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A review of Clerkenwell Design Week 2019

Our regular readers will know that, in the main, we’re a bunch of glass-half-full types of people.

27/06/2019 11 min read

Every now and again, however, there is something that simply needs to be addressed – and the recent Clerkenwell Design Week is a perfect example of this. On the face of it, with the weather playing ball once again, it felt like the three-day event was very much the celebration of all that’s good in the market that we always hope it will be; a festival. 

There were, however, a couple of metaphorical dark clouds hanging over the 10th edition of CDW. For a start, there appeared to be far more major businesses who, this year, opted to keep the circa £5k in their pockets, turning down the opportunity to dress their showrooms in brilliant pink, and instead either opting out of the week’s shenanigans or, in some cases, carrying on regardless!

Now there is a real moral issue here, in our humble opinion. We have always felt that the showrooms are the true heart of CDW – they are, after all, the residents of this unique borough. We’re also all too aware of just how expensive it can be to have a prime Clerkenwell showroom – it’s a genuine major commitment, and it’s not difficult to see that to then be asked to pay several thousands more to open your doors might be somewhat galling. 

It’s not just £5k we’re talking about here either. A number of key manufacturers tell us that it can be six, seven or eight times that figure once food, drink, transportation, dressing of space, events etc are all taken into consideration – and then there’s the time, effort and no little skill from what can be a full team of dozens of people.

In saying that, there has always been a sort of unwritten ‘agreement’ that, if you’re not buying into CDW, then you keep things low-key throughout the festival. A few showrooms not officially taking part were anything but low-key this year. It is a real moral dilemma. Should businesses really take advantage of the hard work and investment of others – or is the right of any Clerkenwell resident to open their doors and do whatever they want throughout the week? 

We know what we feel, but we’re just going to keep that to ourselves for now – and instead concentrate on some of the real positives of CDW 2019. From a Mix point of view, there was a certain irony that, with more of the team than ever visiting Clerkenwell this year, we actually didn’t get to see nearly as much as we would have liked to – but we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves, packing our diaries as we did with our own events and invitations.  

We should, of course, start on the final evening of the week, which saw us take over the beautifully dressed Morgan showroom for what is rapidly becoming the ‘must be involved’ 30 under 30 party. 

The event celebrates the cream of emerging UK A&D talent, as we brought the class of 2019 together, along with their bosses and previous ‘30’ incumbents, who joined our sponsors (Hunters Contracts, Allgood and Morgan) and the Mix team at the beautiful Morgan showroom. So much talent in one room! 

Never ones to make things easy for ourselves, we also held our own Round Table event on the Wednesday of CDW at the Workstories showroom, while our Editor, Mick Jordan, then hotfooted it across to the Umbrella showspace to host a provocative panel discussion, Mick was then joined by David Smalley, the dynamic duo turning question masters for Milliken’s fun-filled, cocktail-fuelled quiz. 

So what else did we get to see, experience and enjoy throughout the week? Well, the ‘super showrooms’ certainly didn’t disappoint. Orangebox, for example, presented an amazing laboratory space, free of the constraints of a normal commercial project, Unboxed was the first of a series of opportunities for invited designers to explore possibilities above and beyond the everyday. Each project will be a fresh start, with practices bringing to life their own unique viewpoints, pushing the boundaries of Orangebox’s products and creating an experimental mix of products, function and finishes. With its agenda of challenging preconceptions and looking at our products with fresh eyes, Unboxed will have a more intense and experimental atmosphere than the other Smartworking floors. 

Scott Brownrigg’s ‘Dreams Unboxed’ looked into the workplace of the near future, curating an environment where experience is key and physical space comes second, with micro-settings purposed to suit the user needs. We particularly enjoyed the VR experience – and it was great to see so many visitors on all floors of the space (and this was only Tuesday!). 

The ground floor re-design of Brunner’s superb Rosebery Avenue showroom – and UK debut of the many new product innovations launched at last year’s Orgatec – could not have failed to seriously impress visitors. Being greeted by their ‘meet in style’ sculpture was certainly different (in a good way), while the new Ray Soft, Ray Swivel and Ray Lounge additions to the market-leading Ray Collection, together with the new A-Bench and A-Lounge additions to the A-Range, stood out in exactly the same way as they did back in Cologne. Allermuir launched a serious number of new products at CDW, collaborating with the likes of PearsonLloyd, Benjamin Hubert and Jonas Wagell.


We really liked the Axyl bench by Benjamin Hubert of Layer, fresh from its launch in Milan, and Folk by PearsonLloyd – a mercurial but modest family of flatpack chair, stool and table.  Boss unveiled an exciting line-up that reaffirms its reputation for design excellence, attention to detail and quality. The new additions included an exciting range of tub chairs and work café chair collection for Boss Design and an architectural wooden bench and modular sofa for Lyndon.


