Storytime at Decorex 2017

Decorex is renowned as London’s premier interior decoration event, and its aisles are populated by the cogniscenti of the interior design world searching for new ideas.
Revisiting the show I was excited to see that Decorex is encouraging smaller design companies to exhibit, and rather than sticking them in a dingy corner of the show, they are interspersed amongst the established brands.

Fanny Shorter, for instance, has a beautiful collection of hand printed linens, bold in colour and exquisitely drawn. Not for Fanny the current trend of photo-montage and digital printing, hers is a truly personal collection of designs inspired by the stories of Gerald Durrell and the island of Corfu.

Story telling is also part of Newton Paisley’s collection. Designer Susy Paisley is a biologist who has used her drawings to create a collection of prints that highlight the plight of endangered species. Glorious depictions of tropical creatures and plants printed on linen serve to preserve wild habitat through her collaboration with the World Land Trust. 


Baker & Gray‘ s collection is inspired by the lifelong travels of designer Sarah Baker. Prints and embroideries are derived from family heirlooms and plants forms from the African continent. Reminiscent of raw, untreated cloth the linens have an earthy elegance that harks back to a bygone age.

Smaller design companies have historically been limited in their collections by the prohibitive cost of print production. The evolution of digital printing has somewhat alleviated this problem, with shorter minimum print runs and the opportunity for affordable multi-colour printing.

It is, however, gratifying to see that the art of hand screenprinting is still very much alive and championed by small design companies. March & May handprint their collection of small scaled graphic printed fabrics in their Sheffield studio. Bicoloured or monochrome designs are all hand printed to order.

Designer and ceramicist Laura Hamilton is one of the Justin Van Breda Showroom’s new additions. Again these designs are inspired by a life well travelled, depicting plant forms of the Caribbean in their simple,pared back drawings, hand printed onto linen.

One of the more refined examples of digital printing in Decorex were the wallpapers of Boho &Co shimmering hummingbirds and delicate plants climb the wall reminiscent of traditional chinoiserie papers. The colours are get my contemporary, and the temptation to over design using digital artwork has been cleverly avoided.

One of the new companies launching at Decorex this year was Hunt & Hope not a print in sight, this company has rediscovered the art of traditional needlepoint and given it a fun twist. Camouflage and animal skin patterns are stitched by hand to commission ready for use on cushions, ottomans and accessories. A refreshing new approach to a traditional art.It is refreshing to see these and other small businesses thriving in the tough world of the interior decoration industry.

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Hair looms exhibition

The Saturday night crowd in Peckham’s trendy Blenheim Grove must have wondered what on earth was happening in the Me’lange hair salon. Usually full of people having their hair braided, nails done or feet pedicured, this Saturday instead saw the official opening of the ‘Hair looms’ exhibition of photographs celebrating the natural beauty of black hair.

 

Photo by Robert Taylor for the hair looms project
Hair looms exhibition. Photo by Robert Taylor 

Melissa Jo Smith, director of ‘Illuminated Arts’ generated the project in a response to the growing concerns about the misconceptions around black hair styling traditions, and perceived unfairness particularly within the education system where students of both sexes are often unfairly penalised for wearing traditional plaited or braided hairstyles or having large afro’s, whereas long or extreme European hairstyles are often disregarded.

Robert Taylor, whose work is held in major collections such as the National Portrait gallery and the V&A, has worked with local people within the salon to explore the forms and effects of natural black hair styling. The resulting images are forceful in their natural effervescence and character with an immediacy that belies the thoughtful approach he has taken to presenting real down-to-earth people. It is this down to earth aspect of the exhibition that I loved; Simple black and white images about hair, being shown in a vibrant and bustling hair salon. If you have ever visited Peckham High Street (which I thoroughly recommend) and it’s side streets you will know  that these salons are true social hubs for the local community. The mere fact that combing and plaiting black hair can take hours to achieve, necessitates a real connection with the people around you in the salon. None of that “would you like a coffee and a copy of Vogue to read whilst your hair is being cut?”  Here you find children, friends and family hanging out, gossiping and generally making themselves at home whiling away the hours of intricate styling. The heady fumes of nail polishes, steam treatments for hair and a myriad of styling products pervades the air as we take in the photography and note the pride of all concerned in this exhibition. Mr Taylor is being interviewed, comfy rococo sofas are drawn up for a panel discussion, a little girl has one half of her head a mass of downy curls whilst the hairdresser plaits it into a beautiful swirl around her head. As the photographs are interspersed between the salon’s mirrors and styling tools.

