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Barbara Chandler

Data, angels, chocolate and design at the V&A

19 September 2012 1:52 PM

The 10th London Design Festival has started, and I made a brave attempt at seeing what was on offer on the very first day – with pushing 300 events listed in the famous little red guide, you feel a bit daunted.

Confusingly, all the happenings have different opening dates, so planning a route is even more complicated. However, everything at the V&A is up and running so that’s where I made a start.

Prism, by London-based Japanese designer Keiichi Matsuda, is undoubtedly the major attraction and is installed high over the entrance hall in the topmost cupola of the museum. This is billed as a “secret space” not usually open to the public. You have to climb a lot of steps to get there, and I am afraid you need to book – though the installation will be there for a week longer than the Festival. You can’t see much of it from the ground floor of the V&A – though we had been told that it would be clearly visible – and you may well crick you neck! Check out details on

For me, Prism (above) works on two levels. First, it is just lovely to look at. Wonderful handmade Japanese paper stretched over wire frames, radiating colours and, it seems, gently pulsating. That is the effect you get from the patterns that are changing over its multi-faceted surfaces. But then the designer (Japanese but based in London) explains that each facet represents a stream of data from a London source, freely available on the internet – info about tides, traffic, crime statistics, transport, news channels, and even bulletins from 10 Downing Street.

These frequently-changing updates have been transformed into the wonderful moving patterns you see on the surfaces of Prism. Keiichi told me his installation is perhaps a little "alien". But to me is beautifully benign. Information is essential for the efficient and safe running of our lives and this simply gives it a poetic face - the stature, if you like, that it deserves. All hail the internet!

I hope you get to see this. And when you have gazed your fill, climb on again to the viewing area right under the cupola itself for a breathtaking 360 degree vision of London.

The Design Festival hub at the V&A
There’s lots more to see at the V&A – ask for the special Festival map at the information desk – or better still go in through the Exhibition Road entrance, where there is a Festival desk. This is a good place to start, as the museum is the official “hub” for the whole Festival. Eat your sandwiches on a special bench in the courtyard, and read all about them on the big red display notices.


There are nine, commissioned from different designers in different materials, including Sam Hecht and Kim Colin of Industrial Facility the Plinth bench in Corian. They told me their bench needed people to complete its effect. There were meant to be ten benches, but sadly the one in glass shattered before arrival – better than after, or, worse still, in use.

Ice-AngelI also loved Ice Angel (right) in the ceramics gallery on the second floor. Stand in front of an enigmatic and very dark screen, which seems to show a pair of folded wings. Raise your arms, and – magic! – you grow your own angel flappers on the screen – the perfect photo-op for family and friends. Read more about this installation here:

I liked Tom Dixon’s interpretation of London landmarks in chocolate (previewed at the V&A) – but am not really sure how this qualifies as “design”. It should be on display at The Dock in West London by now – if it has not melted or been eaten.

Remember that some of the biggest shows of the Festival are “trade only” – and you will need to wait for public days to get in, so check details carefully.

Digital Crystal at the Design Museum
Meanwhile, Digital Crystal has opened at the Design Museum (digitally-enabled design and art is everywhere, and it’s good to see robust ripostes from the craft/hand-made brigade).  Digital Crystal is about memory in a digital age, with a lot of crystals thrown in – which I’m afraid I could not really understand, though I tried hard.

But some of the installations are very beautiful – designer Paul Cocksedge is pictured with Crystallize. Here a series of green crystal shapes are actually an illusion – light beams bounced off perfectly aligned mirrors. Paul showed me how, if he breaks the beam with his hand, the crystal disappears - clever stuff. And if you turn off the light, then everything disappears – apart from the mirror/crystals.

Elsewhere, Ron Arad’s famous Lolita chandelier flashes up text messages if you dial its number (displayed alongside). “Ron, where r u?” I demanded at the private view, since we have known each other for a fair few years. But answer came there none.

For more pictures of the London Design Festival please see:
All photographs by Barbara Chandler @ sunnyholt

The Olympic Park: from the Aquatic Centre to the Orbit

10 August 2012 12:32 PM

The Olympic Park is fun and very visitor-friendly. We loved our visit – though we didn’t get to see much of Team GB. I managed to get tickets for an early session on the first Monday for swimming heats. We also wanted to explore the park (you can't do that without a ticket) and to see inside Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre.

