London design festival: Kings Cross design district


coaldropsyard  coaldropsyard

Coal Drops Yard


This year, the ever-changing Kings Cross was chosen as the design district for the first time at the London design festival. Aside from the annual design trade show, DesignJunction, there were many exhibitions and activities taking place during the festival.

I received a trade preview invitation to visit Designjunction, so I set off earlier to see what was happening in the area. The initial installations I encountered were two giant wooden sculptures that resembled robots. Designed by Steuart Padwick, the “Talk to me” installations were designed to ‘converse’ with passerby, as part of Designjunction in support of the charity Time to Change to encourage Londoners to talk about mental health.


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‘Talk to me’ installations


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Camille Walala’s installations


Probably the most ‘bizarre’ installation at the design festival was “Disco Carbonara”, by London-based Italian furniture designer Martino Gamper. Inpspired by the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and a Potemkin village, the designer used film sets and scaffolding to create a temporary structure. There was disco music playing inside and a bouncer standing outside stamping visitor’s hands, yet there was nothing inside… it was just a façade.

The fake disco structure was made from a patchwork of cladding created from waste offcuts from an Italian company called Alpi. The conceptual installation aimed to make visitors think about urban design, and the sustainability of temporary structures created for short-term events like the London design festival.


Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper

Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper


Tottex and Kiosk N1C 

Textile waste banner installations by Tottex and Kiosk N1C



img_1905  img_1907

STORE Store making meringue


Granby Workshop launched a new range of ceramic tableware made from 100% waste materials. The range has grown out of extensive research by the Liverpool-based ceramics studio gathering, testing and analysing materials from a wide range of post-consumer and industrial waste streams including glass, metal and ceramic recycling, steel production, quarry spoils and water filtration. Collectively, these sources generate hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste per year which otherwise goes to landfill. The range is now available for purchase on Kickstarter.


Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop  Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop


tom dixon  tom dixon

tom dixon  tom dixon

TouchySmellyFeelyTastyNoisy at Tom Dixon


PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg

PRINT – Bill Amberg Studio‘s new ccollection of digitally-printed leather hides are made with collaborators including Marcel Wanders, Calico Wallpaper, Solange Azagury-Partridge, Lisa Miller, Alexandra Champalimaud and artist Matthew Day Jackson.


Out of all the exhibits and events that I saw on the day, ‘Designing in the turbulent times‘ initiated by Maison/0 – the sustainable innovation programme created at Central Saint Martins in partnership with the luxury group LVMH – was by far the most interesting and thought-provoking. The exhibition showcased graduate projects from Central Saint Martins offering compelling propositions for more sustainable and equitable futures. “How can we break away from our current systems and adapt a more sustainable way of living?” is the question that we should all be thinking about, and here, these young designers are trying to address this issue in their work.


designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Maria Cuji

Bottom: Maria Cuji’s worked with artisans from Ecuador tp produce woven textile made from factory offcuts and leftover yarn.


'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

‘Weighting feathers’ by Jing Jiang uses waste feathers from the farming industry to create a jewellery design range


Olivia Page

Olivia Page

Olivia Pages exploration on bio-waste materials and has created a “Recipe Book of North Portugal, Abundant Biological Wastes for Construction Materials”


designing in turbulent timesi  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Grayshan Audren‘s ‘Seamless: Woven workwear for the automated future’ addresses the waste issue in the fashion industry; Top right: ‘Wool: Re Crafted’ by Nathalie Spencer is a vegan alternative to wool by utilising the discarded waste leaves of pineapples from markets and juice bars around London and processing the fibres into a wearable material. 


Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley’s ‘An Indian traffic jam” display of blockprinted and indigo-dyed textiles at Central St Martins reminded me of my textiles trip in Indian earlier in the year.


designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse showcased LSA’s new CANOPY collection, a partnership with the Eden Project alongside a range of products and concepts from brands such as Vitra, String Furniture, Artcoustic, with plants decorated by The Botanical Boys.


The organiser of designjunction changed this year, and the locations of the show were scattered around different parts of Kings Cross. I skipped the Canopy pop-up shops because there were too many activities happening at once! At the main Cubitt House Pavilion, there were less emerging designers and fewer exhibitors than before, which was quite disappointing. I visited my friends from Di Classe, had some drinks and decided to call it a night.


diclasse  di classe


isokon  isokon

Designjunction at Cubitt House Pavilion


The last stop of the night was Designjunction’s Rado Star Prize in the King’s Cross Light Tunnel where they showcased design pieces by the next generation of young British designers. The theme, ‘Re:Imagine’, explored different ways design can improve life: by evolving existing product forms through materials, function, technology, end-use or even, re-use. Surprisingly, this section of the show was more interesting than the main pavilion, so I believe the organiser need to make some changes to improve the show next year.





Top: Judges’ winner 2019 – Huw Evans’s Concertina collection


Maison et objet (autumn 17)

maison et objet

Hall 6 at Maison et objet


The term ‘enochlophobia’ means fear of crowds, a phobia that I suspect I have – mildly. Although I don’t experience blackouts or panic attacks in crowded places, I do feel overwhelmed, as if my energy is being sucked out of me, and I often feel exhausted afterwards.