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Robert Taylor 

Saltfish fritters and sticky lemon cake were served with Carribean fruit cocktail punch, and we settled down to a discussion on the imprtance of the traditions of black hair, it’s cultural identity in the modern world and the political statements integral in the changing trends in Black hair styling over the decades. The debate was sparked by a video of archive footage of Britains first recognised black hairdresser Carmen England in the 1940’s. It was here that the attitude to ‘alien’ black hair became apparent as the narrator refers to ‘secret oils’ and hot combing required to achieve a stereotypical 1940’s hairdo! The Hair loom exhibition’s visitors were variously horrified, indignant and amused by this glimpse into hairderssing history. Debate ranged from the inevitable references to slavery traditions, today’s ‘Black lives matter’ campaign and the practicalities of nurturing a healthy head of afro hair. Overall the consensus accross the panel was that the overwhelming pressures on modern women to conform to stereotypical straight, Eurocentric and treated hair are too heavy to ignore for the majority of women.

The irony of assosciations with slavery and poverty were not lost on me during the discussions about hair extensions and wigs, with the current concerns over the ethics of real human hair extensions. “Much of the hair on sale comes from small agents who tour villages in India, China, and eastern Europe, offering poverty-stricken women small payments to part with their hair. As one importer, based in Ukraine, told the New York Times recently: “They are not doing it for fun. Usually only people who have temporary financial difficulties in depressed regions sell their hair.” More worryingly, back in 2006, the Observer reported that in India some husbands were forcing their wives into selling their hair, slum children were being tricked into having their heads shaved in exchange for toys, and in one case a gang stole a woman’s hair, holding her down and cutting it off.” Homa Khaleeli, The Guardian 201220161015_194006.jpg

Robert Taylor photograph
Hair looms exhibition. Photo Robert Taylor

“Historically hair was very important in Africa and was, in many tribes, a way to show one’s status, identity, religion, and ancestry. The importance of hair in determining one’s status became even more apparent during slavery in the United States as black women with a kinky hair texture had to work in the fields while those with a more Caucasian- like hair texture were house slaves (Robinson, 2011; Lester, 2000). However, despite their looser hair texture, house enslaved Africans still had to take a step further in order to be presentable as white masters had control over them and forced them to have an image as close to white as possible (Thompson, 2008).

Therefore, emulating white standards of beauty for body image and particularly for hair meant having more status, the possibility to pass as white, become free and even survival in some instances (Patton, 2006). The mixed children from slave masters had looser, straighter and softer hair considered “good hair”, which added to the pressure African Americans experienced to appear as white as they could (Tate, 2007). That helps understand how black people’s need to alter their natural hair came about and still persists in our times.

The Politics of Black Womens’ Hair. Vanessa King & Dieynaba Niabaly 2013

Minnesota State University, Mankato

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The event was finished of by a piece of traditional african dance by Marta de Sousa of the Nzinga dance company, based in Forest Hill.

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Nzinga Dance company

Politics aside, the striking images in this exhibition are worth a look, you shouldn’t expect an uninterrupted view as in a standard gallery setting, but enjoy the atmosphere and banter as you do!

Through rose tinted…

Having spent the last couple of weeks looking at various design exhibitions I couldn’t help but notice a predominance of Pink in the new launches this autumn.Not that ‘Barbie pink’ we all love to hate, but a fluctuation between soft dusty pink and what I always think of as a hot ‘Indian pink’.

There are so many preconceptions about the colour pink, but it has recently come to the fore of home furnishing palettes as a sophisticated and fresh tone within the home. Despite today’s misconception that “pink is for girls’, historically the colour has had masculine associations, notably in Japan, where the coloured pink-blossomed cherry trees are seen as representing the young Samuraii who fell in battle in their prime.The flowers took on a similar meaning during the second World war, when they were painted on the side of Japanese kamikaze warplanes

The city of Jaipur in India is known as the ‘Pink City’some say that the Raja Jawai Singh had the city painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales on an official visit, and the colour has become part of the reatition of the city  with new constructions taking on the colour to this day. As Diana Vreeland said; “Pink is the navy blue of India”

This dusty pink plays a part in the current colour trend, adding a subdued tone to the pink palette. Icons of Denmark have used this soft tone in the upholstery of their contemporary chairs as seen at Design Junction last month.

