When I think of interior design, I think of design in a wider context than a period style, line of case goods, colour theme or how a room is put together. Design wherever we find it — in fashion, architecture, the fine hand of a linen fabric, the chunkiness of a hand-thrown bowl, styled food display, nature — influences and extends our sense of decor and decorating.
And while great design inspires and influences artists and designers globally, it’s an interesting exercise to consider design in situ, history and all.
In 2015, I headed over to London to attend the annual 100% Design London show. The scale of the show itself was impressive: in addition to the London Olympia trade show, a half dozen separate design districts throughout the city featured designer work spaces and boutiques, installations, craft demonstrations and art exhibitions. Shoreditch and Clerkenwell have become hip art districts with youthful enterprises sprouting up and sprucing up formerly lower end east city neighbourhoods.
As a textile designer I was captivated by Britain’s rich history of fibre production and design, from weavers of woollen goods in the west country to the business of fine fabrics centred in London and all manner of spinners, silk screen printers and craftspeople in between. The Spitafields district of London was the place to be in the 1700s if you were a textile designer working on commissions for master weavers whose shops were located there. Their lustrous silks with flowing floral patterns and delicate palettes became high fashion garments for the wealthy.
Although its bohemian history has long moved on, Chelsea will always be close to a designer’s heart. In the 1700s the Chelsea Porcelain Factory produced fine soft-paste porcelain painted in enamels and gilt for top market customers. The Victorian age brought painters Sargent, Turner and Whistler, as well as many writers who lived and worked there. In the 1960s, fashion icons such as Vivienne Westwood moved in to King’s Road. Punk style emerged and flourished in the 70s. Little is left of these earlier times although Westwood retains her landmark shop. The largest facility of its kind in Europe, the glass domed complex Design Centre Chelsea Harbour is a resource for designers with 120 showrooms featuring over 600 designers.
Any discussion of the history of British design must tip to the massive contribution of the Victoria and Albert Museum. I was too early for an Indian textile show, but with such an extensive permanent collection at hand, I had more than enough to absorb.
Walking through the galleries of the V&A is to experience a history lesson through the lens of craftsmanship and social culture.
When it comes to fine fabrics and wallpapers, William Morris is a name that conjures images of his ubiquitous Trellis, Willow and Garden Tulip fabric patterns.
A leading figure in the British arts and crafts movement, many of the designs he created are still reproduced today at William Morris & Co. Morris preferred natural dyes such as indigo and cochineal to the chemical dyes of the day, however his early wallpapers featuring vibrant colours did contain arsenic which, after health concerns became known, had to be switched out. When in the Cotswolds, a visit to Morris’ summer home in Kelmscott, Oxfordshire, where the designer’s personal affects and work are displayed, is a must.
It wasn’t only in London that I was treated to a vast array of indigenous decor and design. Traveling the west country poking around museums, tiny hotels, gardens, shops and markets, I discovered a wealth of craftsmen working in wood, fibre and clay creating traditional and modern lines of home furnishings.
In Glastonbury at a flea market, I met an blacksmith who forged bespoke rustic hooks, iron spiral pulls and other domestic items. On market day in Somerset towns, stalls of artisanal goods including ceramics, original art, wool garments and silver jewelry are sold alongside tables of local produce, cakes, meats and jams, a virtual feast for all the senses.
A master quilter tells me that quilting expertise is typified by intricate, white on white patterns.
I am no quilting expert, but Devon’s Ani Catt, long-arm quilt maker, strikes me as someone who can stand among the masters.
Down in Cornwall, a county rich in wild coastal history and ambiance, Tom Raffield is a fine craftsman and designer of low-energy processed steam-bent wooden lighting and furniture.
From the clean lines of bespoke benches and tables to swooping floor lamps and imaginative pendants, Tom’s work features sustainable design. There is a reverence for natural materials that I like about Tom’s production ethic. None of his designs can be mass produced and most of his work is bespoke and commissioned.