Monthly Archives: September 2010

Conran Columns: Design Heaven and Design Hell: Roger Mavity

We’re very excited about our new column here on the Conran blog.

A while back we tried a little team building exercise, inviting people to introduce and discuss their idea of Design Heaven and Design Hell. There were some intriguing – and very mixed – choices, attracting quite a bit of interest and discussion as well as the odd controversy.

Over the next weeks and months we will be asking some of our great and glorious friends in the world of design to contribute their thoughts. Watch this space!

To start us off here’s our very own CEO Roger Mavity. Roger’s usually quite unabashed when it comes to having an opinion on something so let’s see what gets his vote…

Design Heaven

A good chair should delight the eye as well as support the bum.  The Wassily Chair for me does that brilliantly.  Because it completely reinvents how a chair should work, the result is something which is more like a piece of sculpture than a piece of furniture.  Designed nearly 100 years ago, it still looks timelessly modern.  In spite of its austere look it’s actually amazingly comfortable.  It makes the point that if the chair supports the body in the right way, you don’t need twelve tons of upholstery and padding.

Of course it’s not to everyone’s taste, but then distinctive ideas rarely are.  At any rate, I like it: and the proof of the pudding is that I have one in my bedroom.   And one in my study.  And one in my living room.

I haven’t found space for one in the bathroom yet, but I’m working on it.

Design Hell

This is a photo finish between my two ultimate design nightmares: the bendy bus and the Inland Revenue Income Tax Return form.  But however exasperating a tax return form may be, it only comes to haunt us once a year, whereas the bendy bus is with us always.

The most hateful thing about the bendy bus is how intimidating it is for us ordinary mortals who try to negotiate London traffic in anything smaller than a Chieftain tank.  I drive a mini and I quake with terror when the bendy bus comes near.  Thank god I’m in a car and not on a bike.

And the bendy bus is so huge it is not only intimidating to other traffic, it is also a slow moving traffic jam itself.

Never mind the effect on neighbouring motorists, the bendy isn’t even efficient as a bus.  Their vast bulk is usually three quarters empty so they crowd out the rest of us simply to transport a lot of air.  And since they are so big it’s easy to get on and off without paying:  the 73 route was nicknamed the ‘seventy free’ by regulars.

Boris swept to power with a promise that he would eliminate them.  That was some years ago and they are still with us.  But then he is a politician.

If you love the Wassily Chair enough to invest in it (classic pieces are great investments after all…) click here to find out how to buy one.

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Conran: Designers of the future at Designers Block

As London Design Festival 2010 blurs into a distant memory we are left once again revelling in how great London is when it comes to diversity, ideas, ingenuity and imagination.

Nowhere was this more in evidence than at Designers Block at the Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf. This year’s festival may be done and dusted but this exhibition, traditionally a showground for younger, up-and-coming talent, proves there’s plenty to look forward to in the years ahead.

Holly-Anne Rolfe from Conran and Company spent a drizzly Friday morning wandering around this incredible space.

A large group of chairs sitting in the reception area greet you upon entry. Made by a group of nine designers in a wood in Herefordshire using only traditional greenwood techniques their sweeping and beautifully simple forms lit up the crumbling, industrial space.  I nicknamed this one ‘the monkey chair’.

The bench reminded me a bit of Jurgen Bey’s famous tree-trunk bench – minus the bark however, it looked a lot more comfortable!

I adored Naomi McIntosh’s necklaces; beautifully made sculptural forms suspended from the ceiling like chrysalises – definitely statement pieces that I have already started saving up for.

Charlotte Kingsnorth’s Hybreed chairs evolved from the concept of a relationship between a sofa and the voluptuous flesh of its occupier. In reality these are reclaimed chairs transformed into luscious, curvaceous forms. Firm to the touch, the pieces looked really comfortable even if I couldn’t quite get a picture of ‘the Blob’ attacking the Ercol factory out of my head.