This really is an inspiring building to be in, with its sweeping curves and huge turquoise pool. The seats are very steeply raked, and ours were at the very end of an already-full row. I was a bit worried I might tumble right down. Our view was fine – though there had been some controversy over obscured views of the diving boards.

Security checks were virtually instant when we arrived at just after eight in the morning - we were allowing two hours as instructed on a pretty firm "briefing" note. But crowds were very heavy later in the day.

Soldiers checking our bags were full of smiles and very quick. The Armed Forces all over the site were reassuring rather than threatening and made you feel rather proud. The voluntary “help” team was in full active mode – with cheery “welcomes” and Olympic/London patter from blokes who would have been at home on market stalls. Everyone smiles and is so eager to help.

It’s funny how the Union flag has been adopted as an (almost) fashion statement. It appears everywhere at these celebratory events, from small face-paint “tattoos” to leggings and trainers. Flags are worn casually draped as capes, or tied like sarongs. 
A walk along the riverbank was a good idea – surprisingly, few people had ventured down there, and it takes you to the far end of the Park.  You get breathtaking views of the wildflower gardens planted all over the place. I’ve now read that there are four “zones” representing different parts of the world. We never got to work that out, but some plants definitely looked more exotically “foreign” than others. Most were in full bloom – I wouldn't like to be in charge of the dead-heading. You also pass the Gloriana Barge, previous home to Her Majesty The Queen, and the flame. She looks suitably royal, but a little out of things now.

Two huge screens on either side of a box at the far end of the Park had sound carried via small speakers set in the grass – a brilliant idea, as people could lounge around at some distance away and still follow the action.

I'd booked our trip up the Orbit well in advance. Whatever you think of the strange structure from the outside (I still don't find it too appealing), it’s a great experience – an immersive sculpture that pulls you in. Whiz up in a lift with portholes that show your ascent. At the top, there are some open viewing areas, and some behind glass.

Views are framed by red metal tubing - which looks really good in this context. Look right down into the athletics stadium and then out over London, to spot the Shard creating a new skyline. In a central hall, Anish Kapoor’s signature mirrors take pounds off your weight – if you stand in the right place. A walk round and round a walkway right down to the bottom is surprisingly easy.

The Olympic “viewing suite” at John Lewis Stratford is attracting huge crowds – and more queues. Stratford station was scarily crowded but most people filtered off to use the tube and (still enthusing madly and maddenly) we actually got seats on the Overground railway directly back to Gunnersbury.

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Lancaster House: a stunning showcase of British design

25 July 2012 6:03 PM

The sumptuous and splendid Lancaster House, alongside St James’s Park, has been transformed for the Olympics into the British Business Embassy by the government department of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) – and I got the chance to see it all for myself on a special preview night.

It’s not going to be open to the public so this was truly a sneak peek. Here – on an ambitious scale - will be daily conferences and meetings for potential investors from all over the world. The stated aim of the UKTI is direct and to the point - "to meet, influence and do business".

(Above: The British Business Embassy)

I got my invite because the whole place has been filled temporarily with British design, art and craft – a stunning showcase. Out went the period furniture and fine paintings and in came work by Arad, Lovegrove, Morrison and lots of lesser-known names.

Diana-yakeley“Actually a lot of the furniture there already was surprisingly repro,” said Diana Yakeley (right), president of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), who masterminded furniture selections and the overall look of the rooms. The really good bits of furniture were still in place – giant boldly-baroque console tables for example. 

I had a personal tour with Christine Losecaat. Her experience, vision and dedication are unequalled in the world of “official” design though her title  – “creative director of the legacy unit” – is a bit of a mouthful. I was handed a Samsung tablet (sponsor!) which is cleverly touch-loaded with all the details of all products room by room – sadly (though handbag sized...) I didn’t get to take that home.

“Government has finally recognized the importance of design – we’ve really got there,” said long-term design advocate Sir John Sorrell, always friendly and forthcoming. A UKTI business ambassador and founder of the London Design Festival in 2003, he chaired the “creative panel” (which also included Diana and Christine) behind this design project, which is pretty much the most wide-ranging and grandest I’ve seen in a long life of design reporting.

