How do you reinvent a regal 18th-century estate in the English countryside? Contemporary art and design have become the most interesting ways to take the stylish houses of the aristocracy into the 21st century. Harewood House in Yorkshire, for example, is holding its first design biennial Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters from March 23 to September 1. Curated by the design critic and former magazine editor Hugo Macdonald, the event showcases an impressive breadth of brands and studios throughout the house, from the state floor to the former servants’ quarters, and extending into the grounds.
The works, which will be for sale directly through the individual makers, include commissions by renowned furniture designer Faye Toogood, graphic artist and printmaker Anthony Burrill and designer Max Lamb, who has handmade a rug from discarded Yorkshire wool. Many of the pieces reflect an awareness of sustainability, such as Yinka Ilori's vibrant upcycled furniture that plays with his Nigerian heritage, Maria Sigma’s zero-waste woven textiles and Hilary Burns’ handwoven baskets made from locally harvested oak, hazel and ash.
There are also a number of more traditional craft pieces – glassworks, ceramics, bookbinding, textile and wallpaper. The designers balance witty futurism with a sense of heritage, and there is a strong British emphasis, too, with the biennial lionising long-lasting companies such as Fox, a maker of handmade umbrellas (priced from £60) since 1868, and Freed ballet shoes (pointe shoes from £35), which has been cobbling dance footwear since 1929.
The Lascelles family, who own the Harewood estate, have a long history of commissioning craftsmanship – from Chippendale furniture to Murano glass – and the impressive list of makers here is sure to make this a very popular show. Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters follows fashion designer JW Anderson’s craft-filled exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield, which took place in 2017. Yorkshire is quietly being transformed into the county to visit to see the best of British design.
Harewood House Trust is an independent charitable educational trust set up to maintain and develop the collections of Harewood House, including its bird garden and parkland.