Bene went big early – celebrating the opening of CDW with a first night party, attended by over 300 invited guests, where multi-faceted PIXEL settings were rebuilt into a PIXEL bar and bar tables. Nice use of new product! 

Bespoke manufacturer Era showed off its new showroom space on Gt Sutton St at CDW, where it launched its next generation office pod, Hoozone. Incidentally, the new meeting zone takes its name from lead product designer, Phil Hooton.

After the success of Era’s original office pod, Quiet Space, Era consulted with its clients to ensure a user-centred approach was included. While the principle focus for Hoozone was acoustic development (it boasts double glazed panels and improved upholstered panels and ceiling tiles), it was important to update the aesthetic architecture too. The holistic design includes an integrated facilities bridge housing the PIR operated strip lighting and ventilation systems, ideal for achieving the client’s agile working goals.

CDW was a ruckus this year! It seems the momentum has hit a tipping point and what’s on offer seems to have stepped up as well. Roads now need to be closed to accommodate the crowds!

Hoozone was extremely well received at CDW, with visitors commenting on its improved acoustic performance and elegance. 

Arper unveiled a number of new collections, whilst iconic products were also showcased at the Clerkenwell Road showroom, which played host to a variety of engaging events throughout the week.

On the Tuesday, Arper held its annual Opening Night Party, while on the Wednesday the manufacturer introduced Out of Office, a debate about co-working and the evolution of working environments. Panelists included Giovanni de Niederhäuern, CEO of Carlo Ratti Associati, Fabienne O’Neill, Co-founder of coworking space Cuckooz Nest and Katrina Larkin, Co-founder of Fora (and friend of Mix). 

In addition, for the fourth consecutive year, the Arper showroom became the official digital hub of the show. The Arper Bloggers Lounge was the dedicated venue for bloggers and digital press exploring the show and proved to be one of the best places to share, network, meet and rewind throughout the week.


Speaking of on the move, and moving away from the showrooms for just a moment, Herman Miller’s Aeron Hockey caused a bit of a stir in Brewhouse Yard. Celebrating 25 years since the iconic chair’s launch, the pop-up installation allowed visitors to take part in the fun, fast-paced sport of office hockey. 

Two teams of five players sat on Aeron Chairs to battle it out during 10-minute matches. Running over the three days of CDW 2019, the rolling tournament gave everyone, from beginners through to experienced players, a chance to play. Plenty of fun was clearly had by all participants, although we did a hear a few grumbles from neighbouring showrooms, who were slightly underwhelmed by the central positioning of the pop-up and the inevitable noise levels generated.

KI made a very different kind of noise this year, with its Clerkenwell Design Week debut comprising a spectacular pop-up showroom at the landmark Paxton Locher House on Clerkenwell Green. Built in the mid-90’s the stunning home was transformed into ‘KI House’, making it an exciting new destination for this year’s festival attendees. The venue hosted the launch of KI’s new UK-designed and manufactured storage, seating and desking products. A variety of talks, and workshops, as well as a mid-week ‘House Party’, co-hosted with Bute Fabrics, took place during the week.

Humanscale and Staverton joined forces to host a brilliant series of talks by BBC producer, Jo Ruxton, on how we can limit further damage to our oceans and wildlife. Jo was a lead member of the BBC’s diving team, involved in the production and direction of the underwater sequences for the much-admired first Blue Planet Series. However, Jo felt that the BBC neglected to tell the complete story, failing to discuss the issues of plastic waste in our oceans, so she began to work independently and produced the documentary feature, A Plastic Ocean. 

Tarkett ensured that its Great Sutton Street showroom retained its status as one of CDW’s must-visit destinations with an action-packed programme that invited visitors to experience ‘The Great Indoors’.

The concept explored the ways in which design can contribute to improving wellbeing, with a particular focus on the workplace and the increasing shift between a traditional office and a more fluid working environment, or ‘Worklife’.

Visitors were invited to take part in a range of activities designed to create a sense of excitement and adventure more often associated with the ‘Great Outdoors’, with the aim of bringing this to the interiors market. 

CDW also featured no less than seven exhibition venues, dotted across the borough, showcasing a mix of leading brands and emerging talent. In other words, providing an opportunity for non-residents to get involved.

Design Fields again showcased leading furniture, lighting and product design from around the world. Alongside some of the most exciting homegrown designer-makers, the show presented a diverse range of international contemporary design. We really liked the display from Roger Lewis – the leading furniture designer and maker, who teamed up with three renowned design studios and furniture consultants to launch its ‘industry first’ bespoke offering, The Customizer app.