Sorrell added: “Lancaster House is not just about business opportunities in design – though there are lots of those. We are showing how modern design can shape an image of Britain which creates opportunities in all areas of business.”

There are around 230,000 designers in the British design industry, making it the biggest in Europe, and a thriving source of exports.

After checking through security – passport needed – I found myself in the most awe-inspiring hall you could imagine, complete with ornate columns, a double set of sweeping stairs, filigree ironwork, gilt galore, and a neck-cricking lantern roof. Begun in 1825 for the Prince of York, second son of George III, this is considered the last great Georgian mansion in London – and a visiting Queen Victoria a little later said it was a grander “palace” than her own.

Grabbing attention amidst this golden neo-classical finery – but looking remarkably at home - were a pair of long, very silver and very modern metal benches, with a mesmerising rippled surface. They are by London architect Thomas Heatherwick (currently starring in his own show at the V&A) and are the only pieces of “extruded” metal furniture ever made – and also the longest metal extrusion of any kind. The steel is squeezed out a bit like toothpaste. Super-shiny (300 hours of polishing) and just a taste of what was coming.

Lee-broomI was invited to this evening of design by the young East Ender Lee Broom (right) who recently won the Elle Deco accolade of “Designer of the Year”. Accordingly, he got to kit out the “Gold Room” at the mansion, with his latest collections. Lee’s work is essentially glamorous and well suited the fancy period surroundings. “It’s the first venue where we haven’t had to worry about the backdrop for our work,” he confided.

Elsewhere, another 17 rooms had been filled with furniture from a legion of British designers and exquisite works of craft. Here a Conran chesterfield with fabric by Paul Smith and a nest of tables from Ercol, there a cork stool by Jasper Morrison, a Balzac chair by Matthew Hilton, and a circular Dyson fan. Not so well known (perhaps) are Jake Dyson (son of Sir James), Benjamin Hubert, Sean Dare, Assembly Rooms, Bethan Gray, Emily Johnson, adventurous studios and brands. Many pieces are already uncompromisingly modern design classics but looked very happily placed. Then there was the mind-blowing art – a complete “re-hang” with all those treasures from the government’s art collection. Some pictures had been loaned by embassies, but many will stay in place.

“There are four main seminar rooms,” Diana explained – the largest (the Music Room) seats 150 people. “All pieces are on loan, so we were dependent on generosity, which was abundant.” She started work around eight months ago – “it’s been an amazing opportunity.”

Stealing the show was a spectacular installation in the garden by Jason Bruges. Called “Mirror Mirror” you may have seen it at the Decode exhibition at the V&A a couple of years ago. Here an immaculate pool – itself mirror smooth - was filled with glittering columns, magically reflecting pixellated images of whoever was in front of them – me with my camera, for example. It may all be done with mirrors but with some very superior digital trickery.

Michael-Eden-3D-printed-vasSpell-binding were the pieces collected by the Crafts Council, and displayed in individual softly-lit boxes in the library’s bookcases.

Visitors gazed entranced at exquisite pottery and silverware, impeccably-stitched shoes, and one of Michael Eden’s amazing 3D-printed vases (right), spiky and stick-like. On a frivolous note, an insider showed me how one section of the wall swung open to reveal a secret door, which given a little push revealed a rather dowdy loo, which it seems, is used by royalty in need.

It’s a shame this mansion of design delights won’t go on general view to Londoners. Exploring was a treat and a privilege. Here at Homes & Property through numerous articles we’ve shown that British design leads the world – and now world business leaders will know it too.
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Pattern packs a punch at New Designers 2012

12 July 2012 12:43 PM

New Designers is one of my very favourite shows. It happens annually at the end of July in the Islington Business Design Centre. I love this building, adapted from the old Victorian Agricultural Hall (which had the lovely local nickname of “the Aggie”).

When its foundation stone was laid in 1861, its “clear span” was greater than even Crystal Palace and Alexander Palace. The building has been used for lots of things over the years (including many sporting events and even the Royal Tournament) but by the Eighties had become empty and unloved, to be rescued for its present use as a business and exhibition centre in 1986.

It’s a wonderful space, with lots of original cast ironwork and great natural light – though it can get horribly hot in summer as the day wears on. Then I make for the One Year On section where along with air conditioning they show the work of last year’s grads who are now impressively in business.

