Designs on our future
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.