Journalist Barbara Chandler picks her Clerkenwell Design Week highlights

I love Clerkenwell Design “Week” (actually CDW is only three days, but feels like so much more…the packed exuberant schedule goes on until 9pm each day.)

It’s central (EC1), walkable and in English – in contrast to last month’s rambling Milan design week and Furniture Fair. It’s fun and even funny at times with flashes of that special British humour.

You get maps, signposting and even wayfarer lines on the pavement. Check it all out on, and on twitter @CDWfestival, using hashtag #CDW2014.

© Barbara Chandler *

© Barbara Chandler *

With a bit of luck, the weather will be balmy so we can savour early summer in the city, with that special shade of green for the area’s abundant new leaves and grass.

Mind you, Clerkenwell is slewing with “creatives” – architects, ad agencies, craft studios, designers and sales people, which can be a tad intimidating. But at this festival, they really loosen up, smile behind those big black specs, undo a few buttons and generally let their design hair down.

The venues ooze ambience with architecture on the side. The main hub is the Farmiloe Building (outside is an arched Victorian palazzo in granite and stone, whilst inside it’s all big iron beams and hoists, creaky stairs and panelled offices lined with shiny brown Lincrusta). I thought I glimpsed the ghost of Bob Crachit last year. The new name of this event is Design Factory, with around 85 exhibitors squeezed into every nook and cranny, and overspilling into courtyards and outbuildings. I want to see Sir Paul Smith’s special lamp for Anglepoise, and colour suprema Ptolemy Mann’s three-wall tile mural for Johnson Tiles. And I’ll probably overspend (again) at Theo’s pop-up shop.

© Barbara Chandler *

© Barbara Chandler *

Then there’s the House of Detention. Here the underground cells – yes, really – harbour a show called Platform. Around 35 doughty designers without daylight but with buckets of  bravado show off their very special work (from wallpapers to lighting, furniture and more). Don’t miss.

Elsewhere the serene sanctity of the Priory of the Order of St John (stained glass, vaulted ceiling) is somewhat compromised by around 35 commercial booths (but suitably tasteful and very upmarket). They call themselves Detail and are punting “luxury and glamour”. The highlight here is an installation by Brazilian mavericks the Campana Brothers.  And (new this year) the friendly St James Church on the Green hosts about 20 hopeful design entrepreneurs in Additions in another crypt. I’ll be looking for terracotta-and-copper vessels by Tunisian-born Londoner Hend Krichen, and African textiles at Toghal – which means to sit, in Wolof, the main language of Senegal. A charm of CDW is such quirky details, shared with designers/makers on the spot.

I love traditional crafts so I want to meet the masters in a striking modern grey concrete-style pavilion succinctly called Smith (genius name, think leather, books, black, metal, shoes and so on). This structure is by architectural practice Studio Weave.

For some years, I’ve followed the fortunes of London’s edgy design collective Okay Studio (bursting with RCA grads). What will they do, given unlimited access to five American hardwoods – tulipwood, ash, hard maple, red oak and cherry, in the Scin Gallery of “materials girl” Annabelle Filer ( 27 Old Street).

Tile Mile at lovely St John’s Gate should be fun, with endless reflections of Turkishceramics envisioned by London architects Lianne Russ and Phil Henshaw – it’s all done with mirrors. Bunk off for half an hour to explore the adjacent free museum of the Knights Hospitaller.

Surrounding these venues, in showrooms lining Clerkenwell Road, St John Street and roads nearby, is an eruption of special events filling windows and spilling onto pavements.

Milliken carpets (5 Berry Street) have coaching sessions for Instagram and creative writing, plus furniture restoration workshops. Loads of launches include new ceramic tiles by the much-feted designer duo Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby for Domus Tiles and Mutina. Design stars doing talks include Ron Arad and Sir Peter Cook.

Factor in some good food – the Clerkenwell Collection  gallery has listed around 50 EC1 bars and restaurants on – look out for window stickers punting discounts. Finally, for a slug of “mother’s ruin” browse The Gin Garden, with three days of art, workshops, walks, and gardening (and tastings, of course; with workshop schedule on

barbara chandler

Follow me @sunnyholt for real-time @CDWFestival news and Joy of Design photographs.

*For a album of photographs by Barbara Chandler of Clerkenwell Design Week 2013, go to