Anyway, back to New Designers itself. This is where a staggering 3,500 (approximately) new grads get to show the best work from their degree courses. They represent about 190 courses from UK universities and colleges.


(Above) Kit Miles creates huge painted abstracts

Part 1 embraces glass, ceramics, jewellery and metalwork, textiles, fashion and home accessories, surface pattern and applied arts. Then it’s all change for Part 2, for furniture, product design, architecture and interiors, graphics, illustration and visual communications.

Joanna-Srokol_250x300“We’re talking about the whole future of the UK here, not just individual careers,” says the dynamic  - and very glam – Isobel Dennis, show director (never without her walkie talkie). “These incredibly talented new grads will fuel our creative industries and be significant contributors to the economy.” Exactly.

It was a big honour to help judge the first Sanderson Colour Award, and then to present the Award itself at the end of the day. The other three judges were from the company itself, headed by Liz Cann, design director of Zoffany/Sanderson. Our winner was Polish Joanna Srokol (right) from Edinburgh College of Art. We loved her hand-painted panels inspired by the Polish landscape.

We also liked Daisy Pedersen ‘s Scandinavian Bloom collection – she won an award from Harlequin who hope to put her “internationally commercial” designs into production very soon. Daisy is from Leeds College of Art.

(Above) Joel Wilson's designs have pop panache

Indeed for me this year pattern was the most powerful ingredient of New Designers 2012, with boys as active as girls in fabrics and wallpapers. Many have already got their work into production, and you will see it on the pages of Homes & Property very soon.

Meanwhile watch out for Gemma Smith with her absorbing anatomical hand-drawn designs; Kit Miles for huge painterly abstracts; Joel Wilson for pop panache (above); and Louise Tiler for deliciously delicate decor.

All photographs by Barbara Chandler; see more pictures of graduates at:
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Get ready to party!

01 June 2012 3:00 PM

I’ve been having great fun exploring capital celebrations for the Jubilee.

Flags on oxford street

A little puzzling were the flags at Oxford Circus proclaiming “Design is Great” and Craft is Great” over portraits of people I could not immediately recognise, But I did a bit of research and found that the flags celebrated Oxford Street’s huge fashion impact (70 flagship stores!), with portraits of people working in the industry, from a weaver of Harris tweed to a pattern cutter at Top Shop.

Cube Street party

A little later I called by a street party on the Portman Estate behind Marble Arch, where streets were closed and adorned with hand-made bunting, and the music was live with jazz, steel bands, and an up-and-coming pop group. Hats off to Handmade London whose mother had made a wonderful red white and blue cake – it seems the secret is liquid food colouring.

View from the Embankment

Elsewhere, strolling along the Embankment, I saw a huge poster adorning a warehouse on the other side of the river showing a typical assembly of the Royal Family on the Buckingham Palace balcony. I’ve got tickets for the Jubilee party in Battersea, so I’m hoping for some good pictures of the River pageant – providing the weather holds.

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A Diamond Jubilee photo opportunity: my portraits of the Queen

23 May 2012 1:35 PM

Photographically, my biggest news is getting pictures of The Queen on her visit to Richmond Park. I went about three hours early, and did a lot of nifty reconnaissance, taking up a strategic position at an appropriate barrier about two hours before Her Majesty’s estimated arrival time.

Then the heavens opened with the most horrid of hailstone storms. Magically, that cleared up, and Her Majesty was able to walk around, not exactly to pass where I stood, but close enough for a long lens.

Very stalwart was the line-up of Air Force cadets who must have been soaked. Then there were some dear little girls in white dresses ready for a Maypole dance, who had to huddle shivering under umbrellas at one point. But the general consensus of the crowd was that it was all thoroughly worth it, in this the Diamond Jubilee year.

Queen richmond park may 2012 040

I’ve also been to the beautiful Watts Gallery at Compton, near Guildford. This was built by the great Victorian portrait painter GF Watts (1817-1904), and houses a wonderful selection of his paintings and sculpture, including a special show of Watts’ contemporaries called The Hall of Fame (open until 7 June). So good to see those familiar images of Tennyson, William Morris and many more.

Watts, it seems, wished to paint “the mind and soul” of his sitters as well as their outward appearance. Standing in front of his great works, it seems to me that he must have succeeded, and the standard of painting certainly excels any I’ve seen in shows of more recent artists.

