With very little persuasion I was back in Milan last week for the annual design fair Salone de Mobile. Now in its 55th year, it is bigger than ever. Launch events are sprawled across the city taking place in elegant palazzi and modern showrooms. For me, it's as much about the new things on show as the context in which they are shown, reminding me how much I appreciate beautiful interior design, plus there's a real buzz in the city which is infectious. Here are a few pics with captions that sum up my week.
I was delighted to be asked to write a profile on the fabulous Tricia Guild, of Designers Guild, for Studio Magazine. Since the 1970s the company has been selling colourful, patterned textiles from its King's Road store. A piece of advice she shares with up-and-coming designers is to balance creative fulfilment with commerce: "You need to be able to sell to survive", she says.
Last week I spent two days in Milan immersed in the world of high end fabrics with Rubelli. The family-run Venetian textiles company was established in 1889 and is now run by fifth-generation Nicolò Rubelli.
I was there as part of a European press trip including British, French and German journalists for a party at the new showroom at via Fatebenefratelli, 9 and to visit the Rubelli mill in Cucciago, Como. The mill was bought in 1985 and has 28 (incredibly loud) jacquard machines producing over half a million metres of fabric a year.
There are a few 18th century hand looms still in operation, but on a very limited basis with only one highly skilled - and irreplaceable - weaver. To the untrained eye the difference between hand and machine-made fabrics is hard to spot, but I'm told it's all in the feel.
This year's London Design Festival spanned nine days and a multitude of venues and, as ever, there was way too much to see. Instead of freaking out over choice paralysis, my attitude was this: pick a few things, talk to people, have a laugh and roll with it. It is a festival after all.
So here's a very personal selection of highlights as observed through my camera phone and in scribbled notes. I definitely took more pictures of things I saw near the start of the week, as opposed to the end.
The inaugural London Craft Week kicks off today with a programme of events across the city until Sunday.
I wrote a piece for this month's The London Magazine about the Mayfair craft 'atelier' The New Craftsmen where you can work with a skilled designer/maker to create a bespoke piece of work - whether it's an embroidered quilt or a decorative mirror - for your home. Here's the link.
Last week I was in Milan for the annual furniture fair Salone del Mobile which is the big international product launch event in the design calendar. The fair is in its 54th year and is centred on the giant furniture and lighting show at the Fiera di Milano convention centre, but over the years it has sprawled into town and there are installations and events across shops, galleries and historic palazzos. These days it is as much about socialising as the latest chair.
Dissenting voices question the point of design weeks as there seem to be more and more taking place each year and whether the media's insta-reporting via social media only reinforces the superficial image of the industry. For me it was a fantastic opportunity to make contact with companies, and the people who represent them, who I usually only encounter through my computer screen. The digital revolution is well underway, but you still can't beat face to face.
Any round up of Milan excludes as much as it includes so this is very much how I saw it.
I wrote a short piece about the Hexagonal Table by Alexander Girard in the FT House & Home supplement the other week. One of the reasons I wanted to do it was to learn a bit more about Girard who was a prominent figure in post-war American design, but I would say isn't as well known as his colleagues Charles and Ray Eames.
Girard lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his wife Susan where he worked for US furniture makers Herman Miller and turned his hand to all sorts of design projects (textiles, furniture, graphic design, Braniff International Airways) as well as amassing a collection of over 100,000 pieces of folk art. He was crazy about pattern and colour. Click here.
It's timely then that Vitra recently launched their Home Complements Collection featuring some distinctly folk-art influenced patterns and objects from the archive of Alexander Girard. The accessories range is based in the principle that "small things play a major role in our emotional attachment to the home" - a nice sentiment that explains our love of knick knacks - but also: "to bring a bit of joy to the everyday". Amen to that.
Despite being from Girard's archive I think it looks pretty fresh and 2015-ish.
It's International Women's Day on Sunday. YEAH!!!!!!
But what does it mean? I was wondering that myself so after a bit of research I discovered that it happens every year on 8th March, it's global, in some countries it has become so important it's a national holiday, and it celebrates female achievement and equality in all aspects of life. We may take our right to vote for granted, but that freedom is obviously not the case worldwide.
Anyway, politics aside, while the day has its roots in the socialist movement of the early 1900s it seems like a good opportunity to take a minute to think about some rad women in design today.
What got me thinking about this was an article I read on Dezeen about Hella Jongerius, the Dutch industrial designer, who said this week that the design industry has lost touch with its social and cultural values and is producing "too much shit design".
