Clerkenwell Design Week 2023: Everything that caught our eye

Feature Image Courtesy: Dezeen

The words of designer Lorinda Mamo, “Every great design begins with an even better story” ring especially true in today’s modern world. While culture, art and aesthetics along with personal experiences can impact the creation of a design, the story behind it is the one that truly weaves it as an experience rather than as an inanimate object. This was visibly showcased in the Clerkenwell Design Week 2023 held at Clerkenwell, one of the centres of architecture and design of London. Located on the edge of the City of London, the history of Clerkenwell is clearly reflected by the architecture and spaces around the area. 

Celebrating its 14th year as one of the UK’s leading independent design festivals, the three-day event held from 23rd-25th May, attracted a global audience. This year the festival boasted 11 exhibition venues, 150+ showrooms, interactive and still installations, workshops, talks, tours and multiple other programmed events along with fringe activities being held simultaneously.

Given a moment to slow down and look beyond the glamorous portrayal of the event, one has the opportunity to appreciate the creativity spread extensively throughout the area. From showcases of Italian ceramics to temporary architectural installations using emerging methods of design such as AR (Augmented Reality) and AI (Artificial Intelligence), innovation could be seen bursting throughout the space. This year, the festival had an amalgamation of established industry brands and emerging designers from all over the world presenting their works ranging from furniture, lighting, textiles, surfaces, accessories and product design. The wide range of subjects covered attracted a wide variety of individuals, professionals and amateurs alike to view the works.

In the wide world of design, not only was this an eye-opening event for students helping them broaden their horizons, it also provided a unique networking opportunity for industry professionals and enthusiasts alike. While display showcases allowed the visitor to experience and interact with the product first-hand, any lingering queries regarding the same would be clarified through the discourses held periodically on a variety of topics.

This year one saw iconic pieces such as Thallus by Zaha Hadid and upcoming designs such as organic shaped lighting made of free- blown glass by firm Curiousa, interiors and materials exploration by Portaire, 3D printed ceramic products by Greece based design studio Keramik, recyclable modular hollow bricks by award winning firm Morph bricks as a solution for quick, adaptable commercial furniture, Swing table by Duffy London created as a playful design for furniture in the boardroom, as a dining table or even outdoors, replicating the ambience that it intends to project to its clients and help reduce their stress. A huge range and variations of indoor- outdoor work pods by different companies and designers along with industry focus on sustainability, more specifically circular design was a positive observation.

User involvement in the design process was seen with company ‘Table Place Chairs’ taking customization of furniture a notch higher with selected designs and a range of materials for the user to combine and play along with. This encourages the client to have a sentimental attachment to the product since it is ‘build-your-own furniture’ packaged in a different experience. Additive manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing in side tables and products manufactured using materials like PLA, ABS, ceramic clay was a positive observation since it allowed a more organic and structurally stronger design to be constructed with less to no material wastage.

The sunny weather with occasional winds provided a pleasant atmosphere for one to walk around the festival. The easy access to food and drinks spots allowed the visitors to stroll leisurely while admiring the art and designs visible. Walking through the paths, one would stumble upon life-size silhouettes with bar codes attached to them which was revealed to be an interesting marketing strategy for AI powered newsletters of different design fields.

Installations were scattered throughout Clerkenwell in inconspicuous locations like small alleys, sides of buildings like the Promenade by Universal Fibres situated beside the New Design group showroom that created a gateway promenade with a gradient of coloured threads to represent the company’s quest for carbon negative fibre. This random burst of colour at an otherwise neglected alley was an entrancing surprise that stopped us in our tracks to marvel at the promenade from different angles. The massive monochromatic inflatable installations by artist Steve Messam were juxtaposed with the otherwise stone-clad British architecture. The blue spikey installation titled “Gateway” blocking the St. John’s Gate with its large scale and towering spikes being an excellent example of the same. Modularity in design was clearly reflected in the installation/sculpture developed by Next Generation Design, consisting of hexagonal wooden planks with niches as connecting joints which made one appreciate the thought given by the designing team by creating a standardised kit of parts that would allow the same material to be used in different configurations for different functions in the future.