Triangle-and-watts-galleryBut undoubtedly, the highlight of our visit was the memorial chapel built by Watt’s wife, Mary, who was 30 years younger than him. This small hexagonal building is completely lined inside with art nouveau angels and cherubs, intertwined with Celtic motifs. There are also wonderful clay tiles modelled in deep relief by local people – from village boys to the lady of the manor.

Mary believed that with the tuition she provided anyone could practise art, and she used a seam of clay from her own grounds. The whole effect is utterly enchanting and the chapel is completely free to visit. You have to pay to go in the gallery – but it only cost £2 on Tuesdays (

We also fitted in a visit to Sheffield Park in East Sussex where the magnificent grounds with their fine lakes are starting to sport their famous rhododendrons in all the glory of their crimson and shocking pink (

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Front row seats at the Olympic Stadium's Gold Challenge

26 April 2012 6:04 PM

We’ve been dying to get into the Olympic Park – though you get a pretty good view from the Olympic Suite (well, it’s a large viewing room, really) at John Lewis Stratford, which is open to everybody, unless a special event is taking place.

So I was so thrilled to get tickets for very first event in the Olympic Stadium – The Gold Challenge. We had to go through ferocious airport-type security to see about
1,000 people take part in 100m and 400m races for charity, alongside celebs and sport stars.

There were runners of all ages - from four-years-old to stalwart octogenarians. An amazing spectacle at lunchtime was a huge parade of between 3,000 and 4,000 people (the organisers didn’t seem quite sure how many!). School children, sports clubs, charity workers, community groups and more circled the stadium in a happy joyous throng, to loud cheering.

About 80,000 people can be packed into the stadium during the Games - 25,000 seats in its permanent lower tier, and a temporary lightweight steel and concrete upper tier holding a further 55,000 spectators that can be removed after the Games.

Sadly like so many people we won’t be one of them. But I love the shape of the stadium, with its distinctive zig-zag roof, like a lot of sharks’ teeth. Inside you can see how these are rigs for lights and all the paraphernalia of today’s digital media.

The top ring of the stadium was built using surplus gas pipes – all part, it seems, of London 2012's 'reduce, reuse, recycle' approach to sustainability. Indeed, the building is 75 per cent lighter in steel use than other stadiums. I’ve also found out that the concrete is low-carbon, made from industrial waste – it has an impressive 40 per cent less embodied carbon than usual.

There are some lovely bright touches inside where light is reflected through coloured panels casting intriguing shadows. We had seats at the bottom near the front, and from here you get a good person-to-person view. But you need to climb up to the top to get a complete vista.

Outside, we walked right round the stadium and had a good view of the complete Aquatics Centre, which has a wonderfully tight sculptural impact, but seems smaller than it looked in the drawings.

Then there is the curvy red metal of the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower – what a mouthful. At 115 metres (377 ft), it is now Britain’s largest piece of public art, so Anish Kapoor has out-arted Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North.

Sculpture-400It looks really rather lovely from inside the park, once you get used to it, and I can’t wait to go up to the top. Apparently you will go up in a lift and then be able to saunter down.

But I didn’t realise it embodied five Olympic rings, and actually I think that’s still difficult to make out. And it should be called the Kapoor tower, really. Other nicknames abound – a quick poll of twitpals (including top design journos) yielded Colossus of Stratford, giant treble clef, helter-skelter, super-sized mutant trombone, hubble bubble and double dipper. And one or two others too rude to print.

As for the “park”, I’ve heard lots of talk of wildflower meadows, but we didn’t see much greenery – I suppose it will be imported nearer the time, but it seems a shame that there are no trees growing already.

All photos are by me – see lots more on in a special photo report on flickr:

My book Love London has 180 photographs of London teamed with over 100 quotes about the capital.

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Interior decorators were out in force at London Design Week 2012

20 March 2012 12:18 PM

London design week tablesSome people might say working on a Sunday is pretty grim but I’ve never minded using the so-called “day of rest” to go to the big trade shows. It’s the day they open, which gives the whole business a frisson of excitement, and you get a chance to steal a march on tardier pursuers of news and views.

