This month London Design Festival marked its 20th anniversary and, at the Medals Dinner held in St Bart’s Great Hall last week, Sir John Sorrell recalled how in the early years he was always asked if LDF would be held again next year. As if design were a passing fad. Attitudes have changed over the decades and design’s impact on sustainability, on communities and inclusion are fully recognised. Politics and ethics are as important as creativity.
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The next generation has its work cut out for it sorting out the ecological mess that its ancestors have created. So it’s lucky that the Green Grads showcase at this year’s London Design Festival was one of the highlights. This exhibition of recent graduate’s products and projects with an ecological focus is part of Planted, a sustainable event which promotes design that reconnects people with nature.
Green Grads features students of product and furniture design, engineers, animators, and craftspeople working in textiles and ceramics. The initiative’s founder, Barbara Chandler, hopes the event will link new designers with industry professionals.
Some of the fantastically imaginative ideas on show this year included a machine designed by Charlotte Werth, a Central Saint Martins’ graduate, which used bacteria rather than chemical dye to grow patterns onto cloth. Eva Katrenakova [from Falmouth] showed research into nutrient-rich edible seaweed which can be foraged from Britain’s shores, and Georgie Gerrard from Loughborough University created mycelium vessels. Other students turned to traditional methods – work involving resin waterproofing, clay and timber were all on show.
“Not all the projects we show will be commercially viable,” says Chandler, “but they are seeds to nurture, the results of in-depth research. Their inventors are the talent we so sorely need to help solve our eco-crises. Sustainability is now a commercial imperative. Consumers want action.”
Find out more about the Green Grads initiative on its website
While Francis Bacon’s art has been exhibited all over the world and he’s acknowledged as one of the most important painters of modern times, far less attention is paid to his time as an interior designer. But in the late 1920s, inspired by his European travels and the likes of Bauhaus and Le Corbusier, Bacon designed modernist rugs and furniture. His showroom – Francis Bacon Modern Decoration: Furniture in Metal, Glass and Wood; Rugs and Lights – contributed important works to British interior design and the rugs, in particular, are resonant of his early paintings.
Bacon often destroyed his work (his slashed and abandoned canvases are a headache for the authors of his catalogue raisonné) and, as his time as a furniture designer was so brief, little of his furniture remains – only seven of the 12 rugs he created still exist. One is in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, another is at the Château de Gourdon, France, one of the most exceptional collections of art deco works in the world.
But next month, one comes up for sale at a Sotheby’s auction to mark 30 years since Bacon’s death and to celebrate the artist’s love of France. Bacon was a Francophile, and he was deeply respected by the nation. He was honoured with an exhibition at the Grand Palais in 1971 – the first living artist to achieve this since his hero, Picasso, in 1966. He also lived in Paris from 1974 to 1987.
The rug features the string instrument and brickwork which also appear in one of his earliest paintings, Gouache (1929).
The auction at Sotheby’s will be held on 24 October at the end of Paris+ week – the first Parisian edition of the Art Basel fair.
According to a recent survey quoted in The New York Times, the percentage of workers in Manhattan currently going into the office five days a week is eight. Of the remaining 92%, almost 30% remain fully remote. It seems no amount of post-pandemic perks – slides, nap pods, ball pits, streams of cold brew – has been enough to sway the incontestable truth. That WFH isn’t just preferable, it means you get more work done. (Presumably, in part, because homes typically have fewer slides, nap pods, ball pits, etc.) As if to underline the point, New York Times reporters recently made the news themselves, when nearly 1,300 of them pledged never to return to the office – balking at a three-day-a-week minimum expectation.
Into this new world comes The Office of Good Intentions. Human(s) Work, a typically lavish 592-page hardback from luxury book publisher Taschen. Over 12 essays, authors and architects Florian Idenburg and LeeAnn Suen “expose the relationships between space, work and people, and explore the intentions that have driven the development of the office design for working humans”. Topics include the rise of the corporate festival, the return of the work club and the introduction of work “gurus”. Photographer Iwan Baan provides suitably lavish documentation of groundbreaking office projects, including Marcel Breuer’s IBM campus in Florida and the Ford Foundation’s urban garden in Manhattan. Aimed more at design fans than businesspeople, it’s one for the coffee table – at home.
While most of us appreciate a London caff for a restorative cuppa or a warm seat to enjoy a fry-up, the interiors and history of these institutions are not generally the focus for the clientele mopping up egg yolk. Luckily, Isaac Rangaswami has a keener eye than the rest of us. A copywriter by day, Rangaswami has created a beautiful Instagram shrine – caffs_not_cafes – to praise the aesthetic and culinary qualities of the capital’s eateries.
“I was originally drawn to old caffs because their breathtakingly beautiful interiors are like free museums. There are wonderful period features, like wood panelling, ornate ceramic tiles and ceilings made from Vitrolite, a type of pigmented glass invented in the early 1900s.”
Caffs_not_Cafes, which Rangaswami started in 2019, delights on many levels. The interiors and facades are beautifully shot, the menu critiqued and the life stories of the families who run these restaurants and the communities who frequent them are lovingly recorded.
“I became interested in caffs’ role as places of refuge, where people can eat affordable meals without being moved along. I also became fascinated by the food they serve, the kind of carb and nostalgia-heavy fare that offers a glimpse into a not-so-distant British past, when eating out was relatively new and a lot more utilitarian. I’m interested in the regional differences between fry-ups, too, from square sausage to laverbread, a deliciously iron-rich edible seaweed.”
Though his love of cafes started with Rock Steady Eddie’s in Camberwell, he features every corner of London from Turnpike Lane to Crystal Palace, and even a record of a trip to sample Blackpool’s delights, in partnership with Historic England. He’s also starting a regular column for food magazine Vittles about caff regionalism in the UK.
“My hope with my Instagram is that people go to these restaurants, so they stay open. I think we’re aware that businesses like these are under threat, but I’m really passionate about normalising the idea of just walking somewhere or hopping on a train, to spend time in a cool, historical restaurant.
“I’m interested in celebrating places that are still around, rather than lamenting the ones that have sadly passed on. The best way to keep historical caffs alive is by visiting them and spending money inside.”
Visit @caffs_not_cafes for more details
In 1949, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham walked to the Grindelwald glacier in Switzerland, a vast snow field that filled an entire valley reaching as far as the Mettenberg mountain in the Bernese Alps. The glacial landscape inspired a remarkable series of paintings by the abstract painter, some of the first works to bring her wider recognition.
More than 70 years later, the glacier also inspired documentarian Mark Cousins – a fan of Barns-Graham’s work since the 1980s. He retraced the artist’s steps, only to find that the glacier that provoked such a creative response had retreated more than a mile and is under threat from the climate crisis. As an elegy for the glacier and a tribute to Barns-Graham, Cousins created his own work of art.
Like A Huge Scotland is a large-scale art installation which enlarges the Barns-Graham glacier paintings to 10,000 times their original size. As well as music by composer Linda Buckley, her voice is also used in the exhibition soundscape, snippets of the artist talking about age and memory. A selection of the original paintings will also be on show alongside Cousins’s new piece.
“Willie Barns-Graham was a brilliant, free-thinking, 20th-century artist,” says Cousins. “My work is electrified by her paintings in the way she was electrified by a climb up to a glacier in the Alps in May 1949. In the Fruitmarket show, I will plunge people into the feeling of being inspired, of looking anew, of having your brain changed. What does inspiration feel like? What happened to Barns-Graham on that day?”
Like A Huge Scotland will be shown in Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Warehouse in November, before Cousins’ documentary, A Sudden Glimpse to Deeper Things, about Wilhelmina Barns-Graham is released. The film’s title is a line from Barns-Graham’s diary entry about the Grindelwald glacier. In it, Barns-Graham’s letters and diaries – many of which have never been made public before – will be voiced by Tilda Swinton, a frequent Cousins’ collaborator.
“Visiting the glacier in 1949 had a major impact on Willie’s practice as an artist,” says Rob Airey, director of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust. “The changes wrought on the glacier due to climate change since should have an equally profound effect on us all.”
Like A Huge Scotland is at Fruitmarket from 5–27 November
Hugo Worsley trained at the École hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland before working as a chef for 10 years, but his experience of the restaurant business spurred him to move out of the kitchen and into a new job. The food and drink industry is a major source of plastic pollution, and Worsley wanted to do something about that. “With restaurants closed during lockdown, and people spending more time in their kitchens cooking, I saw an opportunity to create a more affordable knife for the home-cook that was made directly out of people’s waste,” he says.
Worsley says there is a gap in the market between cheap knives for home chefs and high-quality professional standard blades which he hopes he can fill.
The result is Allday Goods, a company selling quality British kitchen knives made from British waste materials destined for landfill. The blades are made in Sheffield from scrap metal and the handles are from plastic waste, such as bottle caps and DVD cases, as well as broken tubs, bottles, lids and food containers to provide a pleasing circularity – using food industry waste to make new food industry equipment.
The first Allday Goods knives were made in Japan, but now Worsley has moved everything to the UK. “I want to support an incredible local industry that’s struggling. In 1920, there were over 300 knife makers in Sheffield, and now there are five. Unfortunately, cutlery manufacturing has moved to Asia, which is more competitive on pricing. I want to support amazing local craftsmanship and hopefully, in a small way, bring business back to this once thriving area.”
Allday Goods online store is now open