This can be a problem when I visit business-related trade fairs, hence I rarely spend more than a few hours at a trade fair (or even art fairs). However, once in a while, I have to conquer my fears and plunge into it. It took me some time to decide whether I should spend €60 on a ticket to Paris’ mega design trade fair, Maison et objet, particularly when most trade fairs in the world are free of charge. Perhaps the reason why they could charge so much is because of its reputation and history (it is 22 years old); and it attracts luxury and well-respected brands, independent names, as well as up-and-coming designers from around the world. If you want to know the trends of interior, furniture and products and what is happening in the design world right now, then this fair is most likely to provide some ideas. With over 3000 brands exhibiting at Paris Nord Villepinte (about 45 mins outside of Paris) for 5 days, it would be wise to do some preparations before the visit.


maison et objet

maison et objet  maison et objet

maison et objet

maison et objet


My strategy was to spend a day there focusing on 2-3 halls only (there are 8 in total), because it would impossible to see everything in a day. But soon after I arrived via the entrance of Hall 6 (the largest hall), I was lost, stressed out, and feeling overwhelmed. I thought I was mentally prepared, but the sheer scale of the venue was staggering. The layout of this hall was like a vast maze and it wasn’t easy to navigate at all. Luckily, Hall 7 (Now! Design a Vivre) was more spacious and it gave me some breathing space. Six hours later, I only managed to cover 2.5 halls, but it was sufficient for me already.


vitra eames  marimekko


Flensted Mobiles

Top left: The classic Eames Elephant at Vitra; Top right and 2nd row: new collection by Marimekko; Botton row: Flensted Mobiles


But was it worth all the fuss and sweat? Yes, I suppose. Since most of the trade fairs in London focus mostly on British brands and businesses, M & O provides a more global perspective of the design world outside of the U.K. There are many interesting brands that I have never heard of before, and many of them are based in Asia too.

Here is an overview of some of the brands/products that I encountered during the 6 hours at the fair including many Asian participants:



Gmund papermakers and stationery (Germany)


papier machine

Papier Machine (France) is a booklet gathering a family of 13 paper-made electronic toys ready to be cut, colored, folded, assembled or torn.



Samesame recycled glass products (Germany)



Storytiles from the Netherlands


Animal theme



elephant table and chairs element optimal

peacock at Element Optimal  Zoo collection at Element Optimal

Top and 2nd rows: super cute cuddly toy chairs at AP Collection from Belgium; 3rd row: elephant table and chairs; Bottom left: Peacock; Bottom right: Zoo collection at Element Optimal from Denmark



wonders of weaving

luce couillet

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Top row: Wonders of weaving (Indonesia); 2nd row: Luce Couillet textiles (France); Bottom: origami textiles at the Material lab



In the last few years, Japanese art/digital collective teamlab has created some fascinating immersive installations around the world. After their popular installations at Pace London earlier this year, they have teamed up with tea master Shunichi Matsuo to promote his new brand, En tea, a new tea grown in Hizen.

Visitors were led into a dark room, where they would sit at the table and be given a bowl of green tea. Then virtual flowers would appear when tea is poured in the bowl; the visuals are rendered in real time by a computer program and are not prerecorded. Petals and leaves would scatter and spread as you move your bowl. It was a fun experience, and a nice way to rehydrate and enjoy a bit of downtime away from the hustle and bustle outside.


Espace en tea X Teamlab  Espace en tea X Teamlab

more trees

Top row: flowers blossom in the tea bowl: Bottom row: En tea & More trees space outside of the installation



Misoka – an award-winning toothbrush that requires no toothpaste



The quirkiest lamps ever… Pampshade is made from real bread by bread lover/artist, Yukiko Morita. I have ever seen anything like this before!


washi paper


Osaka design centre – Washi paper and K-ino Inomata


draw a line  suzusan

suzusan  suzuzan

Top left: Draw a line tension rod by Heian Shindo and TENT; Suzusan shibori textiles and lighting




lee hyemi


small good things  kim hyun joo

Top row: Ceramic products at I.Cera; 2nd row: Lee Hyemi; 3rd row: Korean craft & design foundation; Bottom left: Small good things; Bottom right: Kim Hyun Joo studio



A notable presence from Taiwan at the fair, aside from the Taiwan crafts & design stand, there were other independent brands like Haoshi, Toast, EY products, new brand called Melting, and the 2017 Rising Asian Talents: Kamaro’an.


taiwan craft design






1st row: Taiwan crafts & design; 2nd row: Haoshi; 3rd row: Kamaro’an; 4th row: Toast; 5th row: Melting; bottom row: EY products



Meanwhile, Thailand’s Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) also showcased TALENT THAI, which introduced various Thai lifestyle/design brands to an international audience. Thai design studio, Atelier 2+ was also selected one of the 2017 Rising Asian Talents.


