LDF16: The New Craftsmen Taking London by Storm

Craft dominated the London Design Festival this year and Mayfair-based British craft retailer, The New Craftsmen, stole the show with Crafthouse, a series of four installations at high-end trade show Decorex; as well as Makers House, a collaboration with British fashion label Burberry.


Crafthouse explored the home-based rituals of eating, sleeping, bathing and working. “This ambitious project is all about unleashing the creativity of makers and giving them an opportunity to showcase their material fascination in a holistic environment,” says The New Craftsmen’s creative director Catherine Lock. ‘Sleeping’ (above) by lacquer artist Pedro da Costa Felgueiras and multi-disciplinary designer Georgia Kemball featured a ‘box-bed’ complete with ladder and peephole.


Malgorzata Bany and Jochen Holz created the ‘bathing’ space with Malgorzata’s new collection of tiles in Jesmonite (a composite material combining gypsum and resin), combined with Jochen’s latest experiments in laboratory glass including a new neon gas lighting feature and water pouring vessels. The on-trend dusty pink was a revelation in a bathing space.


The ‘working’ area, encased in willow paneling hand-crafted by Hilary Burns, and braided handles by Aimee Betts, represented the hub from which the other spaces were conceived. The New Craftsmen collaborated with architect William Smalley to create a model of the founders’ retreat, which was displayed, together with his preparatory sketches, in the space.


Finally, the ‘eating’ space, created in collaboration with maker Nic Webb, highlighted the processes and versatility of making with clay, and the history, materiality and use of ceramic objects – particularly those functional pieces for eating and serving food, all showcased alongside some of his wooden pieces such as the hand-carved spoons above.


Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Makers House, saw craft makers bring the inspiration behind the latest Burberry runway collection to life through installations, workshops and live making. “This campaign reflects a collection inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and also sets out to honor the many skilled craftspeople who work on Burberry’s iconic products…” said Christopher Bailey, Burberry chief creative and chief executive officer. “Working with such an iconic British brand has been both an honor and a complete joy,” added The New Craftmen’s managing director Natalie Melton. “To be trusted with bringing Christopher’s vision for this collection to life suggests a real appreciation for what we do. It also displays deep recognition from both companies of the importance of craft, materiality, process and people.” The Reading Steps by JamesPlumb was a restored 19th century French staircase, with added seat (above), which hosted daily readings from Orlando.


Textile artist and calligrapher Rosalind Wyatt created an ever evolving installation of words taken from visitor suggestions and quotes from classic texts. “The dichotomy between old and new, a central theme of the new runway collection, is also referenced in her work,” said a statement from The New Craftsmen.


Grant McCaig was forging small metal keepsakes, such as keys – a reference to the housekeeper’s keys in English country homes – using the traditional method of sand casting in which liquid metal is poured into a sand mold before it cools and sets.


The Royal College of Art graduate is a silversmith and artist. He describes his work as an “organic approach to finding extraordinary beauty in metals and the idea of function and preciousness associated with materials such as silver.”


Stationed by the bed at Makers House, Rachel Scott was creating unique, one-off patchwork cushion covers using materials from the new runway collection throughout the exhibition. Alongside Rachel, and focusing on Elizabethan styles of embroidery and in particular a 16th century technique called ‘blackwork’, The Royal School of Needlework were creating pillowcases and cushion covers for the Ditchley bed.


Thomas Merrett spent the week creating a figurative artwork depicting the human form, inspired by Burberry’s collection as well as the goings on around him. “As the week progressed, visitors could experience the emergence of a piece of sculptural art from initial ideas to completion, and could also commission plaster or bronze busts of the finished piece,” said The New Craftsmen.


There were also bookbinding demonstrations from stitching and binding to spine finishing, inlaying and debossing by Bespoke & Bound; Aimee Betts and Jessica Light created elaborate trimmings, edgings and decorative embellishments for the bed, using passementerie techniques; and Rose de Borman was demonstrating the art of silk-screen printing, alongside a display of silk scarves at varying stages of completeness – all available for purchase – to show visitors how a finished design is created, color by color. The overall effect was a glorious celebration of craft at its best.

Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven journalist, author and, podcaster championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. She is also the founder and director of Making Design Circular, a program and membership community for designer-makers who want to join the circular economy. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine and Monocle24 – as well as being Editor at Large for Design Milk. She is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden.