s ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ GPS-enabled shoes (price unavailable)
You may cut an impressive figure in these smart shoes, but these shoes are more than just sartorially intelligent: tap the heels twice, and tiny lights at the tips will point you in the direction of your destination. Here’s how it works: the wearer uploads information about their destination via USB to the shoe, and the data from the GPS in the left shoe wirelessly communicates with the right shoe, which shows the progress made on a row of lights. You may not be in Kansas anymore, but with these helpful kicks, your doubt about whereabouts won’t last much longer.
4. Anton Alvarez thread-wrapped chair (price unavailable)
Wrapping this bench in colorful thread is just as difficult as it looks. Alvarez uses his own invention, the Thread Wrapping Machine, to join different types of material with only glue-coated thread to bond it. (Check out a video of the machine in action here.)
5. Peacocks on Grass wallpaper by Squint Limited ($226 per roll)
Squint, a design firm created by Lisa Whatmough, works with independent, family-owned businesses to fashion furniture, lighting (boggle your mind with crazy cool chandeliers – I do not use that phrase lightly – here) and smaller accessories, such as cushions, mirrors and bedside tables. The wallpaper above is made of non-woven paper; I don’t know what that means, but it sure is purdy.
6. Max Lamb’s bone china for 1882 Ltd. ($75 – $160)
This ain’t your grandmother’s china. I was taken aback to see something so inelegant and so rudimentary considered classy dinnerware. But it’s the simplicity of the product – the unvarnished and textured nature – that makes it unique, and another in a long list of cool British design objets d’art that cost a pretty penny.