zen forum  saprang

atelier 2+ Greenhouse MinI

salt and pepper studio  img_4968-min

1st left: Zen Forum; 1st right: Handmade jewellery by Saprang;  2nd row: Greenhouse Mini by Atelier 2+; Bottom left: woven chair by Salt and Pepper design studio; Bottom right: wooden panels by Deesawat




The stand of Singapore-based architectural practice WOHA was named Designer of the year Asia 2017


Hong Kong


2017 Rising Asian talent: Lim + Lu Studio




London Design Fair 2016

Rive Roshan at the design fair 2016

Installation by Rive Roshan using Kvadrat Divina


This year, Tent London & Super Brands London celebrated its 10th anniversary and was rebranded as London Design Fair. The fair at the Old Truman brewery hosted over 500 exhibitors from 29 countries, making it the most international fair of the Festival. Exhibitors include independent designers, established brands, and international country pavilions, such as 100% Norway, Portugal, China, Sweden, India and Italy.

I felt that the overall standard of this year’s fair was high. There was a strong emphasis on handmade crafts and designs using mostly natural and organic materials. The pavilions that caught my attention were Inspiring Portugal, China academy of art and Scotland: Craft and design.


ceramics made at Cerdeira village  serip

Gencork  Kit Miles and Moooi Carpets   Corvasce Design

Top left: Ceramic crafts made at the Cerdeira artist village; Top right: Lighting by Serip; Bottom left: Gencork and BlackCork by Sofalca; Bottom middle: Kit Miles and Moooi Carpets; Bottom right: Cardboard chairs by Corvasce Design


I am a big fan of Portugal or anything Portuguese, and so I was particularly intrigued by Portuguese designs. Cork is one of Portugal’s most popular raw materials, and it is often featured in the creation of local crafts and designs. Aside from cork, a range of beautiful crafts were on display to show the craftsmanship from the Cerdeira artist village.


leonora richardsonmamoutzis

Forest and Found

Wooden & woven spoons  img_8227-min  yuta segawa

Jie Yang

img_8259-min   Liang Liu

Top left: Leonora Richardson‘s ceramic cylinder cells; Top right: Ceramic lighting by Mamoutzis; 2nd row: Handmade wooden objects and textiles by Forest and Found; 3rd left: spoons by Wooden & woven; 3rd right: Yuta Segawa‘s miniature vases; 4th row: Ceramic designs by Jie Yang; Bottom right: Ceramic designs by I Liang Liu


Fung and Bedford

img_8251-min  calendar by An everything  caroline mcneill-moss

glass marbles by kosmosphaera

Top: Fung & Bedford‘s origami installations; 2nd middle: Paper calendar by An everything; 2nd right: Brass sculptures by Caroline Mcneill-Moss; Bottom: Giant glass marbles by Kosmosphaera




naomi mcintosh  julia smith ceramics  img_8271-min


Scotland: Craft & design pavilion – 3rd left: Naomi Mcintosh; 3rd middle: Julia Smith ceramics; 3rd right: Lizzie Farey; Bottom row: Utopian surface tiles and condiment Set by Jennifer Gray


I thought the most impressive pavilion at the fair was the Scotland one. The Scottish designers and makers’ work demonstrated their ability to combine traditional skills with new digital technology to create outstanding pieces of craft.


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feelex by Gong Qiaolin/ Qiu Kushan/ Wang Weijia  img_8246-min

Design east exhibition – Top left: Relation textile by Lang Qing & Tea ware by Wu Peiping/ Gu Rong/ Chen Jun; Top right: Blue by Li Jie; 2nd row: Black T by Hu Ke; Bottom left: Feelex by Gong Qiaolin/ Qiu Kushan/ Wang Weijia; Bottom right: Meditation seat ware by Gao Fenglin/Nanoin design studio


Another pleasant surprise was the Design East exhibition that featured a range of impressive work by designers and craftsmen from China. The exhibition challenged our perception of Chinese-made designs, and revealed a changing design landscape that is taking place in China today.



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img_8284-min  img_8285-min  cobalt design

2nd right: This is India exhibition; Bottom middle: Claymen; Bottom right: Jerry can water flask by Cobalt design


Out of all the trade fairs at the design festival, I enjoyed this show much more than others. I think sometimes emerging designers and craftsmen are more daring in their creation, probably because commerciality is not their high on their priorities. Designers and craftsmen have to follow their intuitions rather trends, and it is always encouraging to see people following their hearts than their minds.

Designjunction in Kings Cross 2016

granary square

granary square  granary square

Designjunction in Kings Cross’s Granary Square


This year, Designjunction moved from Holborn to Kings Cross, and it was indeed a good move. Instead of cramming hundreds of stands and outlets into huge abandoned buildings, this year’s show was split into four areas around the Granary Square. It was easier to navigate and more fun than the previous years.


dyslexic design  blackbody

transport for London collection

Vic Lee

Top left: Dyslexic design exhibition; Top right: Blackbody lighting; 2nd row: Transport for London’s new Metroland collection; Bottom: Illustrator Vic Lee working on a mural


At the Granary Square, the Dyslexic design exhibition showcased a range of works created by dyslexic designers from different disciplines like fashion, product, illustration, fine art and architecture. Curated by one of the UK’s leading designers Jim Rokos, the exhibition challenged our perceptions of dyslexia by accentuating the positive effects of living with dyslexia and its close association with design.


johnston twitter machine

johnston twitter machine  img_8090-min

Johnston Twitter Machine by Florian Dussopt


I met and spoke to London-based French designer Florian Dussopt, the designer of a bespoke Twitter machine shaped like the TFL roundel to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Johnston typeface commissioned by Transport for London and KK Outlet gallery. During the 5 days, the Twitter Machine used the Johnston typeface to print all tweets linked to the hashtag #inspiredby on twitter.


design junction cubitt House

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Top: Cubitt House featured a 70 metre long by 7.5 metre GRID installation designed by Satellite Architects; Bottom: Cranes are ubiquitous in Kings Cross


img_8110-min  Greenhouse by Atelier 2+ for Designhouse Stockholm

samago  samago  3doodler create


img_8127-min  isokan plus  channels design

Top right: Greenhouse by Atelier 2+ for Designhouse Stockholm; 2nd left & middle: Uruguay’s Samago and its designer; 2nd right: 3Doodler Create; 3rd row: ‘Who’s Casper’ project created by Modus to raise funds for the refugee crisis; Bottom left: Foldability; Bottom middle: Isokan Plus; Bottom right: Channels Design


For me, the most impressive and intriguing part of the show was Brain waves, an exhibition showcasing the work of Central Saint Martins’ leading design graduates from across a wide range of disciplines.

Biying Shi‘s ‘Made in China’ project interviews the craftsmen/makers behind the products, and examines our prejudices towards Chinese made goods; while Hanan Alkouh‘s ‘Sea-Meat seaweed’ looks at the industry behind pig meat, dissects it and replicates it with the Dulse seaweed.

I particularly liked Italian jewellery designer Giada Giachino‘s ‘Per Inciso’ – a upcycled jewellery collection made of shell-­lip waste. How sustainable and fun!


Made in China by biying shi  Made in China by biying shi

Library by Sarah Christie

Hanan Alkouh  photosympathise by Freya Morgan

per inciso by Giada Giachino  Digital Daiku by Mark Laban

Top: Made in China by Biying Shi; 2nd row: Library by Sarah Christie; 3rd left: Hanan Alkouh‘s Seameat seaweed; 3rd right: Photosympathise by Freya Morgan; bottom left: Per Inciso by Giada Giachino; bottom right: Digital Daiku by Mark Laban



London Design Festival 2016

Elytra Filament Pavilion

Elytra Filament Pavilion

‘Elytra Filament Pavilion’ by experimental architect Achim Menges with Moritz Dörstelmann, structural engineer Jan Knippers and climate engineer Thomas Auer.


What is going to happen to the UK in the future? It is hard to tell. As a multicultural mega city, how will London cope with the aftermath of Brexit? And what can London’s design community contribute in order to reduce the negative impact triggered by this decision? Maybe it is too early to say, but I think there is an urgency for designers to explore this topic and try to solve the possible scenarios that are likely to occur.

I have been visiting the London Design Festival for years, and I felt that the festival has lost its spark in the last few years. Aside from being overly commercial, it has become rather superficial and dull. This year, there had been overall improvements, but it still felt like an event aimed at the industry rather than the general public. Perhaps the turbulent times ahead will ignite more creativity and debate; though in the meantime, the new Design Biennale was a welcome addition to the festival.


The Green Room   Liquid Marble

landscape within

Top left: ‘The Green Room’ by London design studio Glithero; Top right: ‘Liquid Marble’ by Mathieu Lehanneur; Bottom: ‘Landscape within’ by Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta


As usual at the V & A museum, there were temporary design (or art) installations scattered around the maze-like building. The most frustrating part was to navigate around the building and locate these installations. For those who managed to locate them all deserved prizes for their skills and patience.

One of the pieces that stood out for me was ‘Landscape within’ located in the foyer (though not included on the map). The fascinating digestive machine was created by London based interdisciplinary art and design studio BurtonNitta, supported by The Wellcome Trust and researchers from University of Edinburgh.

I spoke to designer Michael Burton about their exploration into our gut system. The digestive machine is designed to filter out the impact of heavy metals on our health due to increasing food contamination on our planet. This machine uses engineered bacteria to separate food from contaminating heavy-metals, resulting in safe consumption and nano-sized metals that are a valuable resource. Its intriguing construction of a tube within a tube, mirrors our own body plan, and it certainly attracted much attention from passerby.


Unidentified Acts of Design

Unidentified Acts of Design

Unidentified Acts of Design

Unidentified Acts of Design exhibition


In the nearby China gallery, a thought-provoking exhibition ‘Unidentified Acts of Design’ sought out instances of design intelligence in Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta outside of the design studio. The research project examined how design managed to evolve unexpectedly in a region which has been named the factory of the world. The landscape of the Chinese design scene is changing rapidly, soon or later, we may have to alter our prejudices on the term ‘Made in China’.


