London design festival 2013 (final part)

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Endless stairs at Tate Modern, designed by dRMM Architects, in collaboration with American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC)


Like I mentioned previously, there were no major landmark projects at the V & A museum this year, but there is the Endless stair installation at the Tate Modern ( open until 10th October), which is designed by dRMM Architects and sponsored by American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC). The scale of 187-stair installation is slightly smaller than I expected, but I managed to spend a few minutes enjoying the view of the river and St Paul’s Cathedral at the viewing deck after a short queue up the stairs.


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Korean artist, Myung Nam An’s work at Squint in the Brompton design district


With so many events taking place during the festival, it was impossible to visit all the events across town, so I picked a few in the Brompton design district and Shoreditch design triangle.

In the Brompton design district, I was quite taken aback when I stepped into Squint, an independent design company which produces and retails bespoke, hand-crafted furniture and home accessories. The 2 floors of the gallery/ shop has been transformed into a colourful, eccentric and textural space full of velvet-covered furniture, vintage fabric lamps and organic-shaped ceramics. All the works were created by the London-based Korean ceramic artist and designer-maker, Myung Nam An, and they can be bought online and in store at Squint.

At Mint next door, “Cabinet of Curiosity” ( until 30th Sept) exhibits a range of furniture that focuses on the identity of objects through the examination of craftsmanship and design process. The collection includes a collaboration with Swedish Design Institute Svensk Form and the Czech Republic based gallery Krehky, and other new talents from around the globe.

Over in Shoreditch, London-based design studio, DesignMarketo created a multi-sensorial exhibition, “Perfume, Sir” exploring the different effects of pepper and scents, accompanied by ice Sculpting and cocktail making workshops.


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Top left: Roughed out soldiers by Peter Marigold at Blanks in between; Top right: Protest plates by Pentagram at 1882 Ltd.; Main: Perfume, sir? exhibition by DesignMarketo; Middle 3 pictures: Cabinet of Curiosity by Krehky gallery and Svensk Form at Mint; Bottom left: A talk by Alice Rawsthorn with ICA Executive Director Gregor Muir; Bottom right: aftermath of the festival…


Being rather unwell all week, I didn’t attend the talks that I originally intended to attend, but I did manage to attend a talk by leading design critic, Alice Rawsthorn at the ICA. Although this talk was not part of the London design festival ( which meant that the attendees were less than usual), it was very design-relevant. I have attended Alice’s talks before and I have always enjoyed her wit, passion and insights on design. The talk concentrated around some of the topics discussed in her new book, “Hello World: Where Design Meets Life” ( which I have yet to read). One of the topics that mentioned is the need for more socially-responsible designs esp in the technology world, which I also feel very strongly about. The fact is that we can no longer ignore the electronic waste clogging up all the landfill sites around the world ( esp. those dumped in the third-world countries by first-world countries). This is the responsibility of designers, manufacturers and consumers. Good design has the power to enhance our lives, but at the same time, bad design can also ruin our lives, so changes must be addressed before it is too late.


Designersblock & Design Junction 2013

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Main & bottom right: Gerald paper dog collection by Lazerian design studio; Bottom left: I am a sundial by Joshua Barnes


I went to Southbank on my last day at the London design festival where Designersblock took place. In the past, I haven’t been so taken back by the work at this show, but this year, the show was bigger and more interesting than the previous years. At the back of the centre, the Gerald paper dog installation occupied almost half of the floor space. This project was a collaboration between Liam Hopkins (founder of Lazerian studio) and Richard Sweeney. Customised by over 100 international artists, the paper kit can be purchased on the studio’s website and be folded ( and glued) into sculptures for the homes.

Elsewhere at the centre displayed mostly work by newly graduate or current design students from the U.K., so it was a good opportunity to see works by young British designers.