Conversations at Clerkenwell 2023 was a platform for design-led dialogue to discuss pertinent topics such as circularity, sustainable practices,etc. Industry professionals such as Philippe Malouin, Dezeen’s Editorial Director Max Fraser, Bolon CEO and CCO Marie and Annica Eklund, The Design Council, and many more graced the stage to discuss their views on topics ranging from interiors, textiles, architecture, color, circularity, sound design, etc. These discussions brought forward many different ideas from the speakers.

Other programmes such as showroom tours, product launches, collaborative projects, discussions over breakfast, lunch and other fringe events were conducted throughout the festival. Places such as the Old Sessions House, a grade II listed eighteenth-century former courthouse building situated on Clerkenwell Green provided a unique atmosphere as a festival hub for the design enthusiast to discuss their love for design passionately. 

Products by brands such as Dyson, Humanscale, Chelsom, Italian brand Brionvega, Plant designs and KI were displayed all over the building. The Palladian-style building, with its multiple floors, mezzanine areas, restored eighteenth-century glass atrium sheltered by a dome roof and majestic dual staircase leading up to the networking event provided an array of spaces ranging from private nooks for a book reading to a library and spaces large enough to entertain a gathering. The building with its large windows, meandering corridors and organic flow connecting such spaces to each other assured a level of grandeur and mystery to the rooms yet undiscovered by the visitor. While some products such as the Ovetto recycling and waste bin were available for the user to interact with, the Dyson headphones with air purification were displayed in a glass case solely for viewing. 

Overall, the Clerkenwell Design Festival, running over a decade strong proves that a passion for design, channelled through a range of disciplines, when nurtured and encouraged with a patronage with a deep understanding for the same can become the grounds of a global affair with cross cultural arts eventually inspiring and playing off of each other for future collaborations and inspiration.

Brands At Clerkenwell Design Week 2023

🡲 Sanitary and Bath

Commemorating their 150th anniversary, Kohler latest design range with prints on their ceramic sinks & bathtubs, allows for a new aesthetic to be realised in the bathrooms. Marking an interesting shift for designers, christened Artist Collections were crafted by artists from around the world. Among the showcased collections were Falling Gently, created in partnership with UK street artist ELLE, and Aranya, a collaborative effort with traditional artist Pushpa Kumari from India.

At Clerkenwell Design Week 2023, Ideal Standard welcomed visitors to have a look at Alu+, a range made of 84% recycled Aluminium, free from nickel chrome lead. Alongside, the all-rounder Singular range, at the showroom represented the novelty of choice to the consumers – introducing them to a world of tailored, holistic bathroom design that meets individual’s needs.

VitrA Bathrooms showcased at Clerkenwell Design Week for a third time, and this time they were joined by special guests artist and designer Arik Levy and in-house design director Erdem Akan who spoke in-depth about the Voyage range. BAGNODESIGN showroom, too, was a busy location, where the brand presented their impressive products rooted in Italian design – making onlookers realise the true definition of luxury.

🡲 Workspace Furniture

The UK has always been a step ahead when it comes to sustainability. For the region, Carbon Footprint and Net Zero are concepts of yesteryears; lately, conversations have been centred around advanced strategies such Net Positivity and the use of recycled materials more responsibly. 

Orangebox’s showroom visit at Clerkenwell Design Week 2023 is an apt case in-point. Under their own ‘No Green Bull’ agenda, their bestseller Do Chair saw a decarbonised upgrade called Do Better. The frame of the chair now utilises waste such as banana skins, chickenbones, nappies – stirring conversation amongst visitors. The campaign also shed light on greenwashing in the industry and then continued to talk through its sustainability journey, commitment and new products & refinements to their current portfolio. A new add on was their writable boards to their woods collections which adds a little more purpose to the planters. An revitalization movement, titled ‘Re-made by Orangebox’ will give the brand’s customers an opportunity to cut-down on their carbon footprint. We are eager to get a glimpse of the long-awaited Campers and Dens making its debut in the Middle East at the end of the summer.