Icons of Denmark pink upholstered chair
Icons-of-Denmark

Chanel’s iconic pink tweed has been re-invented over and over in their collections, this season it ranges from the original soft pink through to hot “Shiaparelli” pink.

In the home textile collections launched at this season’s Focus show at Chelsea design Centre several companies reference this pink tweed, for example ‘Cestino Flamenceo’from Harlequin, which from a distance, gives a softly undulating pink tone.  Villa Nova also introduce their design Koji geranium; a  warm, dusty pink, textured weave from their Hana Weave collection.

Harlequin fabrics, Celestino pink tweed fabric
Harlequin-fabrics

Whilst Romo have created a new tiny geometric weave using the same tones of soft pink.

Don’t be concerned by today’s prejudices against pink as only being ‘for girls’,  This is a relatively new phenomenon.  For centuries, according to Jean Heifetz (When Blue Meant Yellow: How Colors Got Their Names . Henry Holt, 1994), European children were dressed in blue because the color was associated with the Virgin Mary. The use of pink and blue emerged at the turn of the century, the rule being pink for boys, blue for girls. Since pink was a stronger color it was best suited for boys; blue was more delicate and dainty and best for girls. And in 1921, the Women’s Institute for Domestic Science in Pennsylvania endorsed pink for boys, blue for girls. It is a matter of debate as to when the colour pink became tagged as being only for girls ( I blame Barbie, but am probably wrong!)

Pink is generally known as a colour of happiness and innocence and it has been shown to have significant effects on our psycological state.

  • It has been used in prison cells to effectively modify agressive or erratic mood swings in inmates.
  • Pink is a symbol of joy in Catholicism
  • The color pink is thought to have a tranquilizing effect. Sometimes sport’s teams use pink to paint the opposing team’s changing room!
  • Pink encourages friendliness while discouraging aggression and ill-will.
  • Male weightlifters performance has been diminished when surrounded by pink, whereas female weightlifters performance was enhanced!

The Portugese luxury interior design company Jetclass presented a sumptuous interior display at 100% design, with soft pink furnishings and contemporary accessories.

Of course The Pink House By Rebecca Cole collection is right on trend with our “Love Walk”  hand printed cushion design too!

Love Walk cushion
Love Walk. Rooted in SE5. 45x45cm cushion

Brighter pinks are youthful, fun, and exciting, while vibrant pinks have the same high energy as red; they are sensual and passionate without being too aggressive. This is on show in Mauel Canovas’ Indian inspired embroidered linen, Clermont Pivoine  which lifts the spirit in the true tradtition of pink design. Brighter pinks are stimulating, energising and can increase the blood pressure, respiration, heartbeat, and pulse rate.They also encourage action and confidence. So we will keep an eye open for this positivity in seasons to come!

Manuel Canovas Clermont pivoine embroidered linen fabric
Manuel-Canovas

 

 

A story of dreams

The current blockbuster show at the V&A museum was a must see this week, it runs into the new year so you still have plenty of time to visit.

You say you want a revolution? Records and rebels 1966-1970.

Put aside at least a couple of hours for this mammoth collection of 6o’s and 70’s memorabilia, from Twiggy, The Beatles and Sam Cooke right through to the final 1970’speace movement, Vietnam war and a massive Woodstock festival experience.

Imagine taking the ‘Acid test’ and be absorbed by the musical timeline that cleverly takes you through the show on the headsets provided.

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Twiggy. Daily Mail

 

There was so much to take in, and so much to listen to, I could have done with a second visit, which, as a friend of the V&A I can do, but one day ticket holders are not so lucky and really have to immerse themselves in a head swirling cacophony of images, memories and music, which are, I suppose quite in keeping with the surreal hedonism portrayed in the exhibition!

