House of Toogood is a TANGIBLE, atmospheric showcase of the designer’s WORK and VISION
would drive her mad. ‘Plus, magazine budgets were always really low, so I picked up how to use paper and cardboard rather than gold and marble to make a set look great.’ Surely cost restrictions must have changed now she’s working with high-end brands? ‘I do now have clients who can, and want to, use gold and marble… but I’ll still throw in cardboard, because I like the juxtaposition of the utilitarian and the luxury.’
Her academic knowledge of art and its history means Toogood’s mental library of visual and cultural references, spanning centuries and continents, is vast – and it shows in her work. ‘ When I’m designing, elements of art, architecture, nature and decoration tend to transcend their respective geographies and histories in my mind, and come into play together – sometimes consciously, sometimes not,’ she says. ‘For example, with the “Roly Poly” chair, some people say “Gosh, that looks really primitive”, but others think it looks totally 1960s and bubble-ish, or tell me how Art Deco it feels to them.’
Born and bred in the rugged Rutland countryside, and obsessed with gathering stones, bones and branches as a child, Toogood’s perennial primary source of inspiration is nature. In fact, she is so passionate about all things agricultural and earthen that she launched her debut furniture collection, ‘Assemblage 1’, with the help of British mushroom forager Mrs Tee. Yet her design ethos can’t be pigeonholed, and her signature style is elusive – Toogood is also the go-to name when it comes to futuristic installations for avant-garde brands such as Comme Des Garçons. Her manifesto for her clothing line is to create pieces ‘fashioned for industry, not the fashion industry’ – and yet, she was asked by the staff of Vogue Italia to give their Milan offices a makeover this year.
These contradictions don’t mean that Toogood’s philosophy is erratic. ‘There is ➤
a thread that runs through all my work: our process is consistent, our emphasis on materials is consistent, our storytelling is always consistent.’ Equally, there is a consistent sense of fun in everything she does. ‘Design shouldn’t be too serious. Something needs to make you smile in order to connect with it.’ Hence the name ‘Roly Poly’ for her 2014 collection. ‘I think it’s quite British, and is about wanting to keep the connection to the child within me, and within others,’ she says. ‘That quality of play and naivety is important.’
Part of a close-knit group of designer friends – including Bethan Laura Wood, Max Lamb and Martino Gamper – Toogood believes there is a freedom of expression allowed in the British design scene that is unique to the UK. ‘There’s no set of rules here, and because of our heritage, there’s a certain depth. London used to be the be all and end all: you had to be there. I don’t think that’s true anymore, which is great for the rest of the country.’
British craft is a cause close to her heart. ‘The New Craftsmen and London Craft Week are really supporting makers across the UK and giving them a voice,’ she says, pointing out that ten years ago, most craftspeople didn’t have websites, let alone a social media presence, meaning few artisans would be known outside of their home towns. Craft is getting cool – which is in no small part due to Toogood’s studio and the way it employs traditional techniques, from weaving to claywork, to form cutting-edge designs.
Her loyalty to the UK has its drawbacks, however. As far as possible, all of Studio Toogood’s furniture and clothing designs are fabricated in British factories or made by British artisans. This is good for UK manufacturing, but bad for price points – a cotton Toogood coat costs £1,670. She realises that while we have got our heads (and wallets) around paying more for, say, an organic British chicken from a farmer’s market over a shipped-in supermarket one, it’s a harder sell when the ‘ locally sourced’ levy sees prices hit four figures. ‘I’d love to make a more affordably priced product. But in order to do so, I’d have to take my manufacturing out of the UK, which would mean going against my principles,’ she says. ‘It’s something I wrestle with constantly.’
As for what’s to come next, there is talk of an online store, and you can now go and visit the House of Toogood, the ground floor of her studio, which has become a gallery and shop. Pass through a courtyard with grapevines overhead to a series of spaces where whitewashed walls and antiques ➤
‘Design shouldn’t be too
SERIOUS – something needs to make you SMILE in order to connect with it’
Toogood’s ‘Spade’ chair stands in the serene space on the ground floor at House of Toogood, the shop-gallery below her studio in east London’s Redchurch Street, which is now open to the public
Paperweights, bookends and artworks by Londonbased artist Małgorzata Bany stand on the ‘Roly Poly’ table and hang above the fireplace at House of Toogood’s evolving shop and exhibition space