Clerkenwell Design Week: Redesigning The Work Space and Sustainability (podcast notes)

Last week Sophie and I took the podcast on the road to record at Clerkenwell Design Week. You can, as ever, listen to the full episode here, but the two key aspects that we discovered were the changing design of the workspace and the increasing attention being paid to sustainability.

Clerkenwell Design Week is now in its 10th year and what began as 20 exhibitors and a handful of products is now a huge three day event with 107 exhibitors including global brands – often launching products to the rest of the world – spread over eight venues. It is traditionally where the architects come to specify for projects and from where, in a few years, you will see items filtering down to the high street.

the lucio chair designed by Sebastian Wrong for Established & Sons
the lucio chair designed by Sebastian Wrong for Established & Sons

The theme this year is work spaces and Sebastian Wrong, of Established & Sons, unveiled his Lucio Chair. The point, as he explained, was that the traditional office space evolved from using typewriters at desks in upright chairs. That is no longer the model for many people and the furniture needs to change to suit our bodies rather than us having to adapt our posture to suit the furniture. This chair, which is more of a chaise longue, is light enough to be easily moved around,  but is also suitable for using a laptop or reading notes.

Sophie Robinson not looking remotely work like at Clerkenwell Design Week
Sophie Robinson not looking remotely work like at Clerkenwell Design Week

Erwen Bouroullec, who together with his brother Ronan, has also been looking at office furniture, made the point that although we are much more aware of the importance of ergonomics in the workspace, most of us are still  using the traditional desk and chair model.

“We have forgotten that furniture is there to serve you [not the other way round]. Behave properly with your body and your mind will work nicely,” he said.

We spoke also to Busola Evans, associate editor of Living Etc, who said Clerkenwell has a huge impact on what ends up in our homes and added that she sees the workspace evolving continually as more and more of us work from home. Last year the TUC announced a 20 per cent rise in home working over the last decade and revealed that it was mostly due to women in their 40s and 50s who were responsible for that rise.

toronto table from dfs (£599) can be used for both desk and dining
toronto table from dfs (£599) can be used for both desk and dining and the slightly industrial feel is perfect for that

Busola said: “When you work at home you don’t always want the formality of a desk and chair. People like to work from the sofa and this is an area of huge change.”

As you know I have recently redecorated my office (with its gold ceiling) and I do still have a traditional desk and chair set up, but as both my sons are doing exams and one likes to work at the kitchen table while the other has taken over my desk (I think they want a change of scene from their bedrooms) I am typing this on my laptop from the sofa.

Sophie Robinsons’s office with a table that can be used as a desk and for dining  photographed by Alun Callender

Sophie, who has a small kitchen with a table for three, has turned her dining room into an office. It’s full of storage but it’s all behind doors so when she needs it to be a dining room she can simply close the cupboard doors and remove the noticeboards from the wall to replace them with a picture.

The other story to emerge was one of sustainability. We spoke to design writer and expert in the field Katie Treggiden, who said that designers were trying all the time to come up with new ways to use old materials. She cited Smile Plastics, who have created a worktop made from yoghurt pots filled with silver flecks that catch the light and look almost like granite but are, in fact, the lids reflecting.

table made from recycled plastic by smile plastics
table made from recycled plastic by smile plastics

She talked also about the rise of mending, and spoke about the artist Celia Pym, who is fascinated by the stories that old clothes tell. She inherited her artist grandfather’s jumper, which had holes under the forearms where he would rest his board on his lap. And of Restoration Station, who work with recovering addicts to repair vintage furniture and in doing so create a metaphor for their own lives.

“One of the reasons that mid-century furniture is so wonderful,” she said to us, “is that it was well made and is easy to repair. In that period from the 1930s to the 1970s, the designs were often simple and you could see how to take them apart and repair them. After that things started to be made in moulded plastic and sealed units and it was no longer possible to get them apart to mend them.”

We need to return to the art of mending and restoring and, as Katie says, it’s often much cheaper to buy old furniture from junk shops or raid the attic than to buy new stuff which is harder to repair. Check out Skinflint for vintage lighting.

articulated three arm green enamelled machinist light by Mek Elek and the wall-mounted fluorescent, both now converted to fit eco-friendly LEDs
articulated three arm green enamelled machinist light by Mek Elek and the wall-mounted fluorescent, both now converted to fit eco-friendly LEDs by Skinflint lighting

Finally, we spoke to Russell and Jordan, of 2LG Studio, who always have their finger on the pulse of interior design and we asked them what’s coming in colour.

“Lilac,” was the swift response. And, you know what they’re usually right. We all agreed that millennial pink is going nowhere and has become a classic. Even men like it. The boys referred to what they call Competitive Openness among male clients: “I’m into pink, no I’m more into it than you.” etc.

Our sponsors, DFS, also told us that sales of pink sofas are up by 146 per cent on last year which is an astonishing figure as its nationwide and not just in the London magazine bubble. Yellow sofas are up 96 per cent and, I was surprised to discover, green by only 6 per cent but perhaps its time is yet to come because it’s definitely all over the walls as a colour.

the stanley table by 2LG studio
the stanley table by 2LG studio

Lilac is tricky at first sight although, as Russell points out, it has a lot of grey in it so some will find it easier than pink. They created this dining room table in pink and green and have commissioned one for a client in green and and lilac so that’s one way to use it. It also likes cobalt blue, grey and forest green. Pictured above is their dining table which they both use as a desk sometimes.

Also at Clerkenwell was this lilac and yellow kitchen by Pluck. And, as Kat Burroughs, of The Sunday Times Home section says at the top of the show: “It starts in Clerkenwell, it ends up on the high street.”

lilac and yellow kitchen by Pluck London
lilac and yellow kitchen by Pluck London

Finally in this episode we spoke about the new Phaidon book, which I have written about here and my downstairs loo makeover which I wrote about here.

You can listen to the whole episode here and if you had a moment to rate and review we would be enormously grateful. With thanks, as ever, to our sponsors DFS and our producer Kate Taylor. In the next episode, in two weeks time, we will be meeting Fearne Cotton to talk about creating happiness in the home and have a sneaky look round her bedroom. Subscribe to the podcast if you don’t want to miss that.

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.

1 Comment

  1. Seems like I should have listened to my six year old all along-she loves lilac and yellow. We painted her room in little greens ‘welcome’ and welcome dark and picked out accessories in a sunny yellow. I was sceptical but the yellow keeps the lilac from looking to sugary.

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