The portrayal of optimism, and faith in the power of youth sails through the sixties, and comes crashing down as you enter the era of the Vietnam war, and the Black power struggle in the seventies. The quote that sticks in my mind is that of a young aamerican soldier being interviewed about the casualties of the war; the interviewer asks;

“And the children?”

he replies;

“And the children”

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Photo by Nick Ut of Vietnamese nepalm victims

 

Struggle against authority becomes the focus of youth and the era of festivals and the peace movement takes us into Woodstock, where we experience the music and fashions of Hendrix, Baez and The Who. The optimism of youth emerges once more and the naive optimism abounds amongst the music and naturalism of the moment.woodstock

Of course as we progress to the final room of the exhibition we are faced with the story in film of cynical consumerism, war and politics all overlaid with the soundtracks to CocaCola adverts.

I left the exhibition with an overwhelming sense of the rollercoaster of emotions I had experienced through the show, optimism, hope, idealism and freedom, juxtaposed with disillusionment, futility and brutality. John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is playing in our ears as we leave the show, epitomising all these emotions in one poignant moment.

Wooden it be lovely

Design Junction 2016  is one of my favourite mainstream shows of the annual London Design Festival. Contemporary design is presented within changing locations each year, all of which have some link with industry. This year’s Design junction is held at the newly revamped Kings Cross Granary Square, also home of the iconic Central St Martins School of art. Rather than attempting to give an overview of the show I have picked one theme which caught my eye as I was browsing the myriad of exhibits this morning: the trend for incorporating wooden elements into products that are more often seen using industrial, shiny or synthetic substrates.

 Notably in the lighting displays wood is being used in innovative ways, bringing a natural element to contemporary lighting.

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A.S design
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Another Studio design

Another Studio have developed new techniques for working with wood: taking sheet veneer and cutting and folding  it into dynamic shapes. The mix of machine and handmade processes serve to craft these beautiful forms.  The wooden sheets are backed with a fabric which adds colour to the inside of the lampshades.

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Tamasine Osher Design
Tamasine Osher has created a collection of wooden ‘cupola’ light forms that are from hand-turned wood with the beauty of the grain enhanced by the polished surfaces of the bowls which balance delicately within graphic steel and brass bases. The glow emanating from these wooden bowls has an ethereal quality that I love, and can envisage warming a cosy corner one winter’s evening.
Dinesen created an imposing backdrop to the entrance hall for the show. A giant wooden ‘tent’ structure served to showcase their range of stained Douglas fir and Oak flooring, setting the style for the strong wooden trend in this year’s show.
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Tala

The juxtaposition of industrial and natural was subtly used on the Tala lighting exhibit. This company has an ethos for sustainable design and have established a pledge to plant ten native trees in the UK for every 200 units sold within Europe. These lights have the aesthetic look of the traditional filament bulb whilst receiving all of the technical and energy saving capabilities of the LED. The bases or ‘knuckes’ of the lights are from turned wood, and soften the post industrial look.

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Geoffrey Fisher

The wooden home accessories of Geoffrey Fisher have all those wonderful tactile qualities of natural wood. The natural forms found in woodlands  make beautiful and sustainable products, Geoffrey transforms twigs and branches into products ranging from hooks and tabletop dustpan and brushes to whistles, catapults and skipping ropes.Retaining the bark and juxtaposing it with perfectly smooth surfaces gives this range an honesty that is both comforting and pleasing to hold.

In the spirit of sustainability, Design House Stockholm present the Atelier 2+ greenhouse. Essentially an architectural design, this mini greenhaouse is made of laquered solid Ash, with toughened glass panes. and a galvanised metal planting tray. it is designed to be a freestanding interior ornament, and brings my perusal of all things wooden to a natural close.

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Design House Stockholm

Top Drawer

As each season of new products approaches, I look forward to visiting the Top Drawer Show in London. This is in the knowledge of course, that after so many years of trend spotting, I am extremely difficult to please, and find it hard to be ‘wowed’ by the products launched by the multitudinous companies that show their wares to the trade buyers at these shows.  However, I am the eternal optimist and turn up every time looking for that wonderful object, design or personal ‘click’ that makes me feel warm inside!

I am of course always drawn to the textile products, as that is my background, and this week chanced upon the stand of Peaceable Kingdom. The Peaceable Kingdom cushion collections came about through the artist designer Hugh Dunford Wood creating an image of a cat for his daughter and subsequently grew into a range of lino block printed cushions.

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Peaceable Kingdom cushions

The random qualities of hand block printing lend an individual element that I love to these simple and striking designs, and I feel that they embody the pared-down and simplistic feel of the current trend for naturally produced, bespoke furnishings.

