Thursday, 31 October 2013

Reimagining Traditions at LDF

Vernacular at London Design Festival 2013, image by Sophie Mutevelian

This article was first published in Architecture Ireland #271.

From 14 to 22 September the 11th edition of London Design Festival proclaimed that 'Design is Everywhere' and it certainly seemed that for those 9 days it was. While in a showcase the size of LDF there is a myriad of projects, products and trends to be seen (here's a post about one of the highlights), one thing that struck me about a number of the exhibitions and products I saw was a reimagining of tradition, in terms of process, material or aesthetic. A number of designers and curators presented work which stemmed from, revisited or played with the notion of the traditional, whether it was taking traditional forms or aesthetics and playing with them or engaging with traditional materials and processes. At a time when technology and its advances seem to be at the centre of so much of what we do, many of us keep coming back to our past.

Teepee table by Woodenleg, exhibited at Vernacular at London Design Festival 2013

Zwartbles travel rug by Cushendale Woollen Mills, exhibited at Vernacular at London Design Festival 2013

For all that was going on at the Festival, I was certain I couldn't miss the Crafts Council of Ireland's second exhibition at LDF. Returning to East London after a successful first outing in 2012, the Crafts Council of Ireland took up an individual gallery space within Tent London with Vernacular, a quiet and thoughtful exhibition curated by Ann Mulrooney and designed by Stephen McNamara. Exploring the idea of design working in collaboration or consultation with craft and commemorating the Kilkenny Design Workshops, set up 50 years ago to do just that, Vernacular brought together a range of products made by collaborative teams of designers and craftspeople or informed in some way by Ireland's rich heritage of making. Though the show consists of a wide range of beautiful objects, particular highlights are Dublin-based design studio Woodenleg's Teepee table, striking a fantastic balance between stripped back simplicity and bright character, and Cushendale Woollen Mills' Zwartbles travel rugs (both pictured above), woven from the distinctive black and white wool of the Zwartbles sheep, a rare Dutch breed with growing numbers in Ireland. Vernacular returns to Ireland at the National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny on 26 October, coinciding with KDW@21C, a symposium on the legacy of the Kilkenny Design Workshops.

Geomatrix table by Alghalia Interiors, exhibited at London Design Festival 2013, image by Mokhtar Chahine

Also exhibiting at Tent London was Alghalia Interiors, a forward-looking interior and product design company from Saudi Arabia. Founded by designer Ghalia Adrees, Alghalia Interiors has launched a range of furniture which takes inspiration from Islamic motifs and structures, creating a striking range of tables, chairs and lights which hit a fantastic balance between Islamic geometries or botanic forms and minimalist contemporary design. Keeping colour to a minimum and instead focussing on form, Alghalia's Geomatrix tables and lights (pictured above and below) are particular triumphs.

Geomatrix lights by Alghalia Interiors exhibited at London Design Festival

After much time spent soaking up design in East London, I headed west for 100% Design, showing work from more than 400 exhibitors ranging from interior and product design to a number of emerging brands. Stand-out exhibitors were Devon-based furniture makers Young & Norgate who pair traditional processes to hand-make furniture which is pared-back and contemporary in its design. Their Animate tables and Wellington chair (both pictured below) are simple, crisp, almost spindly in nature. But made from sustainably-sourced hardwoods and using bursts of colour from Scottish leather or formica finishes these pieces are timeless in their design and long-lasting in their construction.

Wellington chair by Young & Norgate, exhibited at London Design Festival 2013

Animate table by Young & Norgate, exhibited at London Design Festival 2013

An afternoon in Central London introduced me to a new range of furniture by Portuguese company De Pau in collaboration with London-based Les Trois Garçons. The collection DP pour Les Trois Garçons saw De Pau combine their traditional joinery with some of the personality and flair of LTG, two French designers who for the past 15 years have been designing interiors and running restaurants in London, infusing everything they do with rich style and flamboyance. The resulting collection sees pared-back coffee tables, cabinets and shelves spark with flashes of colour and opulent brass. Combining traditional Portuguese furniture-making with the flair of LTG, the collection is further proof of LDF 2013's interest in revisiting traditions.

Coffee table by DP pour Les Trois Garçons, exhibited at London Design Festival 2013
Images courtesy of 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8