Veronica Simpson shares some of the highlights of this February’s Surface Design Show in London
Business Design Centre, London
11 – 13 February 2020
How can a design trade fair address issues of climate resilience and the sustainable use of resources while promoting newness and diversity? In response to current anxieties over the escalating climate crisis, for its 15th iteration, the Surface Design Show has made its 2020 focus Close to Home. This theme informs the selection of the 170-plus exhibitors who will fill London’s Business Design Centre, from 11 to 13 February, in celebration of both home-grown and locally resourced materials and makers and UK design talent, as well as the materials that define the regions of Europe from which the exhibitors are drawn.
So while there will, as ever, be marble from Italy, ceramics from Portugal (Viúva Lamego) and tiles from Spain (Tile of Spain), there will also be innovative and thoughtprovoking products using waste materials. Armourcoat’s new acoustic plaster system, made of 80% recycled material, offers an elegant marble-based plaster finish that allows sound energy to pass through the surface, while Blue Bamboo Design presents bespoke, natural and sustainable wall coverings.
Handcarved and painted leather roof tiles from Janine Partington. Image credit: Janine Partington
There are also tiles and lamps made using compressed coffee grounds, from the That’s Caffeine project by Atticus Durnell, one of many innovative exhibitors in the 2020 New Talent section, curated by Jennifer Castoldi, chief creative director at Trendease International which features more than double the number of emerging talents, compared with last year. Pushing that materials envelope even further is New Talent exhibitor Paula Nerlich, whose current biomaterials-focused research investigates vegan compostable bioplastics and foams made from industrial and household waste.
The drive for sustainability has led to a revival of some of the oldest craft processes, as Studio Gilles Werbrouck demonstrates. This Brussels-based designer spent time in the fashion industry before launching his studio in 2018 with a focus on knitted textiles — the least wasteful of all textile processes — for interiors. Using either unconventional material such as unspooled VHS tape or repurposing dead, end-of-season stock collected from fashion designers, his textiles can be used as upholstery, cushioning or wall art.
Brussles-based Studio Gilles Werbrouck works with knitted textiles in unconventional applications
Embroidery has also made a comeback, evident in the work of Charlotte Relf, who describes her practice as ‘experimental embroidery’ — she exaggerates stitches to add textural richness and surreal perspectives to her designs — and Frances Stone, a graduate of the Royal School of Needlework, who embellishes her foot stools, chairs and cushions with gold work, crewel work and beading.
New Talent also reflects a surge in appreciation for vibrant prints in interiors. There is optical wizardry from Catherine Griffiths, whose work is inspired by Celtic mythology, Renaissance art and European architecture. Barcelona-based King Kong Design’s muted but compelling plays on line and form are revealed in its range of wall art and bespoke wall coverings. Eye-popping colours emerge in the floral imagery of Jonel van Schalkwyk’s latest Garden collection, as well as in recent work from Leeds Arts University graduate Louise Barlow, whose vibrant designs are displayed on handcrafted sustainable acrylic tiles, illustrated scarves and wallpaper.
A lamp made using compressed coffee grounds, from Atticus Durnell’s That’s Caffeine project
Inspirational experimentation is always a feature of the show, and this year’s highlights include Janine Partington, known for her handcarved and painted leathers, who this year launches a new valchromat range, a wood fibre panel impregnated with organic dyes and chemically bonded with special resins to give the panels a richer texture and appearance. Another highlight will be Megan Cowley’s intriguing glass tiles, created by waterjet printing on to mild steel moulds whose patterns are then transferred on to glass.
Conversation and debate is also at the core of Surface Design Show’s appeal, and sustainable design practices underpin the 30 different spoken word events from 50 speakers. The show kicks off with an opening night debate on climate emergency, hosted by RIBA Journal’s editor Eleanor Young, and featuring panellists from the three Stirling Prize-shortlisted practices of 2019 whose work most directly addresses sustainability in design: Mikhail Riches, the prize winner, discussing its socially and environmentally intelligent council housing scheme in Norwich; Witherford Watson Mann whose Nevill Holt Opera House transformed a crumbling school courtyard; and the innovative cork construction materials presented by Dido Milne and CSK Architects’ Cork House.
GoodWaste, a project from PechaKucha speaker and Blueprint One to Watch Ambra Dentella, which creates furniture from waste materials
The next night is crowned with a lively PechaKucha evening, in partnership with Blueprint for the Future, themed around responsible and innovative sourcing of materials, hosted by Chris Dyson of Chris Dyson Architects, with speakers including Joe Morris, founding director of Morris+Company, Luke Tozer, director of Pitman Tozer Architects, Stella Ioannou, director of Lacuna, Ambra Dentella of GoodWaste (featured in Blueprint’s Ones to Watch 2019), Daniel Campbell, director at Stiff + Trevillion Architects, and even sculptor Richard Wilson.
Surface Spotlight Live, curated by trend expert Sally Angharad and forecaster Colour Hive, will investigate the future priorities for our material sourcing, looking at manufacturers’ impact on the environment, from the manufacturing and extraction processes to the fuel used in shipping products all over the world. The whole life cycle of products will also be investigated, from the reuse of discarded materials at the start and end of a project.
Louise Barlow’s colourful designs are found on handcrafted, sustainable acrylic tiles
On the main stage, 17 planned panel discussions and talks will include Jo Roan, associate strategy director at PriestmanGoode discussing the steps this global practice takes to ‘Reduce. Reuse. Rethink’ to my discussion with RCKa partner Anthony Staples of ‘The poetics of the provisional’, in light of the practice’s award-winning reinvention of a church hall and annexe as community centre, cafe and co-working space.
Light School is one of the show’s key components, reflecting London’s place at the epicentre of cutting-edge lighting design. This year, the Light Talks programme includes presentations on responsible lighting options from Greta Smetoniute of Michael Grubb Studio, and masterclasses on collaboration with Sunny Sribanditmongkol of Studio 29, and one on biophilic lighting, with Graham Festenstein. All these talks will take place in a new Light Talks theatre, designed by Rebecca Weir’s lightbout.iQ as a celebration of the seductive interplay between light and surface.
The show culminates in The Surface Design Awards, attracting 107 entries from over 21 countries, with winners announced on 13 February.