Thus it was that a balmy spring Sunday found me in a sun-drenched Chelsea Harbour surrounded by the rites of decorating. They do things very well here, from the huge pink lampshade outside to the giant underwater mobiles. I wasn’t quite sure about the shoals of black fish, but loved an ariel view from the gallery, showing design devotees dining off pink tablecloths (London Design Week is at Chelsea Harbour, Lots Road, SW10 until Friday 16 March;

The place oozes atmosphere, and the interior decorators were indeed out in force, busy rifling through the racks of new designs, dutifully scribbling notes with the pencils that are so plentifully supplied for that very purpose. I took along Milly, my eldest granddaughter, who is in her final year of architecture at Lincoln, and has always loved colour and pattern, which we found in abundance.

It’s lovely meeting old friends from the trade, and making new ones. Liz Cann, design director of Zoffany and Sanderson was introducing a new collection based on Elizabethan wall-paintings. Artist Melissa Whyte, whose work this was, was also there to launch the impressively heavy pattern book.

It was also fun to see Brian Yates and Sheila Coombes, and to show Milly the Zaha Hadid wallpaper collection, along with other designs by Italian architects. It was interesting to see these strong abstract designs with a new take on pattern that is geometric rather than floral.

Richard Chilcott and Margarite ZouppasAnthony Ferringo provided a welcome pit-stop, with a quick run-through of key brands: Colefax and Fowler (the decorators’ decorators), Jane Churchill (so pretty), Manuel Canovas (c’est chic alors) and Larsen. I photographed Jack Lenor Larsen once at Chelsea Harbour years ago – he is the ace of cool.

Chief executive Richard Chilcott was over from the States and celebrating J.Robert Scott’s 40th anniversary – he posed for a picture with international sales director Margarite Zouppas, against a woven fabric where the pattern is digitally printed onto the warp and weft, for amazing clarity and depth.

The Americans really excel at high-class decorating products for the top end of “the trade”. After all, according to the New Yorker, “interior design as a profession was invented by the American decorator/actress Elsie de Wolfe”, who in 1913 published The House in Good Taste, and later, on seeing the Parthenon, enthused: “Beige! My colour!”

Wallpapers at Chelsea HarbourApparently, Elsie hated Victoriana, so would not have been happy at Watts of Westminster (with its impressive background of Victorian ecclesiastical design), where director Fiona Flint enthusiastically showed us her imagery of new designs photographed in a church. “It was the obvious place,” she laughed, “but I never really dared before.” The church – Abbey Dore in Herefordshire – was perfect for Watts’s unique blend of heavy pattern, large, strong motifs, and rich colour.

I am delighted the furniture emporium Chaplins – so dear and yet so far in Hatch End – now has a style outpost in Chelsea Harbour. So sad to hear that Jimmy Chaplin, the man originally behind it all, passed away a few weeks ago. Now son Simon continues a great tradition for selling top brands in modern furniture, sourced from all over the world and presented with elegance and elan. Their website at is one of the best web catalogues there is.

Design Centre Chelsea Harbour provide free transport back and forth from Sloane Square twice a year, for people attending their events, and this year had laid on Land Rover cars, lined with so much leather you could actually smell the hide.

View from westminster cathedralLater on in the week, after lunching with John Lewis near their head office on Victoria Street, I was intrigued to see a sign outside Westminster Cathedral that said you could take a lift to the top of their wonderful tower (otherwise apparently it’s 303 steps).

This must be the best value in town: £3 for a stunning 360 degree view, with charming signs to explain landmarks. I was there on my own, allowed to linger as long as I liked, simply ringing a bell to summon the lift down.

Talking of John Lewis, my hot news is that they will be soon stocking the Love London range of products based on my photographs (

* Photographs by me. Follow me on twitter: @sunnyholt

Designs of the year 2012: architecture, digital, graphics, furniture and more

28 February 2012 12:30 PM

Morag Myerscough's geometric designOne of my very favourite shows is Designs of the Year, which has just opened at the Design Museum near Tower Bridge (and you’ve got until July to catch it).

Filling a spacious light and airy upper floor are clusters of round plinths showing off a host of products shortlisted for Awards in seven categories: architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product, and transport.

