Clerkenwell Design Week Opens Today in London

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Just like any other industry event, the day before Clerkenwell Design Week opened in London was filled with construction. Boxes were shuffled into showrooms and onto stands, workers climbed on scaffolding to finish art installations, trucks jockeyed for position to deliver furniture and nervous booth designers applied the final coat of paint.

Clerkenwell Design Week — the most important show you probably don't attend, but should — opened to mobs of some of the most influential architects and designers in the world Tuesday, bringing with it the trends that will direct office design for the year to come.

It is nowhere near the size of iSalone in Milan and doesn't command the cachet of Orgatec in Cologne, but Clerkenwell Design Week punches above its weight when it comes to its importance in London's critically important design community. Clerkenwell is, after all, home to more designers per square block than anywhere in the world. It is named after the densely packed neighborhood in London that houses its design community — and office furniture makers like Humanscale, Knoll, Vitra, Steelcase and Haworth, to name a few — that followed them there.

But what makes Clerkenwell Design Week truly special is its blend of office furniture and art. The show features sculptures, street art, makers of bespoke furniture and others who make CDW a trendsetter like few other shows in the world.

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A growing number of North American brands are beginning to understand the power of the show, including those who joined the second annual North American Exhibition, this year a collection of mostly tech companies who are showing their wares in the Project area of the fair. The exhibit is anchored by Nook, a mobile work and meeting space that was used to define the area.

Nook founder David O'Coimin said the exhibit shows the versatility of the product. In the North American Exhibition, it is used in four ways: As a meeting place, as the infrastructure for a food and beverage operation, as a way to exhibit products — Steelcase's Series One chairs were on display there — and as a sensory space for those with special needs.

O'Coimin said he is using Clerkenwell Design Week as a launchpad for his product. “This is all about scaling up and maturing as a business and getting in front of the creative sector at a time when the human component in workplace design is right at the fore,” he said. “We are showing the London design community want can be done in an agile, modular fashion. It is our coming out in many ways after a year and a half of setting the stage.”

In addition to Nook and Steelcase, the North American exhibition also included presentations by INDEAL, MyResourceLibrary, BIFMA, Fellowes/ESi, Intertek and Configura.

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Clerkenwell Design Week is different in that it is spread across a blend of permanent and temporary show spaces in the neighborhood that range from outdoor exhibitions to exhibitors who literally show in the cells in what was once London's most notorious jails and those in the crypt of a church. Others exhibited in their own showrooms, permanent parts of Clerkenwell that act as their hub for designers year round.

Ultrafabrics spent Monday night celebrating the opening of its new permanent showroom in Clerkenwell. It is the first international showroom for the polyurethane fabric maker. Company officials from the U.S. and Japan launched the showroom to act as an innovative, engaging and inspiring destination for clients, designers, and the public at large, as well as the office headquarters for the Ultrafabrics Europe team. Founders Clay Rosenberg and Danielle Boecker-Primack created the company to supply “premium, sustainable and intelligent fabrics that speak to—and elevate—the senses.”

Clerkenwell Design Week is a decidedly British event, one that doesn't take itself as seriously as iSalone in Milan and isn't all business like NeoCon. It is compact and accessible, but still packs a serious punch when it comes to connections with London's important A&D firms. London's design influence spreads far beyond Great Britain. Its architecture and design firms are influential in creating spaces throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

About 35,000 visitors attend the the show — representing about 70 countries. And 65 percent of the visitors are architects and designers. More than 100 showrooms participate and all of them are within walking distance of each other (there is an additional 50 or so “Fringe” participants, which are a short distance away from the neighborhood. In total, there are more than 300 exhibiting brands.

The event runs through Thursday. Look for full coverage of Clerkenwell Design Week in next week's Business of Furniture.