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Top left: The milk of human kindness by Masami Charlotte Lavault; Ceramic vases by Ruth Harrison; Bottom left: A stone a mountain by Jing Feng Fang; Bottom right: Put it on the table by Lilian de Souza


Over at Design Junction at the Old Sorting Office in Holborn, the place was jam-packed, and it was not hard to see that ‘design’ at the end of the day, is a very ‘commercial’ business. At the venue, there were big international brands, up and coming brands, as well as smaller local studios, and there was huge emphasis on lighting design.


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Top left: Wovenground; Top right: Fade stools by Catherine Aitken studio; Main: Paul Cocksedge’s The Vamp installation of recycled hi-fi speakers; Bottom left & right: Work at Camberwell Collective


Amongst all the lighting companies, I was particularly drawn to LZF, a Spanish company that started out making handmade wood veneer lamps in Valencia in 1994. Their lamps are minimalistic, light in weight ( and aesthetically) and some even have an oriental/ Japanese flavour. I was also very fond of Chilean company, The Andes House‘s sustainable wicker range, Made in Mimbre, where designers team up with artisans from the Chimbarango region to rescue and revive traditional artisanal weaving techniques.

Another new talent to watch is Poetic Lab, set up by London-based designer ShiKai Tseng, a former RCA student from Taiwan. His Ripple lights and Shadow clock stood out amongst the big names, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses in the future.


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Top left: Recycled bottled-turned into lights by Western trash; Top right: BaroncellI; Top main: Ripple by Poetic lab; Middle left: Air lighting by LZF; Middle right: Apollo lighting system by International studio; Bottom main: Medusa, Bellota, Chinita by Claesson Koivisto Rune for Made in Mimbre/ The Andes House; Bottom left: Anemoi luminaires by Jay Watson.


After seeing so many design products within a few days, I couldn’t help feeling slightly ‘overdosed’. It also made question the role of ‘design’ and designers’ responsibilities today. The more I visit design shows or events, the more I feel that product designs today are too aesthetic-driven rather than innovation-driven. Of course not all products need to be innovative, but I feel that the market is now already over-saturated with aesthetic-led products/ designs and it is time for designers to re-think their approach to design and the market needs. Designers need to find a balance between aesthetics, functionality and innovation in order to stay competitive long term.

To be continued…


100% design & Tent London 2013

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Top left: Paper space by Studio Glowacka and Maria Fulford Architects. Top right: Adaptive City Taipei pavilion; Bottom left: Tunnel lighting system by Thomas.Matthews and studio design UK; Bottom middle: Ceramicstudio “Mee” by Ji Hyun Chung at Korea design pavilion; Bottom right: Bubble chair by KEV Design studio


Perhaps the reason why all the design trade shows take place at the same period within a 4-day frame is to cater for overseas industry people, but it’s extremely exhausting to have to go from one show to another in such a short period of time. It didn’t help by the fact that I caught a cold last week and so I had to even skip some events.

My first stop was 100% design at Earls Court, which has changed a lot over the years, but I think this year’s show was much better than the previous three years. There was a new section displaying work by design students, an emerging brands section, more international pavilions and there was even a 3-D printing pavilion.


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Top left: Branch Lighting System by Peter Larkam; Top middle: Crivos objetos enredados at 100% Argentine design; Top right: Dandelion foldable 3D printed chair; Main: Worldscape by Atmos studio; Bottom right: A colourful table by Alex Petunin at Russian design pavilion


I was rather disappointed by the work shown at the Korea design pavilion this year, as I have seen more interesting work shown in the previous years. The more crowd-pleasing was the Adaptive city Taipei pavilion, but I was particularly intrigued by the Russian design pavilion as I am not very familiar with their design scene.


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Top left: 100% Norway; Top right: Ceramics on a conveyor belt by Soderlund Davidson; Main: Studio Jon Male’s reBay lighting


The next day, I went to Tent London at Truman Brewery, a show which I have enjoyed in the previous years. I was slightly disappointed to see some design studios showing the same work from last year. Though I was also glad to see many furniture and lighting pieces merging craftsmanship into their designs, like the beautiful wooden chairs by Laura Kishimoto, perspective furniture by Group H from Korea, bamboo sticks sculptures by Mie Matsubara and woven lamps by Louise Tucker.