At the rooftop terrace of Orangebox’s flagship, Extremis – the outdoor furniture – displayed their elegant collection, allowing guests to bask in pleasant London sun and have a go at the products in the ideal set-up. 

Along with a pop-up showcasing Path, the most sustainable chair in the world, Humanscale, also showcased various cutting-edge products. Todd Bracher’s talk for Icon 20th anniversary with Jessica-Christin Hametner was insightful and gave listeners a sneak peak into the world of product design. As per our (extremely reliable) sources, Todd Bracher will soon be visiting the UAE.

Love That Design was fortunate to sit down with Andreu World’s CEO Jesús Llinares, who took us through Andreu World’s stellar growth, their sustainable DNA and the acquisitions around us in the industry. On the other hand, their showroom was venue for insightful discussions featuring discerning entities such as Women on Design (WOD), Gensler, Squire and Partners and Scott Brownrigg.

Spacestor showcased their collaboration with Gensler on their new product range Arcadia, which continues to create new landscapes within an open space. On the sustainability front, Spacestor was prototyping mycelium as a new material to provide acoustic elements to their palisades collection along with new finishes in the ever evolving space of room dividers.

Teknion features Cityline Fence that combines privacy, accessories, acoustics in a lighter package. To describe it colloquially, it’s a designer’s modern take on panel-focused privacy. The brand also hosted a profound talk by Scarlet Opus on the trends we are experiencing and what we can look forward to.

Senator Group presented their new occasional tables from Allermuir. Alluring and awe-inspiring, the tables could be right fit for homes, hotels or workspace. Leave No Trace pop-up by Senator group traced through an introspective journey on how sustainability is perceived; the multisensory experience concluded in a self-assessment!

Bisley’s storage-concentrated portfolio was seen branching into soft seating, space dividers and accessories. Their collaboration with Cate St Hill signals Bisley’s diversification into the residential segment – and it’s safe to say it’s an impressive range. 

As per usual, Arper’s hospitality was unparalleled at Clerkenwell Design Week 2023. At their showroom, they shone light on the prowess of their sustainability pursuit with the new collections, Ralik by Ichiro Iwasaki, Semiton by Garcia Cumini, Roopa and Shaal by Doshi Levien and Aava 02 by Antti Kotilainen.

Colebrook Bosson Saunders (CBS) were lodged at a stand at Connected Places Catapult, and offered free chair yoga sessions to passersby. Amongst talks by industry leaders, CBS promoted healthy work environments through the channel of ergonomics, mobility and habits.

Boss Design showcased a slew of new products at Clerkenwell Design Week 2023 and conformed to warmer and more residential settings. Kato, a new armchair with a wooden frame and Flo – wooden-legged, double and single seater sofas stirred subdued modernity. Rosa armchair and Sia task chair boasted colours and would be fitting in a retro-inspired design. The Mango Booth collection also supported a brand new addition – Frida.

True Design‘s latest products such as the Nomad Stool and Lisa Chair were housed at Wagstaff & Umbrella Furniture showroom. Grey Fox, partnered with Bachmann Electronic to concoct their collaborative products manufactured in Dublin of which their mobile video conferencing + collaborative product was both unique and innovative. The use of batteries to power mobile conferencing solutions are definitely a norm we are looking to see in the Middle East sooner than later.

At the Brunner showroom, an industrial ambience transfused with good ol’ bricks and skylights set the venue for a well-lit and brilliantly composed display. The basement of the showroom functioned as an invigorating lounge bar, where the products were encased within stone arches. Rays of light penetrated in the three-level space (basement, ground and first floors), as Brunner’s latest products in soft seating, meeting and collaboration intrigued guests. Mobile whiteboards, a trend descried across Clerkenwell Design Week 2023, also made part of their fresh portfolio. 

