Clerkenwell Design Week

Design highlights from an afternoon spent at Clerkenwell Design Week 2011…

A few weeks ago, I headed to London’s East End to spend a few hours at Clerkenwell Design Week: a three-day event showcasing the work of some of today’s most talented designers. Visitors were spoiled for choice with a packed schedule of installations, talks, workshops and exhibitions of work from both established and emerging designers, all housed within one of London’s most historically-rich locations. Clerkenwell is home to over 60 design showrooms and a multitude of creative practices, many of which opened their doors during the event, allowing visitors a glimpse into their design worlds. Over 18,000 design enthusiasts registered for the event last year so understandably, I was eager see what all the fuss was about!

Unfortunately, a sudden downpour prevented me from attending much-awaited talks with stylish tile designers InterfaceFLOR (‘Accessibility and Contrast in the Built Environment’) and designer Stefan Diez (on his new chair the ‘Chassis’) but despite wandering aimlessly in the rain whilst trying to get my bearings, I still managed to stumble across amazing design work at every corner I turned!

With only a few hours to spare on the event’s closing day, I decided to head straight for the Victorian ‘Farmiloe Building’, passing through the Clerkenwell Gate and Design Market en route. The Clerkenwell Design Market featured the work of several craft-based designers, including homeware and stationary designers Lollipop and contemporary textile designer Caren Garfen. As someone with a slight obsession with historical maps and architectural drawings, my attention was quickly drawn to the work of Vic Lee, who creates illustrations of modern-day London streets, printed in an arts and crafts style. The Columbia Road Flowering Market print is going straight on my Christmas list this year!

The Lulu Guinness ‘Be a Pin Up’ installation brought back distant memories of creating impressions of my face in a pin-art toy as a child. Sat beneath the Clerkenwell Gate, a life-size version of the toy attracted a great deal of attention and the resulting bodily imprints were highly entertaining! Users were encouraged to send in photographs of their imprints, the most creative entry winning a Lulu Guinness ‘Clerkenwell Lips Clutch’. You can see the photo album of entries and the winning impression here.

The Farmiloe Building – once a Victorian lead and glass merchants – is an impressive exhibition space. With its assortment of rooms, staircases and windows of varying sizes and styles, I am not surprised to hear that the building is also a sought-after film set. (Scenes from ‘Batman’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ were filmed here according to Londonist!)

The focal point of the central atrium was the one-off Jaguar C-X75 concept car (Jaguar were the main sponsors of the event), which had all the typical head-turning features synonymous with the Jaguar style. I had a peek inside at the sleek leather interior but quickly became paranoid that I would drop my camera, denting the paint work or something equally as devastating…


Wandering through the ground floor space, a beautifully-made work desk from Pinch Design stood out as well as several other items of dream furniture from the likes of Ligne Roset and Nigel Coates. The Johnson Tiles/Material Lab tile display was a mix of exciting textures and colours – interior architecture and interior design students should definitely check out their work for inspiration for materiality.


The keynote, ”New Design, New Making’ was, by far, the highlight of my few hours spent at Clerkenwell Design Week.  An engaging and experienced panel of designers discussed the relationship between design and manufacturing and the changing roles of ‘designer’ and ‘maker’ today. In particular, it was fascinating to hear distinguished designer and Professor of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, Nigel Coates, discuss his experiences of small-scale “artisan” manufacturing techniques used in Italy and the design philosophy behind his products. On the other end of the spectrum, Assa Asshuach discussed, among other things, the fascinating “custom manufacture” concept, of products with in-built sensors that can relay user information back to the designer/manufacturer. Admittedly, I slightly lost my grip on the discussion somewhere around this point, so I would suggest taking a look at Assa’s blog for a more accurate description of his research!

Finally, if you are thinking of visiting next year’s Clerkenwell Design Week, my one and only recommendation would be to go for the whole 3 days, to make the most of a rare opportunity to see some of the biggest design names all under one roof!