We've come a long way since the days when Mothercare was the only shop to go to when buying for children. Now kiddie boutiques are popping up all over the place and mail order catalogues thump relentlessly through the letterbox. From rainbow-coloured über-buggies to wooden high chairs, witty-slogan T-shirts to retro trikes, there is a dizzying selection of consumer goods all vying for your and your child's attention. So it was only a matter of time before the little treasures got their own design show.
While the idea of parents buying their offspring child-sized Eames chairs to blend seamlessly with mum and dad's urban groovy interior may jar a little, the organiser of Kids.Modern is adamant there's a lot more to it than that. "Our show is not about introducing pieces which will fit into the parents' house to make it more aesthetic," says Lucy Ryder Richardson. "I want to bring the power back to children. To use their imagination, not 'I should like this because all my friends like it'."
Ryder Richardson and her business partner, Petra Curtis, are the pair behind the MidCentury.Modern furniture fair at Dulwich College, south London, so they know a thing or two about good design. Twice a year they provide a marketplace for dealers – in pieces from the 1950s to the present day – and in-the-know buyers to meet under one roof. This month, for the first time, they are turning their attention to children, perhaps in part because they have five increasingly design-literate and discerning children between them. But primarily because they noticed that a few of their favourite high-end designers and shops were starting to bring out great children's pieces. Plus, they were fed up of what they see as the excessive branding and commercialisation of children's toys and furniture (Thomas the Tank Engine-themed trunks and Bratz dolls beds, say).
When it comes to toys, Ryder Richardson is firm. "I think parents are quite scared when they see how deeply television can affect their children," she says. "We're fostering creativity and individuality and getting the kids thinking for themselves. It's so important to get back to the value of an item rather than it being a facsimile of a television programme." So you won't find any branded goods at the show – well, at least not any brands you'll recognise. And you'll find things that are designed with longevity in mind. One of the other things the pair is fed up with is cheaply made furniture which Ryder Richardson observes "is just landfill at the end of the day".
So the brief for the show is to promote fun, playful and imaginative toys and furniture for kids. You'll find the Genius Table, the top of which is made of a giant, sticky notepad, by design duo Arash and Kelly. Children can scribble on the top and then peel off the page. There will be vintage items, surely the best defence against more landfill, and activities on the day such as colour-in wallpaper. Also on show will be Julie Marabelle's Family Tree picture frame, with space to put in your own family photos; and for bedroom walls there is Lizzie Allen's Changing the Guards wallpaper. You can guarantee there'll not be a Power Ranger in sight. For Ryder Richardson, it's a case of respecting children more and not fobbing them off with commercial toys which come with pre-assigned stories and thus limit a child's imagination. "I don't want my kids seeing the logo first," she surmises neatly.
One of the items that seems likely to be popular is Alexander Taylor's Kids-Rock child-sized rocking chair made from rubber and oak. Its clean lines and appealing colours make it easy on the eye, but perhaps less easy on the wallet. At £250 it's definitely not selling at a child-sized price. But for retailer Thorsten van Elten, who will be exhibiting the rocking chair, among other things, this cost is entirely justified – and it's at the heart of the show. "Nobody passes things on anymore," he says. "We need to educate parents to spend a bit more on buying something that is built to last. Think of the pleasure you get from seeing something from your childhood. If it is well designed and it is well made it will have that longevity." Wanting to hand things down to the next generation is a welcome return to old-fashioned values, but these days it requires you to think a little more carefully about what you're buying. "There's nothing wrong with plastic if it's used in a conscious way," he adds. "But a cheap plastic chair may break and it will get thrown away, whereas if it's made of wood it can usually be fixed."
While the show looks set to excite, challenge and amuse its small visitors, some of the items seem certain to appeal to the kidult just as keenly. The cartoon Moomin mugs, the digital graphic wallpaper by Funky Little Darlings and Hanns Peter Krafft's woolly Sit-on Sheep look like things that could fit very neatly into the fashionable urban loft space – with or without the children.
Kids.Modern is on tomorrow, 10am-4pm. Kids go free, adult entry £5 (cash/cheque only). Christison Hall, Dulwich College, London SE21, www.ourshowhome.com