I love a good quote and this one made me sit up and listen. She argues that design companies need to take a more ethical approach and focus on quality rather than novelty: "there's too much shopping without thought" (er, guilty). You can read the full article here. She is currently design director of Dutch company Danskina which makes beautifully crafted rugs.
A few weeks ago, another comment grabbed my attention when designer Ilse Crawford announced her new StudioIlse furniture range with Ikea. One of the materials she's decided to use is cork because, apart from its acoustic qualities, "no one wants wine corks any more". You can read the full article here. I love the idea of re-purposing a material and cork is a fantastic environmentally friendly product - cork is stripped from the bark of trees, so it's sustainable as they don't need to be chopped down, and there are huge cork oak forests in Portugal.
Ilse Crawford was the launch editor of Elle Decoration (in 1989). She's been running StudioIlse since 2001 and created the much emulated laid-back interiors of Soho House and Babington House. Her focus is always on how the space makes you feel and with consideration for life's "messy realities". The normal, over the spectacular. I love that.
I heard Paola Navone introducing her fabric collection for high-end Italian textile company Rubelli a few months ago and I thought she was fantastic. Not just for rocking oversized jewellery, but because she said, in the context of explaining why one fabric was a bit rough around the edges that was meant to look "like your cat has destroyed it".
She has spent twenty years living in SE Asia learning about craft and takes a painterly approach to fabric. She says: "I try to promote imperfection. Those little accidents - I like them. Things get old, textiles age, the industry doesn't like to talk about it".
"I work fast. I don't look back, I don't have a sense of history. My favourite project is the one I'm working on, or the next one. And if we don't have a client we go to the beach". She's got attitude.
Afroditi Krassa works mainly in hospitality design which is something we can all have an opinion on as we actually get to experience it. Do you like the feel of Itsu, the packaging at Pret, the cosiness of the upgraded Curzon cinemas? Afroditi's design studio was behind them all. She even did my local Cafe Rouge and has just won an award for the design of Heston Blumenthal's The Perfectionist's Cafe at Heathrow's Terminal 2. I was introduced to Afroditi during the London Design Festival last year at the bar she had designed for the SuperBrands exhibition and I was impressed with her intelligent approach to designing social spaces.
I stumbled across Tracey Neuls shoes at last year's Designs of the Year media preview at the Design Museum where she was nominated for her rubber-soled Geek shoe for cyclists. Tracey is an Australian-born designer, based in London, whose design ethos resonates with me. "Good design is something you feel as well as see", she says. "You wear the shoes, the shoes don't wear you".
She launched her business in 2000 and takes a traditional approach to shoe-making by designing all the toe and heel shapes from scratch - no pre-fabricated components - so they're not cheap, but they will last. She displays them in her Marylebone and Redchurch Street shops by dangling them from the ceiling. As a recent convert to flat ankle boots I can walk around town in all day I'm going nuts for her new collection (pic below).
As with any list it's completely subjective and I've only picked five awesome women today, there are many more. But this post has been done in the spirit of an upbeat quote I read the other day: "celebrate what you want to see more of".
I love it when seemingly humble household items have an interesting design story behind them. The Zeroll ice-cream scoop (I wrote about it in FT House & Home 21st February) is a great example of this. It has heat-conductive fluid in the handle which transfers heat from your hand to warm the blade thus enabling you to roll and release balls of ice-cream more easily. Intended for commercial use in ice-cream parlours (the more you use it the better it works) it has become a favourite with ice-cream afficionados and food bloggers.
Who doesn't love a bit of behind the scenes Hollywood action? May I present to you images of the green room (where the stars all hang out before they go on stage) from this year's Academy Awards.
It was put together by an LA-based design collective called Commune using furniture from the American design studio of Holly Hunt (who has just opened her first UK shop in Mayfair) and, here's the best bit, it was styled by the actress Julianne Moore. Yes, the actress Julianne Moore, who incidentally snagged an Oscar on the night.
From these images it's clear she's has very good taste - the whole feel is light and airy and very understated. It was inspired by "classic midcentury homes of Mulholland Drive" and certainly has that enviable indoor/outdoor Californian vibe. I can just see Gwyneth & co chillaxing over a green juice on one of those pert bar stools.
The pictures all have an AD in the corner to reference the room's sponsor Architectural Digest.
I was in Paris at the end of last month for interiors trade fair Maison et Objet which takes place twice a year (Jan & Sept) at an exhibition centre in Villepinte to the north of the city. The show is enormous, and I mean really enormous, it's spread across eight vast halls each one the size of Earl's Court. To get there you can travel from the centre of Paris on the RER, or it's also very close to Charles de Gaulle airport. I Eurostarred it and stayed in the city centre.