Lintex, a popular niche-brand specialising in boards and other writing surfaces, has consistently curated a remarkable portfolio of a number finishes, colours and sizes – and Clerkenwell Design Week 2023 was no different. 

Fritz Hansen had happy news to share. Not long ago, they acquired Skagerak, with the intention of expanding their outdoor collection. The B certified, Skagerak, is set to steer Fritz Hansen in the same direction.

At the Actiu showroom, visitors discovered the new, multi-purpose Qyos acoustic booth. Addressing a tall list of uses – relaxation, private refuge, or work, the product has been set to re-define pods. A string of new soft-seating furniture such as Owwi by Arnau Reyna and Globb by Stone Design also were the centre of the venue. 

During Clerkenwell Design Week, Moroso organised a “Art in Design” panel with Cajsa Carlson of Dezeen, Timothy Shepherd and Jane Maciver from Buckley Gray Yeoman, Che Blomfield of Shoreditch Arts Club and Matilde Cerruti Quara. Before, during and after the talks, visitors took to the brand’s seating solutions such as the Ruff chair to hold intimate discussions, and judging by the crowd, it sure was a comfortable and cosy affair!

Sedus’ ‘Detox Office’ collection was nestled into a jungle-themed ‘Limited Edition’s showroom during Clerkenwell Design Week 2023. The focus of the collection is well-being and health, hence, foraging into a territory  with new, vivacious colours, furniture that simplifies integrating plants in the office, and products designed to create an easy-going workspace. A live cooking session further built on the message of a harmonious and enthralling office environment. 

At Clerkenwell Design Week 2023, Wilkhahn presented the ‘Decide’ chair that derives its name from the fact that it leaves configuration rights in the hands of the consumer. The Decide chair family can be customised – users can upgrade ring-shaped armrests with leather, plastic or solid oak pads – or with the optional soft padding. The ergonomic, conference chair can also optimise scalability, and is available in three backrest heights.

Morgan Furniture’s double-height showroom was a contemporary vision drenched in natural light. The brand hosted a jazz party and private view of ‘Verso’ by British artist Corin Kennington. A no-needle arm knitting workshop by Cocoon and Me, commemorated the newly launched Aran lounge chair by the brand.

🡲 Acoustics, Floorings and Soft Finishes

BAUX acoustic’s colourful fair stand, designed by Morag Myerscough and conceptualised by Johan Ronnestam made for a stop-and-stare affair. Hushoffice, a serial advocate of flexible workspaces, offered guests a tour of their showroom whilst assisting them in understanding and making the right choice for contemporary adaptive offices and being mindful of concepts such as biophilia and work-life fit. 

Impact Acoustic in tandem with Swiss design studio atelier oï, curated two stunning and luminous installations at the Dungeon during Clerkenwell Design Week 2023. The designers pushed the boundaries of the acoustic materials’ rigidity and evenness to achieve organic forms, transforming the flat panels into captivating three-dimensional structures. Oloïd incorporated a sustainable acoustic luminaire, infusing it with unique character, while Orbis seamlessly combines a minimalist design with exceptional sound absorption. A notable aspect of Orbis is its dimmable luminaire element, offering adjustable lighting conditions to suit any situation.

Kvadrat, a leading brand in fabrics and acoustics, has set a benchmark for quality and sustainability. At Clerkenwell Design Week 2023, the brand made known the constituents of their products with an exhibit. Fabrics curated in piles were labelled with material names such as ‘Plastic Bottles’, and guests were free to get a feel of the texture and finesse of the cloth and understand the product’s life-cycle.