When the Pike Sang, the Birds Were Still   designer souvenir  Silk leaf by Julian Melchiorri

Northern Lights

gardens by the bay  gardens by the bay

Top left: ‘When the Pike Sang, the Birds Were Still’ by Pauliina Pöllänen; Top middle: Designer souvenirs pop-up shop; Top right: ‘Silk leaf’ by Julian Melchiorri; Middle: ‘Northern Lights’ by V&A Museum of Design Dundee; Bottom: ‘Mind over matter: contemporary British engineering exhibition’


silver speaks

waves by Nan Nan Liu  Stuart Cairns' ‘To Make a Thing’

Junko Mori

Juxtapose cups by Cara Murphy   Rajesh Gogna's Retro-ism Ice Tea for One

Top: ‘Silver speaks’ exhibition; 2nd row left: ‘Waves’ by Nan Nan Liu; 2nd row right: ‘To Make a Thing’ by Stuart Cairns; 3rd row: Stunning silver works by Japanese artist Junko Mori Bottom left: ‘Juxtapose’ cups by Cara Murphy; Bottom right: ‘Retro-ism Ice Tea for One’ by Rajesh Gogna


Upstairs in the silver gallery, I joined a curator’s talk on the ‘Silver speaks‘ exhibition, and learned more about contemporary silversmithing and the ideas behind the beautiful pieces. Perhaps the pieces are not all functional, but the exquisite work reflects high-level of skills, techniques and concepts that can be viewed as art pieces.


100% design 2016

100% design at Olympia


Despite being one of the largest and longest-running trade shows at the festival, I honestly think that 100% design needs to re-evaluate its direction because I thought it was the most uninspiring show at the festival. Compare to about 10 years ago, the show has somehow deteriorated over the past decade (partly due to the change in management).

The show used to promote design innovation, diversity and international young talents, but now the focus has switched to showcasing kitchen and bathroom designs by big commercial brands. During my visit, the huge venue was very quiet, and I left within the hour because I found the show rather ‘soulless’.

The two other major trade shows, Design Junction and London Design Fair (a new name for Tent) have made some significant changes and improvements this year, so it’s time for the team behind 100% design to step back and focus on making the show exciting again.


Almira sadar  img_8299-min

img_8294-min  img_8302-min

Nanjing Jinhe art packaging   Log Stack Cabinet by Byron & Gomez

Top left: Almira Sadar; Top right: Handcrafted wall covering by Anne Kyyro Quinn; 2nd left: Nanjing Creative Design Center; 2nd right: AteljeMali; Bottom left: ‘Mountain Lake City & Forest’ by Nanjing Creative Design Center; Bottom right: Log Stack Cabinet by Byron & Gomez 



100% design 2015

100% design 2015 donar at 100% design 2015

100% design’s new venue in Olympia; right: Donar


Having visited The London design festival for many years, I somehow feel that the festival is losing its spark/edge. The guide is undoubtedly getting thicker and heavier (not sure if anyone enjoyed carrying this design festival ‘bible’ around for 10 days), yet the festival itself has become more ‘business’ like.

This may sound mean but as far as I can remember, this year’s design trade shows were by far the least inspiring. Since when did design become so boring and safe?! Although 100% design moved from Earls Court to Olympia this year, the vast venue was unexpectedly quiet during my visit.


soso studio at 100% design 2015 soso studio soso studio hi design shanghaiey productssoso studio

1st, 2nd and bottom right: Soso Studio; Bottom left: Hi design Shanghai; Bottom middle: E-Y products


At the entrance of the show, one couldn’t help but notice the conspicuous booths from China. One of them was Icon’s Hi Design Shanghai, which featured ten Chinese emerging and established design brands for the first time in UK. It is interesting to see how Chinese designs have evolved in a short period of time; and although the Chinese design scene is still immature, many young Chinese designers are developing their own styles and utilising traditional skills and craftsmanship that have been passed down for centuries.


100% design 2015 100% design 2015100% design 2015 100% design 2015100% design 2015100% design 2015100% design 2015


Although I was disappointed with the show and the products in general, I did benefit from the insightful talk on the future of design by trend forecasters and 3D researcher. As we have seen in recent years, sustainability, ethics and upcycling have become the predominant factors in design; and designers are now rethinking human’s relationship with nature and consumerism. “How to make consumerism the answer rather than a thread?” is the question that designers have to deal with. It is almost ironic to talk about sustainability at these design trade shows because there are simply too many unnecessary products that are being made, and it is quite evident at these shows.

I left the show pondering how I, as a designer, e-tailer, consumer and citizen be more responsible of my actions; and at the same time make other consumers be more conscious of their behaviour. These changes cannot be made overnight, and they require collective power/movement. I believe that more collaborations and dialogues between different industries and sectors are necessary in order to create a global shift that focuses more on the quality of life than short term profits or economic gains.


Home & 100% design 2014

100% design 2014

100% design entrance tunnel created by Studio Design UK


During the London design festival, the first two stops for me were Home in Olympia and 100% Design in Earls Court. I visited our Japanese supplier Di-Classe‘s stand at Home and was glad to know that the show has generated a lot of interests for them from the trade and The Gadget show!


