April 13 2011
“What did you do for London Design Week?”, asked my glamorous, beautiful journalist friend the other day. “Did you see anything fantastic? Can I pick your brain for your must-buy musts for spring/summer 2011? Really what was the best new wallpaper, do you think? Any great parties, BP? Wasn’t it just so exciting?”
Oh dear. I stared with a slightly blank expression at the staccato burst of enthusiasm firing at me like bullets from the gun of the what’s-on-right-now chic, finger-on-the-pulse (or should that be trigger?) know-how girl.
London Design Week. Yet again, yet again, something I really should really have clocked, attended, learned from, marvelled at and partied with, completely passes me by.
One of the curious ironies of running our small architectural practice and my little design store in Bloomsbury is that I never, never, at least hardly ever, get to put my head above the parapet of just dealing with, well, work. As early as we come in, or as late as we leave, as many weekends as I work or not, I just somehow don’t seem to be able to make a serious dent in my to-do list. My heart still sinks when a friend, or still worse an acquaintance, or still worse a “business contact” calls up and says, “Ben, would you be free for lunch?” Lunch? I wish. Actually, I don’t wish. I am not a great one for long lunches. But it would be nice to get out a bit more often.
All this is to say: I’ve got myself into a curious state when the ebb and flow of Design (with a capital D) in London (with a capital L) completely passes us by. Maybe it’s just being in Lamb’s Conduit Street, other-worldly, far far from Chelsea and the King’s Road?
Or maybe, I began to reflect after a moment’s thought, it’s because there something vaguely unsettling about so much new-new-new-new that leaves me curiously despondent.
It is perhaps a little churlish to ask, but do we need a hundred chintzes, block-printed wallpapers, ranges of ceramics, glassware, door handles, wall lights, carpets, conservatory sofas, scented candles, silk trimmings, light switches and basin taps? No. We do not.
One of my permanent regrets is that for every grim new floral collection launched by ______ & ______ (do you mind if I do not name names, but please feel free to fill in the blanks?), a beautiful, timeless, classic small-print cotton is retired. A while ago I was grateful – but saddened – to be able to buy the last remaining 40 yards of ______ & _______’s famous small twig pattern. How I mourn its passing. And why? To make room for revolting new chintzes designed expressly for the revolving-door sitting rooms of Cheshire; where every few years the entire matching assembly of leaf-green and lilac must be ripped out and replaced with this year’s model, now sky-blue and lemon....
So enough. Design Week, and its relentless search for the new, has created a monster, of cyclical proportion, of replacement for no purpose, that I think is out of step with the moment.
It so happened that on the day Design Week was ending, I took an early-morning walk down to the Thames. On my way home, my eye was taken by the sudden flowering of two pink magnolias in the yard of St Mary-le-Strand. The Portland stone façade was cool in the soft morning light. This was spring in London. A few minutes later, on Great James Street, I found this little sign on a front door (pictured). And here was Design in London. Plain, utterly straightforward, in its way perfect – and which could be nowhere else but here, at home, in the most beautiful, but least designed city of them all.