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Top left: Chairs by Laura Kishimoto; Main and bottom right: Perspective furniture by Group H; Bottom left: Wooden lamp by Trepan


I was sent a newsletter about one of our suppliers, Di-Classe‘s participation at the show by my Japanese friend who represents the brand in the U.K. Hence, I was able to catch up with her at the show and was shown the newer version of the “Cuore LED candles” ( which can be turned on and off by blowing over it) and new colours available for the “House tissue box”.

Elsewhere, the work shown at “Korea design membership” was too gimmicky and the Four Seasons in Shanghai pavilion was a let down. Luckily, there were some interesting work to be found at the “Fresh Taiwan” and at 100% Norway, which occupied a separate gallery opposite of the venue.


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Top left and right: Di-Classe and the Cuore LED candles; Middle left: Furniture by Jake Phipps; Middle: Ceramics by Ikuko Iwamoto; Middle right: Folding books by Yumaman Creative & design; Bottom right: Dome lights by Handmade Industrials


My journey continued across London…


London design festival 2013 (V & A)

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Top left and middle: The Wind Portal by Najia El Zein; Main: Oki Naganode by Julia Lohmann


The V & A museum has always been the hub of the annual London design festival, and for 10 days every year, the museum becomes a backdrop for the hottest designers to showcase their talents. After attending the event for many years, initially I felt slightly disappointed and underwhelmed by the installations at the museum this year. Perhaps I had been spoilt, because I still have vivid memories of last year’s Mimicry Chairs installation by Japanese design studio Nendo and the structural and digital installation, Prism by Keiichi Matsuda & Associates or even Ronan & Erwan Bourouullec‘s Textile fields in 2011.


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Top left: 28.280 by Omar Arbel for Bocci; Top middle: The dinner party/ True-to-life design by Scholten & Baijings; Top right: FAT & Amorim’s CorkTECH floor; Main: Garden of Russolo by Yuri Suzuki


However, I later noticed that the range of work is probably more varied this year, from lighting to sculpture, flooring, sound installation and even typography. My favourite is ‘Oki Naganode’, an installation by Julia Lohmann ( the current V & A design resident) made from naga kombu, a type of Japanese seaweed. Her studio there is also fascinating, especially because her research and work overlaps art, design, science, and craft, and it is inspired by nature.


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Top left, right & middle left: Moleskine sketch relay; Middle, middle right & bottom right: The typographic circle’s Circular magazine; Bottom left: Type tasting


Yesterday, I attended a talk by Alberto Alessi on his company’s design history and his experiences collaborating with the world’s leading designers and architects ( his list even includes Salvador Dali). It was an inspiring talk because he is direct, humourous and passionate; over the years, I have attended many talks by leading designers, architects or successful business entrepreneurs and I realised that their common trait is their passion in what they do/ strive to do. Money is never the drive, only passion and persistence drives them to succeed. This, I believe is a motto to live by.



Top left & right: Alessi Made in Crusinallo. The beauty and the mastery; Main: Alberto Alessi’s inspiring talk on his company’s history


To be continued…

Caledonian Road & The Cally festival

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When the weather was still fine last Sunday ( sadly it’s no longer the case), I joined a free walking tour provided by the Footprints of London as part of the Clerkenwell and Islington Summer Free Walks Festival. I had previously joined their lunchtime walking tour in Clerkenwell, and so decided to sign up for another one in Caledonian Road since I knew very little about the area.

Although 11 people signed up for the tour, only 3 of us showed up, which is a typical trait whenever free events are offered… People tend to sign up and then not show up for it, which means those who are genuinely interested can’t get a place. How very annoying!


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This walk coincided with The Cally festival, an annual event that started in 2011 which celebrates the vibrant and multicultural neighbourhood with live music, workshops, street market stalls and food.

