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London Design Festival 2023 Preview

London, UK

Exhibitions and installations will be jostling for your attention in every spare space in the city for this year’s London Design Festival, on from 16-24 September. From public-space interventions to open studios, ensemble shows and retail showrooms unveiling their latest collections, the festival is whatever you want it to be. Get out there and explore the capital at its most creative and convivial, aided by the DA/UK guide to what to see

Material Matters

20-23 September, Thursday-Saturday 10am-6pm. Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, London SE1 9PH

Returning for a second year to the South Bank, Material Matters weaves together a number of threads that all focus on the importance of materiality in design. The show, sponsored by Bert Frank, is spread across the Bargehouse’s five floors, and broad themes include reducing and repurposing waste, the development of new materials and craftsmanship.

Explore ethereal lighting made from discarded glass lenses from the eyewear industry by Yail Neuman, silk-derived biomaterials from Silklab, and a handwoven bench and lighting from India’s Wicker Story, which brings together digital design and native craftsmanship. On the third floor, Italian collective Isola is setting up shop with Nothing Happens if Nothing Happens, with a focus on circular design: look for naturally dyed textiles from Botanica Textiles and Simon Frend’s ‘eco-urns’ (biodegradable cremation urns) – plus a bar made by The Good Plastic Company that repurposes 1,503kg of plastic across its 45 panels (and is itself recyclable). When you’ve finished exploring, head to the next-door gallery@oxo to see the Wood Awards finalists – buildings, furniture and products that all put timber to the fore.


21-24 September, Thursday 6pm-9pm, Friday 12pm-7pm, Saturday & Sunday 11am-6pm. The Batsford Gallery, 266 Hackney Road, London E2 7SJ

Curator Select-works presents Soma, the debut ceramics show of scientist, sculptor and designer Abid Javed. Drawing on his background in molecular biology, his work reimagines microscopic cellular forms in clay, with amorphous shapes and curvy apertures. Vessels and vases, wall sconces, table and floor lamps, sculptural stools, mirrors and hanging mobiles will fill the space: “It’s almost as if you are bearing witness to an abstract landscape, filled with microscopic species from inside a cell,” says Javed. “Just like a virus entering inside a cell.”


Eileen Gray at Aram

16-23 September, 10am-6pm. Aram, 110 Drury Lane, London WC2B 5SG

One of London’s most esteemed design showrooms, Drury Lane’s Aram is showcasing four new rug designs inspired by the work of Eileen Gray for the festival. The four rugs draw on the modernist icon’s gouaches, drawings and collages and capture the spirit of the age in which they were originally created, with a pared-down aesthetic distilled down to basic geometric forms. Monolith features five cross-crossing lines on a dark grey background, while La Lune shows a series of overlapping rectangles in shades of burgundy, red, black and white. See the rugs installed on the first floor of the showroom alongside other classic Gray reissues – the designer granted Aram’s late founder Zeev Aram the worldwide rights to manufacture and distribute her designs in 1973, making the brand the only UK source for authentic Eileen Gray products.

London Design Fair

21-24 September, Thursday 10am-5pm, Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 10.30am-5.30pm, Sunday 11am-4pm. Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London E1 6QL

Taking over Shoreditch’s sprawling Truman Brewery, the London Design Fair (formerly known as Tent London) always had a strong focus on international designers – so its business model was particularly hard-hit during the pandemic. Now, it’s bounced back and is hosting its first LDF show since 2019, bringing a mix of both new and established brands. The global outlook is as well-defined as ever, with country pavilions from Sweden, China, and Ukraine, among others – plus home-grown talent in the British Craft Pavilion. There’s cartoonishly colourful furniture from Sweden’s Stamuli, while from the United Arab Emirates, non-profit Al Ghadeer Emirati Crafts is showcasing five sculptural benches woven from sustainable materials by Bedouin women (pictured). A colourful and immersive installation by 2LG Studio features in the show’s entrance area, and there’s a talks programme with speakers including Pearson Lloyd’s Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd on what they’ve learned in 25 years in business; and Universal Design Studio principal Jason Holley on how architecture can bring people and ideas together.