Home 2014 Di classe

Left: Home at Olympia; Di-Classe at Home


At 100% design, I did not see as much as I had hoped because I spent a fair amount of time talking to some designers exhibiting at the show. I first met husband and wife team behind Mana design at the Emerging brands section. Kung Mana Tongmee is an artist and furniture designer-maker from Thailand, but their furniture pieces are all homemade in Somerset. Inspired by his Buddhism background, Thai culture and British craftsmanship, Kung‘s designs are one of a kind and they are look more like functional sculptures than furniture pieces. I especially like the nature-inspired leaf cabinet.


100% design 2014 100% design 2014100% design 2014100% design 2014100% design 2014zi zai gong fang100% design 2014 P1100274

Top right: Lasvit’s ‘Ice’ by Daniel Libeskind; 2nd row: Future Pioneers by Design Council; 3rd row left: Drop umbrealla by Ayca Dundar; 3rd row right: Zi Zai Gong Fang; Bottom right: Charles Parford Plant


Most young professional Londoners live in small flats these days, but it is very hard to find cool-looking, flexible and well-made furniture if you want to look beyond Ikea. I think there is a gap in the market between Ikea and high-end designer furniture, and so I love MoModul by Belgium designer Xavier Coenen. The concept is simple, there are only 3 modules, 3 colours, 3 sets but you can create unlimited combinations without screws nor bolds. The sets are playful, functional, sustainable, and they are perfect for small flats or houses with limited space. I also enjoyed talking to both Xavier and Anouk who are from Antwerp, one of my favourite cities in Europe. They also remind me that a visit to this cool and relaxing city is long-overdue…


P1100255 P1100287P1100285P1100261 P1100265P1100264SANDRO LOPEZ

Top left: Mana design; Top right: Lighting by Masam; 2nd row: Jangpanji collection by Beeeen Company; 3rd row left: Jo Woffinden ceramics; 3rd row right: Joseph Hartley; 4th row: MoModul by Xavier Coenen; Bottom: Sandro Lopez


Finally, I met and chatted briefly to Korean designer, Been Kim who has just launched her new Jangpanji collection, which is made from traditional Korean handmade paper and coated with lacquer tree oil. Meanwhile, she also showcased other collections like Dancheong bowl and mats inspired by traditional Korean patterns. Been‘s designs are contemporary and functional, and yet they also reflect traditional Korean culture and heritage, which I think makes her work stand out from the crowd.


More highlights from other design shows will follow…


International furniture fair Singapore 2014

I was not aware of the International furniture fair Singapore (part of the Singapore design week) until I arrived in Singapore, and so I did not register beforehand. I visited the show on its opening day and a few hours before my flight with my suitcase (since the exhibition centre is situated next to the airport), and it turned out that many others had the same idea! The queue for the storage and registration took more than 1/2 an hour, but thankfully, things went more smoothly once inside.

The fair was about 4 times bigger than Maison et Objet and with more Asian companies participating, but I spent the most time wandering the hall curated by Singaplural which featured many up-and-coming designers and young design brands from Asia.


IMG_7117 P1090080  IMG_7120P1090136 IMG_7121

Top left: the long queue for registration; Top right: The Green Pavilion: Main & bottom row: Designer’s field


One booth that caught my eye was Designer’s Field, a Thai/Danish company that designs, sources and produces home interior and furniture products based in Bangkok. Inspired by the delicate Asian style and Scandinavian simplicity, their products are minimalist, modern, functional, and well-made too.


P1090119 P1090132hinikaP1090118P1090122P1090110IMG_7124 P1090130


Another brand inspired by the Japanese/ Scandinavian simplicity is Hinika (see above), a new Singaporean brand of outdoor and indoor furniture launched last year by Austrian/ Singaporean industrial designer, Jarrod Lim. The wooden furniture collection is well-crafted, understated and highly functional.


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Top left & 2nd row: Super&Co/Supermama from Singapore; 3nd row left & bottom row: SWBK from Korea


I always enjoy talking to designers about their work and here I met Priscilla Potts, an associate designer at Super&Co/ Supermama, a Sinagporean brand founded by industrial designer, Edwin Low. Although their products are designed locally, they have collaborated with several traditional Japanese crafts and textiles manufacturers to produce various lines. Singapore Icons porcelain collection is a collaborative project that won them the President Design Award 2013. Designed by 5 design studios in Singapore, the collection was crafted by Japanese porcelain company KIHARA INC.

Like Desinere (see my earlier entry), the brand also collaborated with Japanese metal casting company, Nousaku to produce Familiar objects, a set of pencil paper weight made from solid brass, bronze or copper. Their new line is a range of textiles printed and produced by a traditional fabric company, MARUJU LTD. based in Nagoya, Japan.

S W B K is design firm in Korea, co-founded by Sukwoo Lee and Bongkyu Song in 2008. The firm’s products are often inspired by nature and made from natural or recycled materials using traditional craftsmanship. This philosophy can be seen in their new stationery line, Matter and Matter.