HASSELL, Peldon Rose and Tribe Furniture were the first to have used the cutting-edge technology, which allows the A&D community to create tailor-made pieces for clients.

A team of designers from each of the three companies developed a completely unique design that represents their individual practice. The artwork was then printed onto the finest fabric and expertly hand-upholstered to the popular Roger Lewis Sintra chair.

Visitors to the stand and Instagram-lovers alike voted for their favourite design throughout the week but, after a fierce contest, it was HASSELL who emerged with the crown (or, rather, bottle of champagne).

HASSELL’s chair design, named ‘The Blueprint’, merges Bauhaus-inspired geometry with a 1970s colour palette, accented with a vibrant pop of royal blue. The original design was reconfigured using The Customizer, adding a bold and contemporary feel to the finished piece. A well deserved winner, in our opinion. 

CDW returned to the subterranean House of Detention with Platform – a show that recognises exciting up-and-coming design talent. Exploiting the venue’s atmospheric architecture, Platform once again created a stunning backdrop for a curated collection of international, cutting-edge design.

Set in the beautiful grounds of St James Church, Project brought together a leading selection of contract furniture and surface brands across three pavilions. It was great to see our friends from Knightsbridge, Protocol, Panaz and Amtico all having such a good time. 

The Mix team was particularly taken with an amazing light installation from Haberdashery, showcasing their Dawn till Dusk lamp, which could be found in Light, held (fittingly) in the dark depths of Fabric nightclub.

The lamp which evokes the memory of sunrise and sunset, tapping into a language of light that influences our bodies’ circadian rhythms and the natural environment all around us.

It won the coveted ‘Best of the best’ Red Dot product design award 2019 – and we can see why! 

Every year, CDW presents new design projects and street spectacles, commissioned specially for the festival and featured prominently throughout Clerkenwell. Inviting some of the leading pioneers in the creative industry, these projects aim to push the boundaries of design, in terms of concepts, process and material capabilities – and, in our opinion, reached new heights this year. We really liked Decade – a collection of ten, individually unique celebratory candle-like beacons, each designed by a leading creative light. 

Scalerule, meanwhile, responded to the theme of history and heritage by presenting a new structure that subtly drew on the historic form of the St John’s Gate arch, whilst bringing in materials and geometries that reference the design culture of Clerkenwell today.

The concept played with the idea of space and enclosure, by inserting a densely built timber structure within the void of the archway. This was then carved away to allow a route through and to frame the historic features of the site. The timber frame was filled with moments of colour, which intensified towards the top of the arch, drawing visitors’ gaze upwards towards the historic architecture. The colour was created with the use of recycled materials and fabrics, which referenced the design identity of the area.

Once Upon A Time drew on the rich and often dark historical tales of Clerkenwell, from wife sales to prison bombings! BA Graphic Design Communication students from the UAL Chelsea College of Arts were tasked with interpreting stories from six locations, which were then brought to life through a series of graphical installations. 

Heading back into the showrooms, we very much liked the latest products from ege – while Parkside (part of Topps Tiles) introduced a series of equally brilliant products, supported by thought-provoking events in a busy and impressive new showroom (which, we’re told, has recently been shortlisted for a prestigious retail award). 

We owe Davison Highley and Connection a huge thank you, not only for letting us use their showrooms at CDW, but also for allowing us to steal a bit of valuable time from a couple of their key people (as part of a new Mix initiative – but more about that another time).

Both showrooms were brim-full of exciting new products for CDW, with DH’s Bertie and new Boulevard additions and Connection’s flexible and mobile Nomad really catching the eye.

Speaking of taking over showrooms, a further thank you must go to our friends at Workstories, whose boardroom we commandeered for our mid-festival Roundtable. The team has done a fantastic job with the Northburgh Street showroom and we particularly we like At Ease – a modern classic of a chair, in our humble opinion. 

We started with a bit of a moan – and we’re going to close with another, albeit something that has little (if anything) to do with CDW itself. As a business that specialises in publishing and events, we’re all too aware of how difficult it can be to juggle times and dates. There’s surely no excuse, however, for the BCO to host its Northern Awards, in Manchester, in the middle of CDW! Didn’t anyone look in diaries before fixing the date? It meant that a lot of our A&D mates in the North either didn’t make it down to CDW or were in and out in a day. Furthermore, people based right in the heart of Clerkenwell found themselves on a train to Manchester, right in the heart of the festival. That can’t be right! Moan over. 

Thinking back, we did manage to get a fair bit of CDW done over the three days. To those who looked after us, thank you for your kind hospitality. To those we unfortunately missed, sorry, we just wish we’d had more time. Then again, Clerkenwell is open 52 weeks a year, not just one! Hopefully, we can come and see you soon. 

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