All in Awe – All Together

16-24 September, open 24 hours. Egerton Gardens, London SW3 2DA

Part of Brompton Design District’s festival programming, this installation explores loneliness, based on the statistic that the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has one of the highest numbers of single-person households in the country – all part of Brompton’s curatorial theme of “Conviviality – The Art of Living Together”. Non-profit organisation All in Awe has put together an installation of flags with meanings (a bit like a more emotive version of semaphore), from “Lost” to “Fearless” to “Belonging”, which grew from a series of creative community workshops with local people. They will be displayed within a colourful open pavilion in Egerton Gardens, just a hop from the festival’s official HQ at V&A South Kensington.

Mother Goddess of the Three Realms

16-24 September, 10am-6pm. Centre 151,151 Whiston Rd, London E2 8GU

This installation at a Vietnamese cultural centre in Haggerston is a celebration of the cultural crossover between the UK and Vietnam, whose title, Mother Goddess of the Three Realms, ties into native practices of worship. The result of an extended residency undertaken by three creative groups in Hanoi earlier this year, supported by the British Council, the show is set across a garden, tea house and theatre, representing the three realms of forest, water and heaven. The garden will feature ceremonial objects; the tea room, objects crafted with rope; and the theatre, an immersive installation and film screenings. East London’s Wax Atelier has worked with a community of makers in a northern Vietnamese village as well as young Hanoi-based designer textile Kilomet 109, creating a visual journey of how plants are turned into products. A programme of events runs alongside, and visitors are encouraged to take tea in the garden.

Colour Stories

16-22 September; 16-17 September 11am-4pm, 18 September 10am-6pm, 19 September 10am-9pm, 20-22 September 10am-6pm. Floor Story, Cairo Studio, Nile Street, London N1 7RF

“Pull up a deckchair” says Floor Story’s invitation to view its latest collections. The rug brand shares its Old Street showroom with interior design studio Trifle, and is taking on a seaside theme in honour of one of three collections being launched at the festival, Waves by Amechi Mandi. The six rugs and runners were inspired by Mandi’s childhood visits to the beach in Cameroon, and come in contrasting pastel and bright shades, with almost cartoonish graphic outlines. Also on show are two collections by Floor Story’s in-house designer Gill Thorpe: Curb, whose colourful borders of vertical and horizontal lines were influenced by paint markings on urban pavements; and Verso, a collection of hand-knotted rugs made in partnership with an NGO in Afghanistan.

Unstruck Melody

16 September-16 October, 10am-5.30pm. V&A South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

Every year for the London Design Festival, the V&A’s galleries and spaces are transformed via the intervention of specially commissioned installations. This year, the barrel-vaulted Prince Consort Gallery is hosting Unstruck Melody, a collaboration between British-born Canadian artist Nirbhai (Nep) Singh Sidhu and UK arts organisation Without Shape Without Form (founded by Deep K Kailey, former fashion director of Tatler and Vogue India). Exploring the metaphysical, the installation of tapestry, sculpture and film will “create moments of self-discovery” through Sikh teachings, exploring the latter’s impact on contemporary design. The V&A’s special late opening on Friday 22 September includes an immersive Simran sound performance and a talk between artist and curator.

Bryan O'Sullivan Collection

16 & 18-24 September, Monday & Tuesday 10am-6pm, Wednesday 10am-4pm, Thursday & Friday 10am-6pm, Saturdays 11am-6pm. Bryan O'Sullivan Collection, 49 Brook Street, London W1K 4HW

Mayfair Design District is now the third-largest of the festival’s ever-growing list of official areas, reflecting the neighbourhood’s evolvement into a luxury design hub that complements its traditional art scene. Interior design firm Bryan O’Sullivan Studio has opened a gallery on Brook Street (just a stone’s throw from its many upscale hospitality projects, such as Claridge’s Restaurant and the Connaught’s Red Room) to showcase its first collection of furniture. The pieces embrace an aesthetic that the studio describes as “forward-thinking yet rooted in the classical elements of the mid-20th-century masters” with highlights including the cute bun-footed Rupert armchair, Sweetie, a bronze and nickel side table with a lemon-drop-coloured glass top, and Boydell, an oak sideboard with inset panels by ceramic artist Cormac Boydell.

Fred Rigby Studio & Monoware present: Sensory Living in a Modern Space

16-24 September, 10am-6pm. Fred Rigby Studio, 5A Gransden Avenue, London E8 3QA

Fred Rigby Studio opens its Hackney HQ for a collaborative exhibition with British tabletop brand Monoware. The umbrella theme is sensory living, and the installation sees Monoware’s pared-back collections – including a new range of limited edition made-to-order pieces – working alongside Fred Rigby’s latest furniture with coloured tabletops, creating a homely feel that focuses on craftsmanship and modern comfort. Perfumer H (founded by Lyn Harris, formerly of Miller Harris) is lending its olfactory skills, with its signature Ink scent creating the full multisensory experience.

