Clerkenwell Design Week 2013 – a Review

In contrast to last year when the sun shone and temperatures were giddily high, Clerkenwell in late May was distinctly chilly, with a constant stiff breeze, on and off rain, and even a hailstorm. The weather may have been unseasonably cold but that didn’t stop the crowds flocking to the most popular venues and showrooms, and several of the evening parties were so crowded they had to close their doors. The signs had been good, even before the show opened. Advance registrations were over 46,000, compared with last year’s 22,000 visitors and by the end of the show, total registrations had reached 55,000.

The show is a hybrid in several ways. The event venues are a combination of 50 permanent showrooms, along with a variety of interesting buildings, popups and outdoor sites which are commandeered to create temporary exhibition areas. The two common themes are the Clerkenwell area of London and design, predominantly in the form of furniture, furnishings and interior accessories.

London is probably the only city in the world where a show like this can be held. Clerkenwell has one of the world’s highest concentrations of architects and designers and this has attracted more and more office furniture and interiors’ companies to the area.  The beauty of it is that everything is so close together and the area is easily walkable, from one side to the other, in less than fifteen minutes. Many of the buildings are interestingly old and attractive, even if that means they are sometimes tricky to use efficiently. Outdoor areas included the beautiful Garden and Cloister of the Order of St John which displayed Cane-Line products. The prisoners’ cells in the House of Detention, formerly a Victorian gaol, provided nicely spooky spaces to show creations from younger designers. 

As for the new products on display, breakout furniture was trending, with every shape and size of high backed enclosure creating environments for small meetings, collaboration and interactive presentations. Designers had been let off their leashes and had dreamt up every form and colour of soft seating imaginable. What has yet to be seen is any way of managing the transition between the hard shapes, conservative solid colours and rigid structures of workstations and storage products, and the exuberance of breakout areas. It’s as if they’re two separate worlds rather than part of one and the same organisation.

Fifty of the established permanent showrooms in the area participated in the Clerkenwell Design Week, including  companies from the UK, Italy, the USA, Germany, Australia, Spain, Japan, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Turkey,  the Netherlands and Switzerland. 

 Clerkenwell Design Week 2013 was successful for the visitors, exhibitors, organisers and sponsors alike.  In four years, it has grown from being a forum for young designers to become a fully fledged, professional design-led event, on an international scale. To have achieved that in the really tricky market conditions of the past few years is no mean feat. The success has been helped by Clerkenwell itself, with its exciting mélange of history, architecture and quirkiness which has attracted architects, designers and office furniture and furnishings businesses into one small area of a major world city. We hope that the event continues to thrive and prosper. 

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