Before the walk, I had no idea that Caledonian Road is almost 1 mile long, stretching from Kings Cross all the way to Holloway. Along the route, there are many historical and interesing sights and architecture including the Keystone crescent ( completed in 1846), the wonderful and artistic Thornhill Bridge Community Gardens, an unique and unexpected castle: Crumbles castle adventure playground, the Tolpuddle Martyrs mural painted by Dave Bangs ( to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs demonstration), an architectural gem: the West library on Thornhill Square ( built in 1906 with 26 letter of the alphbet engraved on the façade), the historical but imposing Pentonville prison, and Gifford Street where Bob Marley shot the video for “Is this love” ( unfortunately, the Keskidee Centre that later became a church in the video was destroyed by a fire last year). The video also features a young Naomi Campbell!


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Top left: Keystone Crescent; top right: Crumbles castle adventure playground; Main: architectural façade details of the West Library at Thornhill Square; middle left: Copenhagen Park Clock tower; middle: art project at a housing estate; Middle right: Gifford Street; Bottom left: the retained façade of Mallett Porter & Dowd Ltd; Plaque at the Copenhagen Park


Out of all the sights that we visited, what took me by surprise was the discovery of the Copenhagen Park Clock tower, on the site of where the 17th century Copenhagen House once stood ( demolished in 1855). The site was replaced by Metropolitan Cattle Market, which had moved from Smithfield, and then turned into a secondhand/ Bric-à-brac market after WW2. The tower is what remains of the market and now looks quite out of place surrounded by rows of semi modern housing estate and an odd-looking children’s playground…

After the tour, I wandered around the area and saw a bizarre new building with the retention of a historical façade of a company called, Mallett Porter & Dowd Ltd. It looks so out of place that I had to find out more about it online when I got home later. It turns out that the building is the 2013 winner of the Carbuncle Cup, an award that celebrates the year’s worst new building! There was even an article about it published in the Guardian last month… click here to read more.


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Top left & right: Thornhill Bridge Steel Artwork made by a local artist and young people; Main & middle left & right: Thornhill Bridge Community Gardens developed by Cally Arts founder Lisa Tang; Bottom main: Tolpuddle Martyrs mural painted by Dave Bangs; Bottom left: Edward Sqaure; Bottom right: at Copenhagen Park


Despite the recent development and regeneration ( some are rather distasteful like one above) going on in the city, there is still much history and many interesting stories to be discovered in different neighbourhoods. No matter how long you have lived in this city, you will always learn something new about it… this is the reason why London is one of most fascinating cities in the world.


Make, do & meet workshop

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We have been selling on for almost one year now, and it has helped us to grow our U.K. market. And as Christmas is approaching, we are anticipating our busiest Christmas yet.

I have never attended their events or workshops before because they are usually sold out early. I registered on the waiting list for the Make, do & meet workhop and it was last week that I received an email informing me about an available place even though I had already forgotten about it!

The event took place at Drink, shop & Do ( I wonder if the name of the workshop was inspired by them? ) in Kings Cross, which also happens to be one of my favourite cafes in the area.


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The workshop was an informal event which covered information on sales forecasting for Christmas, SEO tips, new opportunities with NOTHS, Q & A sessions, as well as the opportunity to meet with other local designers and business owners. Not surprisingly, 98% of the attendees were female, which shows the strong female entrepreneurship in the U.K. nowadays.


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One of the best part of the event was the endless supply of food and drinks, from breakfast to lunch and afternoon tea, it was a busy day for my mouth and stomach… However, as much as I love the venue, it was too small for the event, we were all crammed together uncomfortably for most of the day and had little room to eat or socialise. That was probably the only downside of the event.

On the whole, it was an informative and relaxed event that was more fun than the corporate-style workshops I have attended in the past. Though it was also a reminder that it is time to start preparing for the Christmas season! Only 16 weeks to go…


In this place, in this time exhibition

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Living in London means it is impossible to run out of cultural and arts events to see or visit. As much as I enjoy visiting the world-class museums and galleries, I still favour the more intimate, quirky and less touristy galleries dotted around the city.

