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HomeFeatured ArticlesLondon’s design hub returns to form

London’s design hub returns to form

Following a two-year hiatus owing to pandemic restrictions, Clerkenwell Design Week returned this May, with the comfortingly familiar setting playing host to a plethora of fresh ideas, revamped showrooms and new faces.

Naturally, the events of the last two years loomed large over proceedings, and barely a conversation passed without reference to and reflection on how much life has changed since the previous CDW. The long-term economic ramifications of the pandemic have already begun to make themselves felt, while ongoing supply chain issues have only been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, which has disrupted the crucial sourcing of clay used in ceramic manufacturing.

Nonetheless, a sense of resilient optimism filled the district’s streets throughout the three-day event, and it was impossible to leave without taking some of that positivity back home. Finally reconnecting with the diverse cross-section of our industry that attends CDW offered countless opportunities for learning, networking and friendly conversation – opportunities which, despite our most valiant efforts and clever workarounds, simply do not exist outside of in-person events.

This optimism and creativity was most obvious in the showrooms and exhibitions themselves, which impressed with strong emphases on colour, sensory feedback and, of course, sustainability. The scope and urgency necessary in our response to climate change is understood now more than ever, and this was absolutely reflected in the breadth and ingenuity of ideas expressed throughout the event.

In many ways, and particularly after such a long absence, this year’s CDW felt like something new – out of the ordinary and exciting again. What was most encouraging, however, was just how seamlessly the event managed to pick up where it left off. In response to the incredible turbulence of the last few years, companies have been compelled to change in many functional ways, but it’s heartening to see that, at least in London’s Clerkenwell, the industry is definitely back on form.

Bigger and better
According to the show’s organisers, this year’s CDW was the largest in its 13 year history. More than 400 events, 150 showrooms and 10 exhibition venues meant visitors were “spoilt for choice on how to spend their time… as masses of people travelled to EC1 to listen in on topical talks at Conversations at Clerkenwell, visit the street sculptures and artistic installations and explore all that CDW 2022 had to offer.” This expansive variety clearly enticed the crowds, with over 30,000 visitors reportedly attending this year’s event, across more showrooms than ever before.

CDW2022 welcomed a number of additional exhibition venues, including Covered, sponsored by RAK Ceramics and located in Charterhouse Square. This venue was dedicated to interior surfaces from walls to floors across the commercial, residential and hospitality sectors.

Ceramics of Italy housed a special display of design and craftsmanship. Working in collaboration with the Ceramics Association of Italy, the Italian Trade Agency showcased nine brands in a specially-built venue in St John’s Square.

Conversations at Clerkenwell, sponsored by Equitone, saw many topical talks taking place over the week. Kicking off with British Designer Tom Dixon in conversation with journalist Bethan Ryder, the series of daily talks explored and presented a range of topics, drawing upon insight, opinion and debates from creatives, business leaders and designers. Conversations at Clerkenwell was curated by Katie Richardson and hosted in a bespoke auditorium.

The showrooms
Venturing around the festival, TSJ explored many of the tiling showrooms that had opened their doors for the event. While it was impossible to go everywhere and see everything, inventiveness, creativity and sheer enthusiasm were evident wherever we looked.

For example, Solus partnered with London-based architectural practice, Szczepaniak Astridge, on an installation at the tile supplier’s showroom using Kettley Quarry tiles. According to the company, the team welcomed over 2,500 visitors to its showroom “where we were able to tell the story of a fascinating 200-year-old product from our Midlands neighbours, Ketley Brick.

“‘The Marl Pit’ is a stunning installation using Ketley Quarry tiles from architectural practice Szczepaniak Astridge. The multi-sensory experience can be seen, heard, touched, smelled, and moved across.

“A conventionally laid tile floor meets a curving wall of tiles stacked on interstitial spacers, showing the depth of the tile, and moving up to elbow height. This creates a kind of proscenium for performers and speakers. The stacked walls continue away from the stage and wrap the bar area.”

In front of the stage area, tiles were arranged loosely on their sides, as they would be stacked in the kiln, so that when the audience moved across them, they clinked and shifted, providing additional sensory feedback to the visitor. Ketley Quarry has a colour gradation from a warm ruddy orange to a cool metallic blue grey, and the architects made full use of the available visual effects.

The concept behind ‘The Marl Pit’ arises from Szczepaniak Astridge’s interest in sensory architecture – an architecture that does not only address the visual acuity but engages our hearing, touch, smell, movement.

