Sunday, 25 May 2014

Uncovering Clerkenwell Design Week 2014's Secrets

Clerkenwell Design Week Map. Source:

A first for myself, Clerkenwell Design Week 2014 was a 3-day hot-pink signposted discovery of top British and international designers housed in some of London's most illustrious buildings.

Locals and London history buffs will be aware of Clerkenwell's glorious watch-making past, dating back to the 18th century. Today it has the highest concentration of creatives and architects in the world, yet still remains one of the least gentrified parts of the capital. So what happens when the old and the new creativity collide?

My CDW14 Highlights

The Farmiloe Building London
The Farmiloe Building at St John St. Source:

'The Design Factory' @The Farmiloe Building, 34 St John Street, London, EC1M 4AY

The disused 40,000 sq.ft warehouse once home to George Farmiloe & Sons' lead and glassworks (1868 to 1999) was a fittingly magnificent venue for a showcase of product design. With over 60 showrooms across four floors, let’s just say I’d never seen so many 'sexy chairs' and lighting in one place. But it’s the Victorian architecture that truly takes your breath away. The eerie, airy faded grandeur of the Grade II-listed building commands respect. Eyes closed, you can almost picture it in its heyday - bright glowing kilns of molten glass, metal and the faces of dirty workers who risked lead fume poisoning every day.

The Farmiloe Building interiors
The Farmiloe Building's wrought iron staircase next to funky new lighting designs

Rugged and full of Dickensian character, charming features that survive include a spindly wrought-iron staircase which sprouts seemingly out of nowhere like a beanstalk. The abundance of natural light is also enough to make any sun-starved office worker envious. It’s little wonder The Farmiloe Building has been a popular film location of Hollywood blockbusters from Gotham City in 'The Dark Knight' to 'Sherlock Holmes'.


Prooff Niche Chair
Prooff's 'Niche Chair'. Source:

Dutch company PROOFF creates ‘intimate dialogue for public space’. The ‘Niche Chair’ (design by Axia Design) did exactly what the tin says. It’s sofa dream of geeks, which I imagine wouldn't look out of place at Google HQ.  A three-walled, covered enclosure complete with chargers beneath your seat, it's roomy enough for two - blocking yourself out from the world on your laptop is a breeze – or you can have a nice conversation with your neighbour. My suggested further improvements to a PROOFF sales rep – namely embedded TV on either headboards outdoor-proof upholstery were sadly politely declined.


Established in 2008 by Japanese, French and Chinese founders, Stellarworks is a modern furniture company possessing a truly unique cross-cultural vision. The re-issued classics on show included this sleek 'Cotton Club Chair' by Italian designer/philosopher Carlo Forcolini.

Carlo Forcolini Cotton Club Chair
'Cotton Club Chair'. Source:

I also loved the duck-egg blue hue on this 'Piano Chair' made with dyed leather and wood (a 600-year old Japanese tradition) by Danish designer Vilhelm Wohlertm- thus justifying my earlier use of the term ‘sexy chair’.

Vilhelm Wohlertm Piano Chair
'Piano Chair'. Source:

Auxilium Salvage

Against stiff competition Auxilium Salvage’s candy-coloured recycled German lamps caught my eye (They're on Twitter and Instagram too, go follow). Rescued from a disused cable factory in Cologne and lovingly refurbished in London, these fun, space-age hair dryer shaped lights strike the right balance between the age-old 'Form versus Function' dilemma.

Auxilium Salvage 'Candy Collection' lamps
Auxilium Salvage 'Candy Collection' at The Design Factory

'Details' @The Order of St. John, St John's Square, Clerkenwell, EC1V 4JJ

A Medieval crypt and church garden might sound like a creepy exhibition venue, but considered in context ('Details' celebrates the fine craftsmanship and high glamour of luxury interiors), it was a stroke of genius. 

Edra x Campana Brothers 'Vermelha' chair
The famous Edra x Campana Brothers 'Vermelha' chair in the Norman Crypt

Known for its tactile, avant-garde pieces, Italian brand Edra showcased chairs designed by the Campana Brothers, made from frankly bonkers sources - including one made of stuffed leather dolphins. Juxtaposed against the Norman Crypt's gorgeous stained glass windows and resting tombs of presumably rather famous 12th century knights - the chairs appear strangely venerable; the dampness in the air amplifying their precious quality.

The Order of St John Cloister Garden
The Order of St John Cloister Garden

In contrast, outside visitors were welcomed to relax on contemporary furniture in the company of the cloister garden's tranquil monument and herb-filled surroundings - an unexpected oasis amid the typical break-neck hustle and bustle of London's Tech City. It took me a while to adjust to the element of surprise - it (the old with the new) shouldn't work, but here it does.

I ended my evening feeling curiously rewarded. Clerkenwell Design Week is a rare example of the ‘something old, something new’ clich├ęd promise done good. While the talent may not have been mind-blowingly brilliant this year, the event has made new visitors appreciate the beautiful designs of overlooked historical gems in a new light. CDW may be over for now, but there’s still time to get exploring before the bulldozers inevitably come in.

 Photography by Christina Lai unless stated otherwise.


  1. Hey Christina! What a beautiful day for a discovery walk! Designs done well are timeless.

  2. Thank you Hidy, the weather was crazy at first - rain, hail, thunder...then the sun came out. Typical frivolous British weather.


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