The Farm Shop

16 September-15 October, 10am-6pm. Fels Gallery, 209 Brompton Road, London SW3 2EJ

The country comes to town for The Farm Shop, which features the work of designers from Buckinghamshire fabrication facility and communal workshop Grimsdyke Farm. Conceived as “a vehicle for exploring modes of production that are rooted in vernacular design knowledge, visual language and materials,” the show draws on the output of 18 contemporary designers taking part in a residency on the farm this summer. The resulting homeware and dining pieces are highly evocative of the place in which they were made, from linen beeswax aprons by Nathalie Bagnoud, made using plant dyes found on the farm and coated with beeswax from local hives, to Marco Campardo’s walnut bench and console, created from a fallen tree in the grounds. The Farm Shop spills into October and the capital’s so-called ‘Frieze Week’ of art-focused events, reflecting the show’s alignment at the intersection of art and design.

Niko Koronis: Metamorph/Jacqueline Rabun: A Restrospective

Niko Koronis, until 24 September; Jacqueline Rabun, from 20 September. Monday-Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 11am-5pm. Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Ladbroke Hall, London W10 6AZ

If you haven’t yet had the chance to make your way over to Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s new west London outpost – a handsome red-brick building that was built in 1903 as the HQ of the Sunbeam Talbot Motor Company – the London Design Festival could be an apt time to do so. Niko Koronis’ exhibition Metamorph is in its final days: the Greek architect and designer is showing work in brooding black Belgian marble, including a dining table, floor lamp and side table, their purity and minimalism a feat to achieve in solid stone. Meanwhile, a retrospective of the work of American jeweller Jacqueline Rabun kicks off on 20 September, bringing together 250 pieces across three floors, including celebrated examples created for Danish silversmith Georg Jensen.

Fundamentals of Caring

16-24 September, 7am-11pm. Hart Shoreditch, 61-67 Great Eastern St, London EC2A 3HU
London-based artist and illustrator James Daw has collaborated with Hart Shoreditch to mount a show called Fundamentals of Caring that will weave itself throughout the hotel, from the lobby to the stairwell, bedrooms and ‘curiosity boxes’. Daw has worked with 4D animator Lisa Sheehan and photographer/art assistant Anna Rotar to bring to life the installation, which promises to “break things down to their core shapes and forms, only to mould and sculpt them into extraordinary totems and icons using wood, recycled materials, hardware and 3D printing.” Bespoke aromas by Aromatise will add another sensory layer. A couple of events will take place alongside all this: on 23 September, there’s a one-hour masterclass with ceramicist Will Martin; while 19 September sees a panel discussion on hospitality design and how it can be used as a positive force for good, with Daw, Martin, Hart’s general manager Lina Zakzeckyte, and others.

New Creative Languages: Sartorial Spaces and a Colourful Craftsmanship

16-24 September, Monday-Saturday 10am-7pm, Sunday 11am-5pm. Porro London, The Coal Office, 1 Bagley Walk, London N1C 4PQ

Italian furniture company Porro marks a year since it moved in to King’s Cross’ Coal Office with a showcase of pieces that explore “the codes of its sartorial design”. The most eye-catching of these is the new Linear collection of cabinets, based on a delve into the archives of postmodern architect and designer Alessandro Mendini. With a patchwork of surfaces in primary brights, the cabinets come in limited edition of 50 pieces. The showroom has has a rejig to accommodate this and other work, including the graceful Piero Lissoni-designed Materic Ovale dining table and Lullaby armchair by Nicola Gallizia.

Normal Phenomena of Life by Faber Futures & Ginkgo Bioworks

16-24 September, 10am-5pm. Design District, Building D4, 6 Dormer Yard, Soames Walk, London SE10 0EB

Biomaterials are one of design’s hottest topics, and this show in Greenwich’s Design District introduces a new brand to the world. Normal Phenomena of Life is the brainchild of biodesign lab Faber Futures and Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, styling itself as “the world’s first biodesign-native lifestyle brand.” For a taste of what to expect, pictured is the Original Exploring Jacket, made with microbial dyed silk. A day of talks on 21 September  will delve deeper into what it takes to bring biotechnologies to market, from how to scale up to the power of collaboration.