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Why I love trade shows

18 Jan 2013

Barbara Chandler


I love trade shows. Yes, I know they are exhausting. You are either too hot or too cold, frequently lost, and increasingly frazzled, weighed down by armfuls of catalogues, desperate for a coffee and the loo. But there is an adrenalin that keeps you going, an excitement that you don’t find elsewhere, the thrill of discovery, the immediacy of product and people, and the access to new trends and inspirations that you won’t get anywhere else on or off the web.

I am coming up to INTERIORS UK for two days, and staying overnight, to judge once again the student entries for New Design Britain. My section is fabrics and surfaces, and I can promise some very exciting work. I share judging responsibilities with the inimitable Dids MacDonald of ACID, and the creative Diane Goode of Fromental. It will be hard work to decide on a winner, given the very high standards this year. But it is so lovely to finally meet the designers in person, and share with them the stories behind their projects. One of my favourites from past years was Henoc Maketo, who won our fabrics award in 2011, an ebullient larger-than-life character whose wonderful designs had been inspired by London Transport.

Henoc Maketo

I can’t wait to see the VIP lounge kitted out with furniture by Out of the Dark. This pioneering charity takes old furniture (and I am afraid there is plenty in High Wycombe where they are based), and then uses a team of disadvantaged - and specially-trained - young people to restore it. These youngsters (the average age is 15) gain a new focus to their life, and learn valuable work and life skills. Their teachers are professional volunteers - experts in anything from painting and varnishing to chair caning. But it is the design that will really catch your eye - bright colours, new handles, and many a creative twist that come from volunteer interns studying at top art and design colleges.

Then I’ll be spending a lot of time with Designersblock in their innovative “department store” packed with furniture, lighting, illustration, ceramics, and fashion. Mimicking a conventional retail layout, goods will be arranged as Homewares (furniture, tableware), Electrical (lighting and appliances), and Haberdashery (textiles and wall coverings) plus Toys and Tech, Perfumery and a Florist.

Designers Block

I love Designersblock, and have watched founders/directors Piers and Rory evolve from maverick enfants terribles, throwing sundry spanners sideways into the works of established design events, into savvy professional international design promoters, playing godfather to innovation and excellence.

Piers and Rory, Designersblock

And here are just three of the Designersblock exhibitors I am hoping to meet, photographed during the London Design Festival.

Matthew Plummer Fernandez

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez is one of the brightest design boys I have met. Not yet 30, he exudes an aura of arcane computer codes, launching everything from subversive twitter “bots” to his new product Digital Natives. For this, Matthew has scanned everyday objects, reworked them using his own software, and then fabricated the results on a 3D printer. The beautiful graded use of colour is the most sophisticated use I have seen of this embryonic production method.

Equally avant-garde is Liam Hopkins of Lazerian who has a clever way of catapulting pattern and form dramatically into the 21st century, using a combination of computer aesthetics and handmaking. And don’t forget to pat Gerald, his faithful cardboard self-assembly dog, coming soon to a store near you.

Jon Male

Jon Male makes wonderful lamps from parts of old glass collected off eBay - many of them came from discarded oil lamps. This work has a surreal Memphis feel about it. The glass is bonded with an adhesive designed to withstand very high temperatures. This is “upcycling” at its most daring and beautiful.

Photography by Barbara Chandler. 

Barbara Chandler is a design writer and photographer. Follow her on Twitter, or visit her website to find out more. Her photography book, Love London, is out now.



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