As a dog lover put a pooch on anything sellable and you’ve got yourself a taker – and I loved the ‘Gerald the Dog’ kits from Lazerian – I’m just not sure I would have the patience nor the steady hand to make Gerald look quite as beautiful as the examples.

So many other designs and products of note; Puff & Flock’s ‘Make me up’ Wallpaper appealed – a ‘girl thing’ you might say but I enjoyed the interaction – always really important to me at these shows, and Jason Mark’s distorted ceramics pieces are surely investment pieces of the future.

I have to admit to being constantly diverted by the building itself; the colours, shapes and textures in the crumbling interior a great contrast to the diverse designs.

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Conran: More from the London Design Festival 2010

With the mammoth exhibitions in town stealing much of the limelight over the main weekend of this year’s London Design Festival we thought we would have a look at what was going on at some of the smaller venues around the capital…

Contemporary furniture retailer The Lollipop Shoppe invited 11 designers to create public benches which were on show throughout Spitalfields Market.

The results of this project showcased different approaches to the brief, with Michael Marriot and Anthony Burrill’s ‘Heavy Metal Bench’ featuring cut out text, Felix de Pass’ ‘A-bench’ made of mirrored oak and folded steel components and Decode/VW + BS’ ‘Solid Shell’, concrete based wire framed seats.

As with a lot of public spaces, there isn’t a great deal of public seating so it was great to see the majority of the benches were in use, with the very different solutions to the brief enhancing the area both visually and practically.

As if we needed any encouragement to see down and enjoy a nice cuppa.


Norwegian Prototypes

Norwegian Prototypes is the brainchild of Kim Thome and Amy Hunting. 12 Norwegian designers were given a brief to ‘design something that fits in your hand luggage’.

With this fantastic brief the designers responded in a wide variety of ways, a lot of them concerned with the potential offered by the idea of  expansion -  such as  Kim Thomes’ ‘Wardobe in the suitcase’ an expanding fabric wardrobe, which utilises a scissor mechanism to produce a wardrobe six times the size of the suitcase, and  ‘Little big Lamp’ by Hallgeir Homstvedt, a fabric lamp where the construction has been based on photographic light reflectors, allowing the fabric lamp to fit into a 40cm square box for transport, and expanding to a diameter of 130cm when unpacked.


Other designers participating included Oscar Narud, Amy Hunting, Stokke Austad and Sara Polmer.

ACNE at Liberty

Best known for jeans, Swedish brand ACNE launched their first collection of furniture with Liberty last week. Five sofas are available exclusively from the store.

The starting point for the project was Swedish designer Carl Malmsten’s Nya Berlin sofa, which Jonny Johansson, creative director of ACNE utilised in order to come up with the collection.

The resulting sofas are sensual, asymmetric forms, available in denim upholstery (by Kvadrat), alongside one in Liberty floral print.

Thanks to Jess Corteen from Conran & Company for the words and images!

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Conran: Out and about with Conran: The latest from LDF 2010

Last night saw the exclusive retail launch of the new Emeco 111 Navy chair at The Conran Shop in Fulham Road. The chair is made from 111 recycled coca-cola bottles – not just a clever name. Read more about the launch here on The Conran Shop blog.

Everyone’s talking about LDF’s new exhibition, Tramshed, on Rivington Street in Shoreditch, a collaborative showcase of authentic high-end design brands. Terence’s furniture company Benchmark are among them. Craftsmen from the company are working in a temporary workshop making a range of furniture from domestic pieces to commercial projects, demonstrating their specialist skills in both woodworking and metalworking. Very exciting. Read more about it here on the Benchmark blog.

Benchmark at Tramshed

LDF isn’t all about the Southbank, South Kensington or Shoreditch – events are happening all over the capital – Emma Weber from Studio Conran happened across something interesting whilst out for dinner…

Yesterday night I had a magical dinner at the Wapping Project – by chance the design festival was also running ‘Trust Me’, an exhibition by Antwerp-based graphic designer Paul Boudens.