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 ‘Design as it is’ curated by Eisuke Tachikawa from Nosigner


Nosigner is one of my favourite Japanese design firms; a few years ago, I attended a talk given by their chief desigber Eisuke Tachikawa and was very impressed by his design philosophy and attitude. Hence I was very happy to see him curating ‘Design as it is’ for Ambassadors of Design Japan, which showcased beautiful objects designed by him and other Japanese designers.

‘Design as it is’ was about design that do not create forms/shapes, and it examined the relationship between design and its environment. This is probably what good design is about: design that is in harmony with its surroundings without looking like it has been ‘designed’. Yet in this day and age, although we are surrounded by designed objects around us everywhere, how many can claim to be in harmony with its environment? Sadly, not a lot.

Maison et objet Asia 2014

I did not expect to take so long to write about Shanghai (I envy bloggers who publish daily entries), hence this blog entry on Maison et Objet Asia is much delayed…

Less than a week after my trip to Shanghai, I was off to Singapore to attend the first Maison et Objet show in Asia and Singapore design week. For those who have been to the biannual shows in Paris would know how tiring it is to wander through halls after halls of designer products and furniture. By scale, this Asian edition was much smaller, hence, it didn’t take too long to wander around the 14,000 sq ft of space. 265 brands from 24 countries were featured here and about 30% of them were from Asia.


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Top left: Alur Lamp by Ong Cen Kuang; 2nd row: Schema by Kalikasan Crafts; 2nd row left, middle & bottom left: Kenneth Cobonpue & his Trame chair; Bottom right: Vases at Serax


One surprise from the show was to see a Filipino section festuring several well-established and young designer brands from The Philippines. Filipino design is probably not as well-known outside of Asia, but its strong craft heritage is one of its strengths that is helping it to become more recognised internationally. And one of the best representative is Kenneth Cobonpue, who was awarded Designer of Year at the show. Cobonpue is known for using nature as his inspiration, he focuses on natural material and uses local craftsmanship to create furniture and products that suit contemporary living. Judging from the long queue of fans wanting to be photographed with the designer, it’s hard not to consider him as a design celebrity!

Schema by Kalikasan Crafts is another Filipino brand that is expanding internationally. The company hired young Thai designer, Anon Pairo to design their new lighting collection inspired by industrial loft. Many of their designs are made from metal wires that have been mold into various patterns through traditional weaving techniques, and they are all handmade by local artisans.

Another interesting lighting and home accessories brand is Ong Cen Kuang from Bali established in 2008. Their handmade lighting collections focus on the combination of tactile materials, infusion of self develop technique and traditional origami.


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Thai showcase – Top left: Pana objects; top rigt: Pim Sudhikam; 2nd row right: The pavilon; Bottom left: Ceramic ware from Chiang Mai; 2nd row left: Tom Dixon; 2nd row middle: Ango lighting from Thailand; Bottom right: apaiser bathtub


I have always been a fan of Thai designs, yet I have often had issues negotiating with Thai companies… Big companies only want to deal with bulk orders, while small design studios struggle with pricing, and so we are only carrying two brands (Zequenz and Goodjob) from Thailand at the moment. At the Thai showcase pavilion, I spotted a young company that I have previously contacted before… Pana objects, which makes wonderful wooden stationery and objects. Another designer that caught my eye was Pim Sudhikam‘s simple yet distinctive (often with blue underglaze) ceramics. Outside of the pavilion, Ango is an award-winning lighting brand that merges nature with technology, and most of the materials used are natural and sustainable.


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Rising Asian talents: Top right & 2nd row left: Mike Mak from Hong Kong; 2nd row middle: Denny R. Priyatna from Thailand; 3rd row: Yu Fen Lo from Taiwan; Bottom: Melvin Ong from Singapore; 2nd row right: Wewood from Portugal 


One of the most exciting part of these design or trade shows is the discovery of new talents or products. And at this show, six promising designers from the region were awarded as ‘Rising Asian Talents’ and were given the opportunity to showcase their designs. I spoke to Mike Mak from Hong Kong (whom I have contacted before regarding his rather fun Eyeclock) and he explained to me about his display which featured flibre-glass designs inspired by ancient/traditional Chinese characters or Chinese poems: a fruit holder inspired by the word ‘field’, a ladder inspired by the word ‘moon’ but my favourite is the vases that depict the life cycle of flowers through the presence/ absence of the flowers.

Then I met the young designer from Singapore, Melvin Ong, who used to study and live in London. Melvin is the designer behind Desinere, and I love his Japanese/origami-inspired designs. I then found out that he has collaborated with the well-respected Japanese metal casting craft manufacturer, Nousaku to create a beautiful set of bronze and brass Fouetté facetted paperweight spintops. It is always encouraging to see more young designers collaborating with traditional craftsmen to create new and fresh designs.

Pinyen creative from Taiwan is another company that I have previous spoken to when they exhibited at Tent London 2 years ago. Yu-Fen Lo is the designer behind the brand and their designs are often inspired by nature with functionality and sustainability in mind.

The other three designers were: Denny R. Priyatna from Indonesia, Lilianna Manaham from the Philippines and Sittivhai Ngamhongtong from Thailand.


