De­signs on our future

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

For most of the crowds flock­ing to Syon Park in Isle­worth this Sun­day, the main at­trac­tion won’t be the com­bined ef­forts of robert Adam and Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown, but Decorex, an un­veil­ing of new col­lec­tions of fur­ni­ture, light­ing, fab­ric and wall­pa­per ( page 82). The show is part of the an­nual Lon­don De­sign Fes­ti­val, a group of de­sign events that spans the length and breadth of Lon­don, from Syon Park in the west and Spi­tal­fields in the east to Kings Cross in the north and De­sign Cen­tre, Chelsea Harbour in the south.

It might come as a sur­prise to many vis­i­tors that much of what is on show at these events is made in Bri­tain. Af­ter the hu­mil­i­at­ing demise of Bri­tish-owned car man­u­fac­tur­ers and, more re­cently, the tur­bu­lence in the Bri­tish steel in­dus­try, there is a be­lief that we are a na­tion that re­lies lit­tle on man­u­fac­tur­ing.

This isn’t the case—or at least not in our bur­geon­ing in­te­ri­ors in­dus­try. In Er­ne­set­tle on the Ta­mar in Devon, Vis­pring em­ploys 250 peo­ple who, last year, made 50,000 beds. In Lan­caster, Stand­fast & Bar­racks prints fab­rics that are ex­ported all over the world. A few miles away in Burn­ley, the fam­ily-owned firm of Gra­ham & Brown prints 13 mil­lion rolls of wall­pa­per a year on presses that rarely pause for breath. Even in Lon­don, an area not as­so­ci­ated with man­u­fac­tur­ing, there are thriv­ing busi­nesses such as The Sofa & Chair Com­pany, Savoir Beds, Se­bas­tian Cox and Charles Ed­wards that ser­vice the city’s new role as in­te­rior-de­sign cap­i­tal of the world.

The ob­vi­ous ben­e­fit of all this fever­ish ac­tiv­ity is the cre­ation of jobs, of­ten in ar­eas in which they are in short sup­ply, but there are other advantages, too. In the ex­port mar­ket, Bri­tish in­te­rior de­sign en­joys a pro­file that has grown strongly in the past decade. In St Ger­main, Man­hat­tan and West Hol­ly­wood, you don’t need to look far to find Bri­tish in­te­ri­ors brands such as Cole­fax and Fowler, Far­row & Ball, Vaughan De­signs and The rug Com­pany. Nor do you have to look far for the work of our de­sign­ers, many of whom en­joy cult sta­tus—notably, Nina Camp­bell and Wil­liam Ye­oward, who pack lec­ture rooms around the USA, Aus­tralia and South Africa.

This au­tumn sees the open­ing of the Whitby Ho­tel in New York, whose in­te­ri­ors are the work of the Bri­tish hote­lier cum de­signer Kit Kemp. In the same way that her first ho­tel in the city, the Crosby Street, em­bod­ies the spirit of eclec­ti­cism is a hall­mark of Bri­tish taste, so too will this new ven­ture. Like the Soho House group that now has out­posts ev­ery­where from May­fair to Malibu, these projects play a vi­tal role as am­bas­sadors for Bri­tain’s de­sign ca­pa­bil­ity.

The ex­port value of our in­te­ri­ors in­dus­try might be dwarfed by the tech­nol­ogy, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and en­gi­neer­ing sec­tors, yet, post-brexit, when Bri­tain ne­go­ti­ates new com­mer­cial re­la­tion­ships with a wider world, our fur­ni­ture, fab­rics, wall­pa­pers and paint will com­mu­ni­cate our cre­ative ca­pa­bil­i­ties far more elo­quently than any trade del­e­ga­tion.

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