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6 posts from September 2010

27 September 2010

Front Line News

Well Design Week sort of draws to a close. But not really. Decorex at The Royal Hospital, Chelsea started yesterday as did Focus at the Chelsea Design Centre.

The absolute highlights of the week for me have been talks by artists Anthony Gormley and Hans Peter Kuhn (I know, not designers but two artists who use design in their "process"); Tom Dixon at The Dock - a totally gorgeous, charming and innovative "retail experience", much like Tom himself; and disco dancing with Patricia Urquiola at the V&A party.

"An audience" with Ed Vaizey at the V&A earlier in the day was a masterclass in how politicians rather cleverly manage to say so much without saying very much at all. What was notable though was EV's description of Government policy towards culture as being one of support but not control. I have to agree that Government should not be too involved in culture - it's usually just embarrassing (a bit like watching your Dad dance), not to mention the Communist overtones. 

A trip down memory lane in Shoreditch was evocative. I'm sure I sounded like a very old lady when I mentioned to the "young people" how I remembered Charlotte Road when The Cantaloupe was just a twinkling in its creator's eye. 

The Tramshed on Rivington Street mixed rather excitingly with it's star exhibit, the BMW concept car - made of felt and designed by my dancing partner: I've always said women need to start designing cars, the majority of mostly mid-market motors might not be quite so damn boring as a result (has anyone else noticed how all those exciting car commercials simply highlight the dullness of the car they're supposed to be promoting?). What joy to use leather and wood on the outside of a car as well as the inside? Or luscious and as useful-as-a-photographer's-multi-pocketed-jacket upholstery? What about some stunning colour for a change? Even just a dedicated make up mirror? All topped off with matching luggage and a leather bound road map. Oooh. And driving shoes and gloves too please. And if we're really going to town, quite fast too, a cute little picnic set. Motorway services have improved but I still can never find the first class lounge.

Back to reality, almost. The perfectly groomed Lee Broom had a simple, glamorous installation in his Rivington Street studio and I've definitely got my eye on a couple of his Parquetry lamps for my new home.

After my talk at 100% Design yesterday (went quite well, a terrific audience and managed not to throw up: maybe bumping into long lost mate Michael Marriot just before was a lucky charm?), and a quick whizz round the show plus a beaker of calming wine with the lovely folk at Barber Wilson, my collaboratrice, Kathleen, and myself popped into Decorex and saw lots of things - some gorgeous, some rather odd, but that's to be expected - and lots of friends too. For complete contrast we topped the day off with a trip to Designer's Block in the atmospheric old warehouse building at the Oxo Tower, which, as usual, felt very much like a student show. In fact more accurately it felt like a series of adolescent bedrooms, judging from the amount of coffee cups and beer bottles and scrunched up hoodies amassed on any available ledge on the one hand, and the sugary girliness of the work of a lot of the young Asian girls exhibiting, but I think the most cogent presentation was from the Made in Peckham guys who, nevertheless, still owe a huge debt to Piet Hein Eek and the Dutch School at large.

If you're after trends I would say the most distinctive was the emergence of figured stone and boiled leather. "Made a Mano" at Tom Dixon's Dock are making exquisite coloured and patterned slabs out of volcanic stone from Mount Etna, which Tom has used to face the bar in The Dock's delicious restaurant. As a taster you can buy a trivet made of this material in the shop. 

And stone suppliers, such as Devon Stone, are also offering their stones with textured finishes which bafflingly, but rather brilliantly, cost not much more than un-facetted stone. 


Another of Tom's co-horts is making boiled leather vessels which you can amusingly buy from a vending machine in his shop too. I spotted other boiled leather features at other shows also: a very nice, not to mention well-tested (since Medieval times, if not before), organic and recyclable material with great "hand-feel".

Another trend that's gaining ground, at least a conceptual one,  is my pet subject of "emotional design" and the psychology of space - which means it's good news my next book on this very subject is already in progress. It's interesting that the subject is attracting attention now, especially when design is inherently emotional, always has been, always will be - and I'll be exploring just this at seminars at Grand Designs Live in Birmingham in a couple of weeks time.


21 September 2010

Party Time

On train to London for design frenzy this week, ending with a talk I'm giving at 100% Design on Sunday. Excited about seeing lots of new things. Sick with nerves about talk.

11 September 2010

Stone, Cement and the Conga

Castle Drogo (5)

A visit to Castle Drogo nearby in Devon the other day, perhaps Lutyens' most sophisticated building; an impressive pile of brooding Dartmoor granite that, I have to say, does have a whiff of penal institution about it from the outside.

Inside, though, a deeply atmospheric and imaginative home where Lutyens has leavened Drogo's monumentalism with intimacy and light, cleverly deploying games with scale - where perfectly carved vaulted ceilings offer comforting, textured closeness as well as a rhythmic sense of space, where lower ceilings in bedroom suites are balanced by expanse on the horizontal; jewel-like roof lights; internal gardens with fragrant herbaceous borders and, typical of Lutyens, charming details - specifically a recurring acorn motif.

And while Lutyens is considered the most English of architects the house reminded me so much of those designed by Frank Lloyd Wright - but then they were contemporaries. 

Reading through a pamphlet about Lutyens (who inspired Francis Pollen, who inspired the architecture of my own home - a kind of architectural conga) I remembered why, generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan. The Quinlan Terry of his day, Lutyens' was a bit of tart architecturally, manipulating neo-Classicism to suit either sentimental or pompous ends, usually both.

But Castle Drogo is different: it is confident and pioneering, modern and of its age, sparkling with the then latest technologies in communications, heating, power and plumbing. It is a palace for meritocrats not an aristocratic pile, and a herald in stone and mortar of the tectonic social and cultural shifts fomenting in First World War Britain. So this is probably why it feels "American".

Different too Lutyens' extraordinarily powerful memorials and war graves (he designed the Cenotaph using a brilliant geometrical device where "the vertical inclined planes meet at a point 1,000 ft above ground while the horizontals are imperceptibly the circumference of a circle  whose centre point is 900 ft below ground"), which proves the point that an architect is often at his peak not long before he or she snuffs it!


Back in the land of the living you must take a look at www.cement-tiles.es, who make incredibly beautiful patterned tiles in cement (above) - my favourite - and terrazzo plus a huge range of Moroccan zelliges in dazzling colours. You can even create your own patterns. I was really hoping to use these for a walkway in my new house but because I have had to amend my design to suit the location of the meter cupboard this won't be possible. It's so annoying when reality intrudes on fantasy.

Talking of which, be careful using these on bathroom floors though as they may well be slippery when wet, to quote Bon Jovi, unless you're an architect at his/her peak and looking for a building-themed way to go.

06 September 2010

The Joy of Home

Yesterday a Hereford calf was born in one of our fields.

Today my book, The Joy of Home (http://www.naomicleaver.com/the-joy-of-home.html), is born.

Gestation period of cow: 9 months

Gestation period of book: 18 months = production  4 years = thinking  20 years = experience

N-Joy x

03 September 2010

The Jewels in a Home

Writing about my bike it occurred to me how un-beautiful everyday things in a home can be, and yet it's the everyday things that arguably have a greater requirement to be beautiful, given the breadth and frequency of use.

As I research things for my own home it really is shocking how ugly bathroom extractor fans are, or smoke detectors or how limited the range of light switches and socket cover plates is. All of these things have the potential to be the jewel-like details in a home, but often end up being just eyesores, or at best rather dull.

Time for change!

Beautiful Bike


So my beautiful Globe Haul bike has arrived from Bobbin Bikes - and I love, love, love it. A soft green coloured frame, tan leather trims and white wall tyres - could a bike be more beautiful? And cycling around the lanes of Devon is bliss, in spite of a certain cycle expert of my acquaintance commenting on how it is "really a town bike" and "expensive for what it is". 

The fact is there is no other bike like it - traditional without being old-fashioned, elegant instead of plastered with decals, aesthetically pleasing as well as properly functioning. (I wish it was British too, but you can't have everything.) Which makes it excellent value for money in my book.

And just as you never forget how to ride a bike so you never forget how it felt to ride a bike as a child. What is different is that cycling is now a "very serious business" and it seems cycling can only be performed when dressed up like Lance Armstrong, not a look that particularly suits me so I'll just keep to my usual wardrobe though I have relented to some degree with a leather WW2 helmet style er...helmet - anything to avoid an "egg box".