I only found out about The Crypt gallery in Euston a few years ago, despite having walked past it many times before. This is due to its discreet entrance and location… very well hidden underneath the St Pancras Parish church.

Recently I was in the area and the poster of the current exhibition, “In this place, in this time” caught my attention, so I decided to pay a visit before it ends on Sunday.

The exhibition features work from five artists, Sam Wibberley from the United Kingdom, Bruce Hucko from the United States, Kenji Yamada, Michi Suzuki and Aki Moriuchi from Japan. The exhibition is curated by the artist/ ceramicist, Aki Moriuchi, and I was lucky enough to catch both Aki and Kenji at the exhibition to learn more about their work.


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Top left: Kenji Yamada’s video installation; top right and main: Michi Suzuki’s ceramic installation; bottom left: Bruce Hucko’s landscape photos


The theme of the exhibition is related to time and place, but what fascinates me most is how well the art works complement the historical, sacred and atmospheric setting of the gallery. From Bruce Hucko‘s hauntingly beautiful black and white photographs of the Anasazi Ruins to Kenji Yamada‘s video installation inspired by Tibetan Buddhism’s burial rituals… Aki‘s thoughtful curation is hard to fault.

But I was particularly moved by London-based ceramicist, Michi Suzuki‘s tiny and delicate botanical ceramic objects that are carefully laid out at the back room. From a distance, they look almost like human remains, and against the burial backdrop, I was able to sense the fragility of all living beings. It’s almost hard to believe that I would be contemplating life and death underneath the busy Euston Road on a late Friday afternoon!

Unfortunately, the exhibition will be closing on Sunday, I hope more Londoners ( or even visitors from out of town) will get to see this one of a kind and ‘spiritual’ exhibition before it closes.


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Top left: Aki Moriuchi’s ceramics; top right: Sam Wibberley’s two dollar bills; Aki Moriuchi’s typographic print work; bottom middle: Michi Suzuki’s ceramic installation


Last summer walk in the South Downs

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I never realised how ‘addictive’ country or hill walking can be, once you start, there is no turning back! Now that I have been doing it for a few years, I simply cannot stop doing it. This is also partly due to my keenness to explore the picturesque British countryside and my love for nature ( perhaps I need to also thank my father for taking my brother and I to go hill walking every Sunday when we were kids).

The South Downs is beautiful area comprises of a range of chalk hills stretching across Sussex from Eastbourne to Winchester. And on the last day of August, I joined a walking group to explore this part of England.


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One of the best thing about walking in the countryside is the abundance of wild fruits everywhere. While in Scotland, I scoffed down kilos ( no joke) of wild raspberries and cherries and now as we approach September, wild blackberries are ripening, it is hard to resist not picking them along the route. Once you have tasted the juicy and sweet berries ( when in season), it’s hard to go back to the overpriced and tasteless supermarket version, hence, I rarely buy them from supermarkets these days.


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Bottom left: The bloodhound project: the supersonic car on display at the annual classic car and motorbike show in Burpham.


Property prices in many areas of the South Downs are high, and this was obvious when we passed through the village of Burpham, where all the houses look pretty and well maintained. There was even an annual classic car and motorbike show being held here, where we saw the Bloodhound supersonic car! And when we arrived at the historical town of Arundel, I was surprised to find it full of independent shops housed inside rows of carefully restored buildings ( I later found out that this town was awarded “Fair Trade town” in 2004). The contrast between this town and Hastings ( where I passed through a few months ago) couldn’t be more stark! With many flashy cars parked on the streets, the town seems to attract many well-to-do day visitors from other parts of the country.


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The historical town of Arundel and Arundel Cathedral


Unfortunately there was only an hour left before the closing time of the historical Arundel Castle, so we decided to skip it and visited the impressive Arundel Cathedral instead.

As always, although we were feeling tired after the walk, we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, sunshine, historical sights, wild blackberries and each other’s company.

These are the reasons why walking in Britain is so addictive!