The return of Clerkenwell Design Festival

Learn about the pressing issues in the design industry and new furniture ranges next week, says Annie Deakin

Who needs to fly to Milan? Returning after its 2010 debut, next week’s Clerkenwell Design Festival (CDF) promises to give the Italians a run for their money. To celebrate its status as London’s creative centre, Clerkenwell will host a plethora of design workshops, furniture launches, city tours, pop-up shops and auctions for three days next week (24-26 May).

Last year, CDF had over 150 events with 18,000 registered visitors bringing with it real excitement to this old part of London. This year, it is expected to be bigger. ‘Clerkenwell is without doubt the most important design hub in London. There are more architects here per square metre than anywhere else in the world,’ said Peter Murray, London Festival of Architecture. ‘It’s got fantastic environment, fantastic history, great restaurants and great bars. It’s just the place where designers like to work. Clerkenwell Design Week brings together all those people in a celebration of good design, good quality design, new furniture, creativity, all those things that London prides itself on and brings it here in one place.’

Among CDF events planned next week is the hotly anticipated Knoll debate ‘Are there too many designers?’ on 24 May. The panel (including architect Rab Bennetts, designer Asif Kahn and RSA Director of Design Emily Campbell) will be battling out the contentious subject – does the sheer number of architects and designers make them easy to exploit? Are low salaries and fees for architects a result of the supply of architects and designers outweighing the demand? Is it healthy competition or does the oversupply of trained designers make the profession more vulnerable to exploitation? Judging by Knoll’s Fakes Debate last year, visitors can expect a heated ‘discussion’. Other talks worth a visit include ‘Birth of a new designer’ presented on 24 May by Dr Lynn Jones, Head of the new National School of Furniture and former student Tortie Hoare, now an award-winning new designer. Elsewhere on 24 May, hospitality design specialist Inge Moore of HBA (Hirsch Bedner Associates) will present ‘New hotel design trends and beautiful bathing spaces.’

From the weird and wonderful (a huge pin art installation by Lulu Guinness) to worthy charity events (TOTO's LOVE JAPAN auction), the festival is covering all bases. And it makes sense that such a creative gathering takes place in this particular borough. 'It has a real air of industrial activity about it,' Says Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud about Clerkenwell. 'You feel as though you are stepping back a century into a world of 19th century engineering workshops. It’s about making things and ideas. That is what Clerkenwell has always been about as opposed to Westminster which has always been about politics.’

Headquarters of the festival is the wonderfully Dickensian Farmiloe Building on St John Street where international designers will launch new products. Major names like Anglepoise, Cappellini, Hitch Mylius, Ligne Roset, Jasper Morrison and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec will showcase their latest designs. Look out for the future alternative to textile carpet as showcased by Bolon's new Artisan collection, manufactured using a new proprietary-developed fibre (as pictured). Also in the Farmiloe Building will be a Pop-Up shop run by the Design Museum selling Wim Crouwel merchandise with wallpapers, prints and Tai Ping’s limited edition Alphabet rug. On nearby side street Sans Walk is an underground Victorian prison, usually closed to the public, which will host the House of Detention exhibition of artist installations. Keep an eye out for Timorous Beasties new lace material patterns and Lizzie Mary Cullen’s drawing workshops.

Crucially, the Clerkenwell Design Festival will be the first opportunity for many companies to see products that were launched at the Milan Furniture Fair in April. So there you have it, there is no need to fly to Milan, just wait for it to come to us.

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website

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