The work was presented in a large scale box covering the inside walls and flooring. Posters, book spreads, prints and invitations covered the entire space. His work for the fashion world such as Dries Van Noten, Yohi Yamamoto, The MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp, Jurgi Persoons and Oliver Theyskens has a human feel to it, he uses paint amongst other materials and the work has a sensitivity that makes it less ephemeral than other graphic designs in the world of fashion.

They have some great posters for only £5 on sale, well worth a look.

Paul Boudens at The Wapping Project

Of course no LDF is complete without parties…Silas Swinstead from Conran Contracts is our regular man about town…

Design week, or LDF as I recently discovered it is now referred to – perhaps to keep up with LFW – is usually a blur of samey showroom parties fuelled by way too much champagne, European lager or in my case GnT – ‘my case’ being that of a contract furniture salesman in the employ of Conran. Our multitude of International suppliers means there are no shortage of people to meet and greet at these events, and by now the new designs shown at Milan way back in the Spring are all too familiar.

This Design week however had something unusual; not only a brand new showroom, but a brand new product being launched from within its four walls. Just off Shoreditch High Street is renowned Interior Designer Lee Broom’s new studio and showspace, a necessity now he has expanded his creativity into product design. Being launched was the OLO collection, or One Light Only, the second string to Lee’s commercial lighting bow. The first being Decanter Lights, which we have already provided to a well known restaurant chain for a concept location, and it’s clear the OLO will have no shortage of interest from the A&D community and retail world alike.



Every year one of the highlights of Design Week has to be the Capellini Party, for the last two years at The Poltrona Frau Group’s Barber Osgerby designed space on St. John Street. On arrival I was greeted by the familiar faces of the Conran fraternity, nestled in our very own Proust Geometrica chair, supplied to the Big Brother House of 2009. Being asked to supply Endemol with this iconic piece of furniture was a true eye opener to the capabilities of supplying to the contract market.


What else is there to do at LDF? Too much to shake a hand-turned, ergonomically designed, made-from-wood-from-a-sustainable-source stick at.

What about having a look at Tent 2010?

Or what about Origin – the best craft show in town – at its new home in Spitalfields market. (Did we mention our very own Jill Webb was a judge this year?)

Or Designers Block at Oxo Tower Wharf (more about that on Monday…)

Enjoy it!

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Conran: London Design Festival: Tent 2010

There’s just so much to see and do out there at London Design Festival 2010 - here’s a quick sneak at Tent 2010 by Jess Corteen in Conran & Company.

This year the Truman Brewery plays host to a variety of shows, here’s a quick look at Tent.

Tent Selects showcases the work of up and coming designers, including RCA graduate Harry Thaler’s aluminium  pressed chair (winner of the Conran Foundation award), Kirsten Read’s Containers, a series of moulded natural rubber latex vessels with spun copper fixtures, and winner of New Designer of the year, Tortie Hoare’s beautiful boiled leather and walnut furniture.

Boiled Leather Furniture, Pressed Aluminium Chair

Tortie Hoare and Harry Thaler

Other stands worth stopping by include Ercol – this year showing colourful versions of some of their classic items including products from the Ercol Originals arrange such as ercol blue blend applied to their Love Seat. Contrasting with this colour was a cosy looking version of the Ercol Studio Couch, a design introduced in the late 1950’s but this time with white knitted upholstery and wool woven in between the arm struts.

Ercol Knitted upholstery

Ercol's Studio Couch with knitted upholstery

Curators collective JJAM showcase the results of a challenge to London based designers to reinvent the classic yellow duster – with some interesting results. Recent graduate Dominic Williams had his ‘Clothes Donkey’ on display,  a playful modern take on the form of a traditional gym horse, containing drawers and secret compartments, a lovely solution for bedrooms. Alongside these, there is also the chance to see work by a range of contemporary designers.