Suzanne Tick may be a design entrepreneur, but before that, she’s an empath. Therefore, it’s no wonder, whenever or wherever – Dubai or London – one enrols for a LUUM weaving session with her – it is always a delight. Understanding her philosophy of upcycling waste and use of the loom gave attendees a greater appreciation for the design, texture and patterns that get released every season. Love That Design’s video production on LUUM and its spearhead, Suzanne Tick, was a background to the event, and we couldn’t feel more appreciated and humbled.

Bolon’s showroom set an ambience with a live DJ station, and educated visitors about the Bolon Studio in Sweden. Their Artist Collections available in a myriad of colours and cut-out, and ranges suitable for high-traffic areas were the main highlight at their London venue.

At the Modulyss showroom during Clerkenwell Design Week 2023, a line-up of expert speakers such as Tim Fu and Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, explored topics such as sustainable architecture, neuroaesthetics, and the integration of artificial intelligence in design. On the other hand, visitors participated in hands-on workshops including block printing and guided meditation for a well-rounded and inspiring experience.

Ege Carpets relaunched of their sought-after ReForm Concept with increased recycled content and reduced CO2 emissions, as well as the introduction of Colortec featuring 100% wool constructions. Guests were also informed about the brand’s other sustainability initiatives like CircleBack, a take-back scheme for broadloom, and the collaboration with Uplyfted, which promotes carpet tile reuse in social housing. Custom design services by Ege Carpets that offer complete creative freedom were also promoted to propagate the notion of personalised designs.

Holding its name as Clerkenwell’s only WELL Certified Platinum showroom, Milliken lured visitors with a showroom tour and some hands-on, immersive workshop experience. The brand also showcased their latest launch, the Northern Soul at the venue.

Shaw Contract, too, displayed their most recent New Path collection on Ecoworx S backing, that is carbon neutral, Cradle to Cradle certified® Silver and Indoor Air Comfort Gold certified®. The brand’s vision of healthier indoor environments was further underpinned by talks with Ann Marie Aguilar, Senior Vice President at the international Well Building Institute, and Gillian Burgis Smith, Architect and Neurodiversity Campaigner. 

Interface displayed the Upon Common Ground Collection that represented 5 key regions of Country namely Desert, Saltwater, Rainforest, Freshwater and Spinifex, and the deep connection First Nations Australians have to these elements. Notably, the brand is also celebrating 50 years, and have recently moved to a new showroom in the heart of Clerkenwell.

🡲 Ceilings, Lights and Surfaces

Atlas Concorde hosted a design-led Lunch & Learn event to educate and familiarise visitors with their new collections and winners of the Red Dot Awards Boost Mineral and 3D Wall Plaster. At the venue, guests were also provided with an understanding of the role of Atlas Plan – specialising in kitchen furnishings, and Atlas Concorde Habitat – providing bathroom fixtures, in the brand’s offerings. 

RAK Ceramic’s Design Hub displayed top-notch ceramic products and experienced a crowded showroom during a talk with RAK’s design collaborators, Daniel Debiasi, and Federico Sandri.

For the fifth consecutive year, Cosentino opened its showroom in London during Clerkenwell Design Week 2023. The brand’s big reveal was the launch of C-Top, our new business channel for interior design professionals. The platform will act as an inspiration board for designers, as well as provide services such as augmented reality to those who sign up on the platform.

At their flagship, Rockfon aimed to popularise the ‘noisy restaurant phenomenon’, and aid designers and other industry professionals to realise the impact of disruptive sounds, and assist them in creating the perfect acoustic experience in hospitality venues. The agenda was buttressed by expert panels and Rockfon’s competent repertoire. 

Zero Lighting presented new additions to Sprinkle, Compose & Lumo at Clerkenwell Design Week 2023. Stalwarts such as Sprinkle Linear Suspension also marked the venue. 

Nichetto Studio’s first collaboration with Lladró, Soft Blown was showcased at the Light Area in the vicinity of the Firefly Bar. The collection comprises the Afloat chandelier, and Airbloom table lamp, and exists as a composition of funky, rotund shapes – visibly usurping inspiration from balloons. 

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