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Top left: Tom Dixon’s talk; top right: Vincent Gregoire from Nelly Rodi giving a talk on trend forecasting; Bottom: Y’A PAS LE FEU AU LAC


Last but not least, seminars given by designers, architects and industry insiders are often highlights of the trade events. The key speaker at this show was Tom Dixon (originally it was advertised as Oki Sato from Nendo) and it attracted so many people that it was not even possible to get into the seating area ( as I mentioned earlier, the celebrity culture in the design world is more evident than ever). Yet I was more interested in talks on Asia’s new e-commerce and trend forecasting given by Vincent Gregoire from Nelly Rodi.

There was a lot of information on past and future, and here is a brief summary of some of the key points from his talk:

The decade from 2010 focuses more on the ‘slow’ and back to basics lifestyle, so we have seen slow cooking, fashion and an emphasis on moral values. Developed countries are also moving from consumption to collaboration in businesses and other aspects.

From 2020, it is predicted that ‘fast’ period will return, emphasising on flexibility, multipasses and multimedium.

The four major design trends of 2015 are categorised into 4 categories:

1. Promised land by pioneers ( nomadic, rustic, self-prduction, nomadic pop-up, functional asethetics, down to earth colours)

2. Sacred fire by Conquistadors (passionate, stimulating, energy, truth, whistle blower, feel good, New bling, playful, fire reference colours like gold and ash)

3. Deep dive by Atlanteans ( aquatic, experimental, Baroque, mermaids, organic, jelly, surrealistic, seaweed tones)

4. Air cosmos by Nextplorers (futuristic, experimental, new frontiers, Dyson-think tank, Gravity, Daft punk, Star Wars, astrology, whites, black and yellow)

If you can make sense of the above, then congratulations!

Although I was slightly disappointed with the scale and the numbers of Asian brands that took part, I was glad that the event coincided with the Singapore design week and International furniture fair ( see my next entries) where I managed to spot many new Asian talents. I hope that there will be more Asian participants at the show next year as I believe that Asian designs have yet to reach its full potential in the global market.


Pulse & May design series in London

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Main: Taste Taiwan at Pulse 2013; Bottom left & right: Our Taiwanese supplier, 25 Togo’s products on display


May is packed full of trade events in London, so I had to run around town even though I had lots of work to be completed at my desk!

I met Ashley from 25Togo in Taiwan and one day I received her email invitation to their Taste Taiwan opening at Pulse, an annual design-led gift trade show in Earls Court. I am impressed by Taiwan’s effort to promote its local designs because less than a month ago, I was at the Taiwan design booth at the Hong Kong gifts fair, it seems that they are trying hard to reach the global market.

At the show, Ashley kindly introduced me to other Taiwanese design companies, whose representatives were all eager to show me their interesting work. Since I started the business, I came to realise that the U.K. market is more conservative than the U.S. and European markets ( in terms of how consumers buy and how retail buyers place orders). I think it would a struggle for these designers or companies to receive large orders from U.K. retailers due to the environment of the market and the cultural differences in certain products that may not translate well.

As much as I would like to support them, there is a limit to the products that our small e-shop can carry. This is the reason why we need more independent shops or etailers because we are more likely to take risks than most department stores or the more mainstream retailers whose buyers would spend most of their time checking the numbers on their spreadsheets.


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Top left: Fun installation by Inflate; Main: Architonic; Bottom left: The Bibliochaise by Nobody & Co.; Bottom right: Karim Rashid giving a talk on design


A week later, I visited a new interior trade show called May Design Series in ExCel. One of the highlights of the show was a talk given by the high-profile multi-disciplinary designer, Karim Rashid. I can’t say that I am a fan but I was curious to hear what he had to say. As expected, the seminar area was packed and I felt like I was at a film premiere waiting for the celebrity star to appear.

Karim is charismatic and energetic in real life ( not surprising). He insisted that designers need to break away from the archetype and find a new design language by observing what is happening now rather than looking for inspiration from the past. However, the woman next to me was not impressed because she kept yawning and looking at her watch throughout the talk, a sharp contrast from those who queued up to take photographs with the designer after the talk!

Aside from the regular booths, there was a Material Xperience section displaying a wide range of materials where visitors were encouraged to touch and feel. Elsewhere, I was drawn to Dutch designer Ernst Koning/ Ilias Ernst‘s quirky designs like the Nail cloud lamp. But the most interesting was seeing some upcycled furniture produced by a new social enterprise, The living furniture project. It is an organisation that reduces landfill waste and provide jobs and training to the homeless. It teams up with different furniture designers to produce unique pieces on commission. It is great to see more social enterprises ( and merging with design) starting up and working towards making the society a better place for people to live in. The world definitely needs more of them!


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Top left & middle left: Material Xperience; Helen Amy Murray’s sculptural textile; Middle middle: Ilias Ernst’s Nail cloud; Middle right: Ilias Ernst’s illumimate; Bottom left: Ilias Ernst; Upcycle furniture by Nic Parnell at The Living furniture project