The installation was achieved with the hard work of the showroom team, who unloaded several tons of tiles into the space; as well as Trainor Tile and Stone, who laid and fitted the installation.
“Response to the installation was overwhelmingly positive,” Solus says. “The moment of cognitive dissonance from stepping up onto a moving floor gave our team the opportunity to share the story of Ketley Quarry with visitors.”

A series of events ran alongside and inside the installation. The showroom held talks from industry leaders, along with a panel discussion on ‘Leadership with Purpose’, performances by DJs and musicians, as well as some lively parties.

The company also took the opportunity to introduce its recently appointed sustainability manager, Ken Graham, who will lead the company’s environmental efforts as part of its ongoing commitment to sustainable business practices.

Elsewhere, RAK Ceramics unveiled its magnificent new showroom, a cavernous underground space showcasing the company’s huge array of tiles in both traditional product displays and room installations, demonstrating how the materials can be applied to real-world projects.

Located at 100 St John Street, the company’s first ever Ceramics Design Hub is one of the largest showrooms in the area, comprising 7,276 sqft across two floors.

“The space allows visitors to explore limitless design possibilities for their projects and showcases a wide range of RAK Ceramics bathroom ranges, kitchen taps, and brassware,” the company says. The location also offers meeting facilities and a dedicated area showing the brand’s range of tiles, including mega slabs which can be used for cladding, tiling, surfacing, and as unique decorative pieces.

The hub is also described as “an interactive and immersive environment designed to inspire creativity,” and includes a working kitchen display, working tap display, Virtual Worlds 4D Theatre and a Grab and Go sample area.

Abdallah Massaad, Group CEO, RAK Ceramics said: “London is the obvious choice to launch our first global Design Hub concept. The UK is an increasingly important market for RAK Ceramics, and London is home to many of the world’s leading designers, architects, and project specifiers. The RAK Ceramics Design Hub is a unique concept where the design community can experience the innovative possibilities of our products.”

Leonardo De Muro, VP of marketing & communications, RAK Ceramics said: “The RAK Ceramics Design Hub is a unique concept in our retail portfolio which allows us to bring together the design community, showcase unique products, and create a brand experience that is both inspiring and informative.”

The official launch of the RAK Ceramics Design Hub took place on May 24, 2022, during CDW. To celebrate its opening, designers Maurizio Scuttella, Federico Sandri, and Patrick Nourget hosted a series of special talks throughout the event.

A few minutes’ walk away from that opulent location, on 6 Great Sutton Street, Mapei welcomed visitors at its own refurbished showroom, hosting a range of workshops and events as appetising as they were visually appealing!

During Day One, the company’s grout & sealant showcase saw the launch of several grout and sealant colours, as well as its Kerapoxy Easy Design and Mapecolor Metallic products. An exhibition of tiles and mosaics demonstrated creative displays using complementary and contrasting grout tones.

Visitors were able to experiment with different combinations throughout the event – from a palette of 86 shades – using the company’s Grout App. To celebrate the launches, the BRIK Chocolate Workshop allowed visitors to create tasty samples of Ice Grout – a bespoke chocolate bar iced in the Mapei grout colours. Visitors also enjoyed nitro desserts in the additional shades/flavours, with savoury snacks from the Nacho trike throughout the three-day event.

On day two, a cementitious & resin flooring showcase focused on the launch of additional Ultratop Loft colours, with examples of bespoke effects achieved using Ultratop Loft, Ultratop and Resin Flooring. Visitors were also invited to create their own chocolate terrazzo bar at Mapei’s BRIK Chocolate Workshop and savour Loft coloured/flavoured nitro desserts.

Day three included a paint & coatings showcase, with an exhibition of the company’s wall coatings in paint and tonachino, and examples of the textures and colours achievable using external and internal coatings. On this final day, the company also hosted a gnome-themed paint workshop, with paint coloured/flavoured nitro desserts.

Until next time…
This was just a small sampling of the imagination and artistry on display throughout CDW 2022, which extended across dozens more showrooms and exhibitions. From the Parkside & Strata sustainability studio’s student workshops, to Schlüter-Systems’ gaming challenges, which repurposed the company’s products into exciting challenges, it was clear to see the time away hasn’t dulled the industry’s flair for beautiful and useful designs.

Whether you’re a designer, an installer or a retailer, CDW is always well worth a visit, showcasing a dense collection of thoughtful work that inspires and delights. This year’s event was no exception. We look forward to covering Clerkenwell Design Week once again when it returns in May 2023.

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