(Above) Morag Myerscough's geometric design at the Birmingham Interiors Show

I love what the curators called the “designs with a conscience” - Vivienne Westwood’s bags made by African women, a redesign of the emergency ambulance by the Helen Hamlyn Foundation at the RCA, an earthquake-proof table for schools, and a super-sleek new wheelchair designed and manufactured by its enterprising user, Andrew Slorance (, who whizzed around me showing off his Carbon Black’s finer points.
On the other hand, does the world really need another chair? Nearly half the furniture section was chairs, though the ingenious Tipton rocker by Barber Osgerby was a show stopper. This is the pair that have done the Olympic torch, and that is in this show as well. We were told that Kate’s dress had been nominated for an award, but all we got to see was the veil. This show is so dense you really need a couple of visits to take it all in. Category award winners and the overall winner of the Design of the Year Award 2012 will be announced in April.

Last month, I was a little quiet on the blog front - those big January trade shows (see my report on this year's spring fairs) were pretty punishing. And I got my camera stolen in Paris at the big Maison & Objet design fair. After buying a replacement I had to go direct to the big Interiors show in Birmingham.

Up at Birmingham, Rory and Piers of London’s Designersblock had put together a brilliantly off-beat “Design Village” for the centre of the show, complete with its own bar and “pub”.

Colleen EllingtonExhibitors from the outer fringes of the design world included London’s most potent pattern people, doing their take on “bed and breakfast” room-settings. Morag Myerscough covered a very solid looking bed with an aggressive geometric design ( which sucked you inwards.

House of Hackney showed Dalston Rose, a subverted toile wallpaper, with inky hues and a dip dye effect along the bottom (

And dear Donna Wilson let out a crowd of her signature knitted creatures to frolic in a paper-cut out forest (

Meanwhile, I was one of the judges for the New Design Britain competition. I loved this wallpaper panel by Colleen Ellington (pictured right). It reminds me of Klimt, and there is something of a likeness between designer and subject.

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Well – that was a great Christmas break, but now it‘s down to some serious design reporting

09 January 2012 4:25 PM

Liberty windowI’m looking forward to visiting the new show Home, on at Earls Court in the coming week. It’s only open to “the trade” – ie the buyers for the shops (and journalists!) – but I’ll be there to report back on anything we at Homes & Property think you’ll especially like. Looking down the list of who’s showing, I’m finding a lot of very bright British design sparks.
Then it’s over to Paris by Eurostar for the incredible Maison & Objet, in huge halls to the north west of the city. This show actually takes place in September as well, but the ones in January are the more important, as they set the design trends for 2012.

Shop keepers come from all over the world to hunt out the latest merchandise. Halls are packed, with tempers frayed and temperatures unpleasantly variable – from boiling to freezing in the blink of an aisle. Signage is negligible (where are those loos?), sandwiches are on French leave, and there is very little natural light, except in one markedly modern new hall. A couple of years ago strong winds blew off a section of the roof in two places – yes, really. But would I miss it? You bet I wouldn’t – the adrenalin sets me up for the whole year, and it is Paris, after all.
The number of British exhibitors taking their wares to Maison has exploded recently, with many who started in a small way on the stand of the British European Design Group (BEDG;, now confident enough to take space in their own right. I always love calling by the Brits at Maison, firstly because I am so proud of them, and secondly because I know that what they show will be available pretty quickly to readers back home.
After Maison comes Interiors UK – this show used to be called Interiors Birmingham, but has changed title to reflect (they hope) an increasing importance in the world of international design fairs. The organisers have worked really hard to up the design ante. I’m looking forward to exploring the space organised by Designersblock - there are some good “taster” videos on their website (

Rory Dodd, left, and Piers Roberts, rightPiers Roberts and Rory Dodd – London design mavericks extraordinaire - are bringing together fringe elements of British design that I know I won’t have seen even in Paris.

In the picture, they are bathed in a red glow from the neon sign at their last installation at the London Design Festival in September – Rory is on the left and Piers on the right.
Next stop, Milan in April – I’ll have a chance to draw breath before then!

Selfridges windowMeanwhile, over Christmas, I did a lot of walking to see some of the best display ideas in the capital from store windows to the huge trees at Trafalgar Square. Here are a couple of pictures, one from Selfridges (left) and one from Liberty (top right). In window design, British shops really do lead the world – there are so many creative ideas to absorb from them. 

* To see more pictures from my Christmas and new year walkabout visit