Dominic Williams Clothes Donkey

Dominic Williams - Clothes Donkey

Also worth visiting is the Crafts Council Lab Craft show, an exploration of the potential of new technology within craft. Curated by Max Fraser, participants included Tord Boontje, Gareth Neal, Committee, Tomoko Azumi and Timorous Beasties and the results of experimentation with technologies such as digital printing, laser scanning and rapid prototyping. Tomoko Azumi’s reclaimed roof tile Bird houses make use of laser etching to produce a lovely solution for re-use, and Timourous Beasties make use of scanning and digital printing to produce a fabric pattern based on scans of a moth.

Tomoko Azumi and Timorous Beasties

Tomoko Azumi's Bird Houses and Timorous Beasties fabric

As well as these, there’s also the chance to have a look at Tent Digital – an interactive visitor experience showcasing work by designers from a variety of disciplines, and KUMA, the Kingston University MA show.

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Conran Columns: Azhar on Architecture: Fashion, Art and Science

Creativity, Science and the City

This week Architectural Director Azhar from Conran & Partners has been out and about at the London Design Festival and London Fashion Week. A fashion show with a difference gets him thinking…



This week I attended an event at Imperial College London, a fashion show no less – a wonderful affair where a fashion designer worked closely with a scientist to create a “spray-on” collection of clothes.

What emerged was not just a clever scientific idea, but also very beautiful forms and movement – extremely cinematic. For me this is a wonderfully powerful example of communicating intelligence, future thinking and creative science.


The catwalk, (or “runway”) was installed in the business school on Exhibition Road where outside the wonderful statue of Empress Victoria presides over the scene. We must remember that South Kensington was a vision of her husband, Prince Albert, and the area of London where Imperial stands is known affectionately as “Albertopolis” -  a renaissance collection of world-renowned institutions covering art, science, music, and natural history.

As a child, I was also bemused by the fact that both the media and the school system itself were always dividing the “arts” and “sciences”.

As a practice Conran & Partners, work closely with engineers who are creative and have a design approach. They are a fundamental part of the design process and help create a genuine, integrated team. Architecture and design has always been inter-disciplinary and reliant upon collaboration.

Let’s move to my favourite moment – the present. Surrounding us is the evidence of the relationship of commerce and innovation, culture and economics. I am sure there are brilliant statistics to quantify the value the creative and cultural industries add to the fiscal wellbeing of nations, but here I am excited about the future (once again) and how we harness our talents to create a new generation of opportunities generated by this inter-disciplinary collaboration.

A cutting-edge fashion event in these wonderful surrounding helps illustrate this point beautifully.


Please have a look at Dr Manel Torres collaboration with Professor Paul Luckham at Imperial College London

http://www.fabricanltd.com/

Here it is on the BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11339057

(With thanks to Dr Peter Evans and Natasha Martineau, of Imperial College for my invitation)

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Conran: London Design Festival: Pawson’s Plain Space

As London Design Festival hits the capital our team are out and about having a look at what’s going on…and enjoying a glass of wine or two along the way. Here’s Terence’s PR Manager, Mat Riches, on last night’s private view at The Design Museum.

With the London Design Festival in full swing, every mover, shaker and hipster in town has their pick of parties and launches to attend, but there was a packed crowd from the great and the good of design at The Design Museum last night for the opening of John Pawson’s Plain Space exhibition.

And it’s easy to see why we were drawn to this simple, beautiful and graceful exhibition.


I have often found architectural exhibitions to be quite dry and uninspiring – perhaps my colleagues at Conran & Partners will consider me heathen but for all the technical excellence of model making and artfully shot photography, the beauty of buildings for me is in seeing and feeling a building, whether that be close enough to touch, a vista of a skyline or from deep inside.

But Plain Space uses a wide range of media to intelligent effect to bring Pawson’s work to life with stunning effect. There is some pretty large scale photography of his architecture and I found myself lingering longest at the image of his Sackler Bridge in Kew Gardens – one of the most peaceful spots in London and my favourite place to think and contemplate life’s difficulties.


But there are also architectural elements on display such as stone, metal, wood and bronze. Pawson’s design process is examined and demonstrated through film, sketches, study models and even personal items from Pawson’s eclectic personal collection.

The highlight of Plain Space lies at the very the heart of the exhibition – a site-specific, full-sized space designed by Pawson to offer a deeply immersive experience of his work. Pawson described it as “his little temple”. This is the first time the Design Museum has produced a 1:1 scale architectural installation inside the museum and it is this sort of vision that sets Plain Space aside from other architectural exhibitions this particular heathen has visited.

Introducing the show, the Design Museum Director Dejan Sudjic called Plain Space “one of the most ambitious ambitious things that has ever been built in the galleries in Shad Thames” but I suppose it is part of Pawson’s minimalist ethos that it doesn’t immediately strike you as such. You simply get a deep appreciation of Pawson’s work, the inspirations behind it and of his personality and character and I came away far richer for the experience.

I must return at a later date…when the wine quaffing crowds have moved on to the next party and I can appreciate Pawson’s sedate simplicity in peace and quiet.

Find out more about the exhibition here

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Conran: High quality and made to last – true sustainability

Yesterday we came across this fabulous article by Joss Bailey who runs the Associate Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group, about Terence’s input at Friday’s Earth Awards (click here to read our post about the awards)

We’re very glad she agrees with us about what makes something sustainable.

Here’s a taster:

It is very easy to level the accusation that the Conran empire, however well-principled, caters only to the upper middle classes. The people who eat in his restaurants and shop in his shops are those who can afford both sustainability and luxury: ironic for a business built on a personal philosophy of thrift. But then the issue of over-consumption, at least in our own country, went hand in hand with the exponential growth of the middle classes – the lower echelons aspiring upwards via the accumulation of stuff. Surely Conran’s model is a much better one to aspire to? His designs are high quality made to last: his customer is not the insatiable consumer, but someone who buys an armchair for life. His products are only expensive by comparison, their price tags just reflect the true value of things (if not outsourced to a sweatshop).

Read the full article on her blog


The Associate Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group is an interest group of MPs and peers that exists to keep the cause of good design on the Parliamentary agenda. We are all in support of that.

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Conran: At the Earth Awards

There was a strong Conran presence at this year’s Earth Awards, held last Friday in the ornate surroundings of Marlborough House off the Mall, with Terence, Conran Holdings CEO Roger Mavity and Sean Sutcliffe from Benchmark Furniture on the podium in discussion with the Financial Times architecture critic, Edwin Heathcote.

Partnering with the FT Summit: Investing in Innovative Design and Technology, the Earth Awards is a platform for consumer-driven ideas that challenge designers and innovators to build a new economy. Its aim is to identify viable designs which have the potential to improve our quality of life and build a new economy.

So it was a perfect stage for Roger, Sean and Terence to talk to an audience of delegates and opinion formers from all over the world about Conran and Benchmark’s involvement in sustainable design solutions.

Terence spoke passionately about preserving beautiful old buildings and breathing new life in to them, something that Conran & Partners have significant experience of including Boundary, the Bluebird, Embassy Court, Butlers Wharf and the Design Museum.

Roger gave a passionate yet witty key note address, encouraging people to redesign the way we live our lives while Sean talked of Benchmark’s contribution to rural communities and importance of using sustainable wood in furniture making.

He concluded with a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright:

“The best friend of earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on the earth.”


Read more about Benchmark’s excellent work on their blog



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Conran: Classic design under the hammer

Last night 10 classic design pieces went under the hammer at The Conran Shop in Fulham Road, Chelsea in aid of Centrepoint charity

Fresh from talking about sustainability at the Earth Awards (more about that next week…) Terence took to the stage to talk about why you should invest in classic design like those in the new Conran Classic range.

60s icon Sandy Shaw, a big supporter of Centrepoint, also gave a talk on the good works the charity does and did a great job of pushing up those bids for classic pieces including the Eames Lounge chair and Ron Arad’s bookworm shelf.

Read more about it on The Conran Shop Blog

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