Britain's got talent: New Designers exhibition offers chance to buy a future furnishing classic

Trish Lorenz meets the young names with big interiors ideas

Imagine if you'd stumbled across Philippe Starck's student show and bought a piece of his early work for a song. Not only would you be the proud owner of a Starck original that could probably deliver a pretty profit if you were to sell it today, but you'd also be marked out as a serious spotter of design talent.

This year's tranche of design graduates may have the next Starck in its ranks and the New Designers exhibition (www.newdesigners.com), which is currently running at Islington's Business Design Centre, is the place to spot young talent and grab yourself a bargain.

The exhibition, which has been running for 26 years, is a showcase of undergraduate work from universities across Britain.

It launched the careers of fashion designer Matthew Williamson, homeware and textile specialist Ella Doran and Thomas Heatherwick, the creator of Manchester's B of the Bang sculpture, among others.

With almost 3,500 young designers exhibiting their wares, it's a vast showcase for graduates from fashion, interior design, furniture, product design, architecture and graphics courses and offers a snapshot of the hottest ideas, the latest trends and the best young creative minds.

It's also a chance to get your hands on some well-crafted original pieces at reasonable prices. Or why not commission something bespoke? After all, it's an opportunity to own a one-off by a designer who one day might be too busy and too famous to be affordable.

New Designers runs in two parts. Last week was the turn of textiles, fashion, ceramics and glass design; while now, products, furniture and graphics are on show.

To narrow things down a little, or in case you can't make it to the exhibition, here is our pick of those designers that we think are ones to watch:

Furniture with a twist

Ellen Thomas, 23

Furniture designer Ellen Thomas, who recently graduated from Northumbria University's 3D Design, takes traditional items and gives them a contemporary twist.

The Milk Series is an outstanding example of her style: milk stools are reinvented in beautiful woods and with quirky details such as the embossed cows and milk bottles on the underside.

Thomas seems destined to become a big name. She has already exhibited her work at Saatchi and Saatchi in London, The Baltic in Gateshead and is off to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York later this year. London design store Mint has also commissioned a limited edition set of her Milk stools.

The stools start at £276. Grab a piece now; her prices are likely to rise (www.epthomas.com).

Colouful textile creations

Laura Olivia Bah, 28

Bah, who graduated with a degree in textile design from Nottingham Trent University, works under the Laura Olivia brand name and creates textiles in vibrant colours.

Her Fuchsi range sees Bah combine teals, hot pinks and mustards with indigos, greens, coral and dusky blue.

Add in a penchant for intricate embroidery and embellishment, as well as the use of luxurious fabrics such as pearlescent paper, velvet and silk, and you have a recipe for tactile and visually arresting products.

"My designs often begin life as watercolour paintings, hand sketches or photographic imagery before being worked in to intricate surface patterns," says Bah.

Buy a cushion (from £65) and add a spot of colour to your sofa. Then again, you could commission an individual piece (www.lauraolivia.com).

Larger-than-life lighting

Giles Godwin-Brown, 22

One of this year's Sheffield Hallam graduates, Giles Godwin-Brown's oversized wall lamp combines a sense of playfulness with a serious note of quality.

Constructed from birch plywood and stainless steel with aluminium detailing, it employs high-power LED lighting.

"I was inspired by the Earles Draftsman lamp and the traditional Anglepoise lamp. I wanted to create a classic style using modern technologies and processes," says Godwin-Brown.

Handmade and priced at £1,250, the lights don't come cheap.

If this is too much for your office budget make a note to keep an eye on Godwin-Brown's work. As he graduates and moves into business it will be interesting to see how his design talent translates into more commercial (and affordable) offerings.

Eco-friendly furniture

Sebastian Fox, 24

Lincolnshire-based Sebastian Cox keeps eco-friendly considerations at the heart of his designs. But forget any thoughts of up-cycled, recycled or junk-inspired pieces; Cox creates lean and elegant wooden furniture.

Visible joints and what he describes as "honest construction" add a human touch and hint at the eco-considerations behind the design.

"I believe designers have a responsibility to address environmental issues when they develop products and these should be of equal importance to an object's functional and aesthetic qualities," says Cox.

His Suent super-light chair costs £320 while his Kerf Coffee table is £345 (http://sebastiancox.co.uk).

Knitting with glass

Catherine Carr, 53

From a distance, Catherine Carr's work looks just like the lace doilies which were once loved by a generation of grandmothers.

But come closer and you see that these shimmering creations are made of glass: glass that has been finely spun and then beautifully knitted or crocheted.

Carr is older than many of the other designers exhibiting here – she worked as a nurse for 25 years until a bad case of meningitis forced her to quit and she turned what had been a hobby in working glass into a 3D Design degree at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Each of her pieces is hand-crafted to reveal individual stitches, and the work is bang-on trend; lace is everywhere from fashion runways to interiors at the moment.

But these are designs that have longevity written all over them, too; their intricate hand working and innovative technique marking Carr out as a designer to watch.

And yes, knitting with glass is as difficult as it sounds.

"My fingers and hands are covered in plasters," says Carr.

Products start at £70 from www.catherinecarrglass.co.uk.

The best of the rest: other names to watch from the class of 2011

* Orawee Choedamphai – a textile designer who specialises in 3D knitted structures with an interesting use of colour and strong graphic influences (www.orawee.com).

* Charles Churchman – simple but distinctive products for the home and garden are inspired by nature (www.charleschurchman.com).

* Neil Conley Design – stylish homewares and more sculptural pieces with eco-friendly themes at their heart. Keep an eye out for the elegant, carbon fibre-inspired Xendless range, which includes this limited edition urn (www.neilconley.co.uk).

* Imogen Heath – exuberant and colourful graphic prints across textiles and paper (www.imogenheath.com).

* Angie Thirkwell – feminine, romantic and softly surreal designs, combining recycled objects with glass.

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