Visitors take in the sights at Clerkenwell DesignWeek in London last year
Visitors take in the sights at Clerkenwell DesignWeek in London last year

Placed at the heart of London’s architecture quarter, Clerkenwell Design Week merits a visit for several reasons. One is the proximity of some high priests of design: the EC1 postcode is densely clustered with architects, which means that the content is more selective, edited to appeal to their design-literate tastes. So what you find at Clerkenwell is usually a hefty dose of modernism combined with a celebration of craftsmanship and innovation.

Secondly, it’s got so much character just by virtue of its location. The show is scattered around key venues among historic churches and lodges, alleyways, gloomy squares and industrial buildings once peopled with watchmakers, publishers, printers, designers and photographers. Sadly, few of these trades are left in EC1. With Crossrail’s imminent arrival pushing prices up, most have migrated to cheaper spaces out east, north and south.

Though the architects prevail, the remainder of Clerkenwell’s workshops and warehouses have been converted into high-spec offices or retail showrooms for design and furnishing brands.

Things to look out for at this year’s event include:

Creative lighting

With Unesco declaring that 2015 is the International Year of Light, lighting is having a bit of a moment, though the real story is the transformation of LED into the ultimate modern light source.

Now quite cheap and widely available, third-generation LEDs provide a full spectrum of shades, rather than the bluey-white previous versions that strip human skin of all natural colour.

Lighting designers are enjoying experimenting with new materials and forms made possible because of its key strengths: miniaturisation of the light source, low temperature and programmability.

Terence Woodgate, one of the UK’s leading modernist furniture and (office) lighting designers, crowdsourced funding for his own range of LED-inspired domestic lighting, which is launching at Clerkenwell. His Solid and Core ranges feature slim shades made of glossy black or pale Carrara marble, or a variety of woods.

Sustainability is one part of the appeal for this new light source — LEDs are said to be 70 per cent more efficient than compact fluorescent lights.

The potential for co-ordinated light settings across all areas of a house, bar or office is also seductive for some.

But it is the LED’s suitability for pairing with delicate fabric, metal, glass or paper creations that is exciting both Woodgate and other designers, such as Louise Tucker, a graduate of Chelsea College of Art and Design (now called Chelsea College of Arts).

Her creations woven from fine strips of wood veneer are on show in the Platform section, a showcase for new designers in the atmospheric House of Detention (a former Victorian prison).

Elsewhere, SCP is presenting New York’s hottest lighting design studio, Roll & Hill, at Clerkenwell.

Founded in 2010 by designer Jason Miller, Roll & Hill collaborates with a range of leading US designers to create one-off and limited-edition sculptural light pieces.

Outdoor living

Advances in materials technology have given rise to a new wave of robust, elegant outdoor furniture, one of the key themes at this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan. Making the most of outdoor spaces is a perennial trend, as designer Rupert McKelvie knows. Only a few years out of college, the former boatbuilder started picking up commissions to create bespoke cabins and retreats, which he now produces under the brand Out of the Valley.

From his Teign Valley base in Devon, McKelvie is working on a new line of furniture to launch at Clerkenwell, perfect for equipping “rustic-luxe” off-grid hideaways or urban garden dens.

Danish brand Cane-line has been producing rain and weatherproof furniture for 25 years, and is celebrating this by offering visitors to Detail (the higher-end wing of the show, in the Priory Church at the Order of St John) a chance to relax in the venue’s back garden, enjoying a free glass of Champagne Jacquart as they do so.

New British makers and international superstars

If you want to support British craftsmanship or be the first to discover new talent, young UK makers and craftsmen will be hosted in The Shed, a space behind the Farmiloe Building, aka “The Design Factory”, where the main furniture displays and talks are held.

This year Shed residents include contemporary brand Case Furniture, which is unveiling the Loku range by Japanese-born Shin Azumi. She has been pushing plywood to its limits to create furniture that is visually and physically light, yet strong.

In the Farmiloe Building itself you can find more established British brands such as Pinch, which is marking its 10th birthday with a barstool, called Avery. Benchmark, another UK maker, will host a residency of “Fixperts” showing how good but damaged furniture can be repaired.

When it comes to big-name international designers, French duo Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec are always worth investigating and new pieces from them, and Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, will be on Italian brand Magis’s stand.

The father of modernism, Le Corbusier, is being celebrated at Cassina, which is marking the 50th anniversary of his death with a new edition of the distinctive furniture range designed for him by Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret.

The firm has delved back into Le Corbusier’s archives to create a new LC50 range upgraded in a manner felt to reflect the great man’s aesthetics; this includes the introduction of organic leather and a new palette of colours inspired by archive discoveries.

Pop-up lounging

Clerkenwell offers a rich assortment of spaces for soaking up the sun, taking a breather, or just enjoying the atmosphere. Making the most of this, CDW Presents is a relatively recent addition to the show’s programme, inviting architects and designers to showcase their talents with pop-up spaces and structures dotted around the area.

This year, an enclosure is being created for the show by willow sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon and furniture maker Sebastian Cox, nestling under the archway of St John’s Gate. Called “The Invisible Store of Happiness”, its three metre-high walls are formed of rippling strips of steamed and bent maple and cherry wood, supplied by the American Hardwood Export Council.

Architecture charity Article 25 will invite visitors to make the most of Clerkenwell Green, with a commission for London-based practice Russ + Henshaw to design an “Agora on the Green”.

Described as “a seemingly endless table top”, the structure twists, turns and elevates to create rooms and meeting spaces.

These serendipitous encounters of new pieces of public space add a civilised — and civilising — touch to proceedings, ensuring that visitors come away inspired.

Clerkenwell Design Week runs from May 19 to 21; clerkenwelldesignweek.com

Photograph: John Cardwell

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