"People keep sniffing a few green shoots so perhaps the end of the recession is in sight," says furniture designer Steuart Padwick who founded designbar.com, the leading industry online directory. London Design Festival (LDF) which opens in just a few weeks - and where Padwick will unveil a new collection - will be a strong indicator as to the industry's future.
This year's LDF (19-27 September) will be a milestone for Padwick, a talented furniture designer, trend reporter for WSGN and former buyer for The Conran Shop. Although a seasoned LDF visitor and exhibitor, Padwick will launch the brand and company Steuart Padwick and exhibit under his own name for the first time.
His new range will be at 100% Design (24-27 September) and - with names like Chuckle bin and the Pig bench - is bursting with Padwick's characteristic wit.
"The Heels chair was a slight play on words as I was doing some work for Heal's at the time and quite like the confusion if they take the chair!" he explains. "The chair's feet are inspired by the heel of a woman's shoe. I recently fell asleep at a neighbour's house and tipped a glass of red wine all over their white sofa! This chair has slightly angled arms so you don’t get tempted to balance a glass on the arm."
The Penguin Wine Hod, made from solid oak, evolved from having an hour to design and make three tables for a talk he was hosting at the Apple store in London. "The talks were sponsored by Penguin Books, and the tables were originally designed to look like a stack of books. The glass holder and bottle hod came later. It is perfect for taking a glass of wine and a book to the bath!"
Similarly, his Walk Desk may raise eyebrows; "I love the lifting lids in the desks we had at school. With the Walk Desk, I wanted to have that witty/nostalgic nod back to childhood, but at the same time produce a sophisticated desk for the home office, and so no longer a child’s desk."
For such a recognizable design name, it seems incongruous that this is his first solo stand exhibiting his furniture. Yet his has been a chequered career. "I'm horribly close to 50 but I have a limited portfolio because I keep getting sidetracked," he says. One of his earliest commissions was from The Duke of Beaufort to create a wardrobe as a wedding present for Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. "It was a thrill to do it but they hated it!" he laughs, "It was very Seventies in style and in retrospect, I see it was too modern for them. I keep meaning to ask to buy it back and give the money to charity."
Soon after, he put his design career on hold. "I got disillusioned with the RCA where I was studying; it is a great place but it needed a kick up the arse. I took a complete jump away from the design world and went into acting for eight years." After which, he became a buyer for The Conran Shop for two years. A decade later, he is back in negotiations with The Conran Shop who is interested in his new bedroom collection. "When I showed Sir Terence some of my new designs, his passing comment was 'I've always known you were a very good designer.' That is always good to hear. Now, I'm waiting for him to put his hand in his pocket!"
He last exhibited his own work (as a group of three) at 100% Design in 2000. "I got a huge amount of press but I didn't capitalise on it. Looking back, I regret not pushing it harder then but I was excited about my next venture; I founded the website designbar.com."
Described by Sir Terence Conran as "the ultimate design directory", the website helps professionals, students and design lovers make connections in the creative and design industries. It recently partnered with mydeco.com, the home shopping website which will soon launch an exclusively curated high end design network.
Like Padwick, many designers will launch new products at London Design Festival - but not quite as many as in the past. "This year, because of the economy, less people are showing at 100% Design meaning it is only in Earls Court 2, instead of both 1 and 2," Padwick observes. "This has allowed Designers Block to be next door to 100% Design whereas usually it’s a bit of a guerilla operation hosted in an empty venue for very little money. You don’t expect it to be polished; you usually find crude covering to walls, inconvenient loos and a lively spirit."
"Back in April at the Milan Furniture Fair, there were no signs of greenery; it was all bad news," he says noting how the trade shows had fewer visitors and contract sales were down. But Padwick remains optimistic; "I think we've seen the worst of it. It may just be fresher now."