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Mon Amie are a couple of florists from Leicestershire who have designed a simple work apron that is deliciously stylish, just the kind of thing I can imagine Vita Sackville-West donning to collect fully blown roses in her Sissinghurst garden! I was initially attracted by the sumptuous colour of their stand, a combination of soft slate, earth and warm mustard aprons simply hanging and folded in unassuming piles.

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Mon Amie Aprons

Again I was drawn to the organic simplicity of the presentation and products from this duo, and love that they have been brave enough to make a limited colour statement for the launch of these linen aprons. Mon Amie living has a gentle and restrained sense of style that so many of us aspire to, but are not often brave enough to make that statement.

Moving from garden to kitchen in a smooth transition, the understated luxury of The Silver Duck cutlery collection is an example of form and function pared down to a beautiful simplicity. Charlotte Anne Duckworth ihas refined the craft of silversmithing to forge light and elegant pieces of silver cutlery, combining this luxurious metal with the pale wood of holly  for the handles. I personally can’t resist a lovely wooden box, and Charlotte has presented her pieces in simple presentation boxes, with the pieces of cutlery nestled amongst wood shavings. These little cabinets of curiosity are beautiful in themselves, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the utensils can’t be used, they are perfectly functional and Charlotte provides a litttle bottle of oil and a soft cloth for us to maintain the holly wood after it has been washed!

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These were my pick of the Top Draw show this season, minimal, organic and functional all, but above all exemplary pieces of timeless design.

Indoor gardening

I revisited one of my favourite art venues this weekend in the Cotswold town of Cirencester. The Brewery Arts Centre was one of the pioneers in encouraging designer makers to set up workshops and studios in their purpose built hub.For the past 40 years the Cirencester Workshops’ aim has been to ‘give the public good quality crafts, provide craftspeople with a fair rent and encourage them to produce creative work of a high standard, and to put the enterprise on a sound financial basis’.  I have been priveleged to witness the evolution of this centre over the years and have always enjoyed popping in to see what’s on in the gallery or peep into the workshops to witness some really stunning works being created. (Not to mention the fab coffee!)

The current exhibition, “How does your garden grow?” has been curated by garden designer Geoff Carr. He has created an indoor garden design which features ceramics, sculpture, garden furniture and tools. Although I was not a great fan of the synthetic lino ’tiling’ which didn’t really do the works sitting upon it justice, I thoroughly approve of the concept behind the show. So often, garden design elements are shoved to the background, overshadowed by showy plants and flowers, but this exhibition gives us the opportunity to see gardening staples, such as terracotta flowerpots, trowels and bird boxes in a new light as bona-fide pieces of craft in their own right.

The sculptural qualities of woven willow are more apparent in a gallery setting, before they have been overgrown with the plants they are destined to support. The ceramic forms of Nigel Edmonson incorporate ‘landscape based abstraction that responds to the Lakeland fells’ that lie on his doorstep.

Karen Edwards also works in clay , exploring her interest in plants and landscape. The pieces are hand formed, using various techniques to create individual pieces which are then embellished, embossed or polished and glazed.

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Karen Edwards

 

The palatial clay birdboxes created by Peter Garrard are a fantastical journey into his world of fascination with Chinese, Medieval and Pre-Renaissance artefacts. Lavishly decorated and glazed these dwellings would be for the most discerning of feathered property tycoons!

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Peter Garrard
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Peter Garrard

 

A row of beach hut striped teracotta pots spans the width of the gallery and I love the idea of these colourful elements added to the simplest form of garden pottery. The humble flowerpot has been given special treatment by potter Simon Hulbert who works in Haye-on-Wye. Simon says;”My work has always been varied in scale and complexity- from the humble plant pot, simply thrown, through to the larger one-off pieces which are often monumental in scale.” I am so pleased that he has treated us to this display of ‘humble’ pots.

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Simon Hulbert

I seem to have focussed on the ceramic elements in my photographs but there was a range of other mediums on show, including some stunning steamed wood baskets from Jane Crisp

jane Crisp

And just in case you feel the need to get your hands dirty and actually plant something in your garden here are some really splendid bespoke tools from Implementations to adorn your garden shed walls!

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Implementations Garden tools.