There was so much to see I felt like I only scratched the surface, but I was on a mission as I was writing a piece for a British newspaper so I did my best to race around the show, and the city, snapping away with my phone.
Below is a collection of photos I took at the show, a bit random, but they all struck me as interesting in their own right - from floating cloud lights at Bocci to the fascination with how things are made epitomised by ceramics studio Tortus Copenhagen to some crazy Japanese lighting coolness by teamLab. Oh, and fake cacti at Abigail Ahern - it's the new pineapple, trust me.
It wasn't all work though. On the Friday night I went for dinner at the Turkish Embassy with Istanbul-based design studio Autoban. I'm not kidding. The Turkish Ambassador to France hosted it and the food was amazing. You can see Autoban's most recent interior design work in London at Alan Yau's restaurant Babaji in Soho. (Thank you Neil and Irene at Tomorrow PR)
New year, new kitchen? Here's a piece I wrote for last month's issue of The London Magazine about "ultra kitchens", in other words, the money-no-object kitchens you find in certain London properties and all the gadgetry that goes along with them. If, like me, you are fascinated by other people's houses then you may enjoy some of the more jaw-dropping details like hydraulic lifting glass walls to "erase the barrier" between inside and out and clients who send their chef to choose the appliances.
So much stuff to buy, how to choose? Here's a completely subjective list of things that have been rolling around my head recently. The loose theme is they are all things from indie shops.
A festive, but not necessarily "festive", tattoo from the brilliant Brooklyn-based temporary tattoo company Tattly (founded by the wondrous Swiss Miss). There are so many different ones and they are super cool and just downright fun. I've already sent my husband a link to this one.
ps read the very short Tattly story if you want a quick blast of inspiration.
I'm a sucker for blue and white ceramics so the Indigo Storm (great name btw) collection of swirly blue glazed earthenware by Faye Toogood for Staffordshire-based pottery company 1882 Ltd caught my eye. 1882 Ltd was founded in 2011 by a fifth generation descendent of the Johnson Brothers who started making ceramics in 1882. Go! British manufacturing.
How about a classic pair of old-fashioned scissors made by Ernest Wright & Son in Sheffield - a business that was about to go bust until a short video on Vimeo showing how they make their scissors made it onto the BBC, went viral and they were... saved by the internet.
This 'multi-purpose' pair of scissors made of stainless steel has a bottle and can opener built into the handles and it's available from The Saturday Market Project. Another high five for British manufacturing. Yay.
I'm a bit over geometric prints, never thought I'd say that, but I think I'm just bored of the precision perfect-ness. Having met the delightful Klaus Haapaniemi, a Finnish designer based in London, at London Design Festival this year I'm now a going crazy for his folkloric fantasy textiles.
Stationery is always welcome in my book (boom boom) and the Rifle Paper 'Travel the World' 2015 calendar ticks a lot of boxes, it's available from Papermash.
Contradictions are what make us human, so I'll let this geometric-shaped item in because actually in this context it looks fantastic. I love this brass bottle opener by Fort Standard, yes, I know it's expensive, but this is in in the spirit of "buy less, but better". It's available from Fate London, in fact I like almost everything on this site, it's so earthy.
These earrings made me laugh. And they're from one of my favourite museum shops The Southbank Centre Shop, well it's not technically a museum more of a cultural institution, but it's in roughly the same category, and it has some pretty cool stuff in it.
Instead of leafing through a free newspaper on the train yesterday I listened to a podcast. It was Design Matters by Debbie Millman and it got me thinking about more than just the latest cast of I'm a Celebrity, although why Michael Buerk is going in remains a mystery.
Millman is a New York-based writer and branding whizz who runs a company called Sterling Brands, has done for twenty years, and since 2005 she has interviewed over 250 interesting design people for her thoughtful podcast. The great and the good are all on there including the brilliant Maria Popova of Brainpicker, Tina Roth Eisenberg aka Swiss Miss and Ben Schott of Miscellany fame.
I listened to her recent interview with Caroline Baumann who is director of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York which opens next month after a $90 million refurb. The new look museum will be interactive and immersive and participatory in a way that we can only hope our new Design Museum in London will be when it opens in 2016.
One of the innovations they've come up with is an interactive pen which will be handed to you on arrival. So instead of snapping photos on your phone, or looking at a museum app, you'll be able to tap the pen on things that interest you and it will store the information. You then take your pen to an interactive table where you can explore, manipulate and even sketch with it. In other words learn about design by designing yourself. Clever.
In short... Americans are good at thinking BIG, podcasts are better than default scrolling through Twitter and I need a trip to NYC.