This past May, Clerkenwell Design Week returned to London’s iconic design district, with tile companies eagerly taking the opportunity to showcase both new and existing ranges in some beautifully appointed showrooms. As always, the TSJ team was in attendance, taking note of everything you need to know from the UK’s premier design event.
According to the exhibition’s organisers, 2023 was a “record-breaking” year for CDW, with more than 37,000 attendees walking the district’s streets over its three-day stint. Not only does this mark the highest number of visitors to CDW across its entire 14-year history, it also stands in contrast with a majority of other industry events, which have seen somewhat sluggish returns since the easing of pandemic-era restrictions. Whether this is down to any unique characteristic of the design festival itself, the British public’s relative bullishness on returning to in-person interaction, or even just the early Summer sun, such high footfall made for an undeniable atmosphere around Clerkenwell.
For those who’ve never attended CDW, the show offers a markedly different experience to the average trade exhibition. Rather than taking place in one or even multiple halls, Clerkenwell Design Week is held in participating venues all throughout the district of Clerkenwell – primarily in the permanent showrooms of various manufacturers and distributors (though there is also a number of temporary installations and pop-up areas where other companies are able to promote their products). This set-up offers a few distinct advantages, with just a few small drawbacks.
The show floor
While navigating the festival can be a little obtuse – and certainly more tiring than the compact layouts of most exhibitions – the showrooms themselves are often far grander and more impressive than even the larger stands at international trade shows. RAK Ceramics, for example, hosted visitors in a cavernous below-ground space, featuring enormous material libraries alongside several room sets to illustrate practical applications of the products. For this year’s show, the company also hired a professional chef, who cooked several impressive-looking meals using RAK’s recently launched induction worktop technology.
Ben Bryden, sales and marketing director at RAK Ceramics UK, said: “Clerkenwell Design Week works well on so many levels – for those, like RAK Ceramics, with a permanent presence in the area it’s a chance to show off our spaces, to launch new products and to attract a wider audience than ever during a very busy three days in London’s design district.
“For those visiting and for exhibitors too, it’s a great opportunity to network, to gauge trends and to be inspired. CDW 2023 delivered throughout.”
Elsewhere, companies have repurposed some of the district’s stunning architecture to create fitting homes for their ranges. The Italian manufacturer and B-corp Florim uses an old 18th century courthouse: the “Old Sessions House” as its showroom. “Inside,” the company says, “vaulted ceilings, antique floors and bare brick archways provide an exclusive setting for the Florim products”.
This space also played host to some of the company’s collaborations with artists from within the design world, focusing this year on its Compatta collection, created in partnership with Italian designer Federico Peri.
Collaborations of this kind seem to represent a growing trend for manufacturers and distributors, allowing them to appeal directly to the all-important specification market. While they’ll unlikely ever be the bread-and-butter output of most tile suppliers, these idiosyncratic ranges do show off a creative flair often absent in the typical arsenals of wood- and stone-effects. At this year’s CDW alone, for example, both VitrA and Domus promoted collections in partnership with the designers Tom Dixon and Yinka Illori, respectively.
At its showroom, Cosentino focused primarily on sustainability, while also launching Silestone Urban Crush, which it described as a contemporary collection with an urban feel. Sasha Joseph, Cosentino city showroom manager, said of the show: “Clerkenwell is always an unmissable opportunity for us as a company as it’s one of the key times in our annual calendar when the world of design and architecture collide to be inspired and make new connections.
“Our London City showroom continues to be a space for architects, designers and trade professionals to be inspired and see how Cosentino’s ranges can be utilised for an extremely wide range of projects. This year, we opened our doors to over 900+ professionals, including architects, designers, suppliers and journalists, making it one of our busiest years on record. We were able to showcase our new products and meet new professionals on the hunt for market-leading applications. It was an incredibly successful show for us with a huge number of positive leads off the back of it.”
Home away from home
Another slightly unusual feature of CDW among UK-based events (albeit a very welcome one) is the high level of participation from international manufacturers. While these companies are a rare sight at UK trade shows, their involvement in the design festival is something of a given, since their permanent locations are already installed and set up.
As with the aforementioned Florim showroom, most of the Italian venues are lavishly furnished with archetypically impressive displays. At Marazzi, for example, enormous marble effect porcelain slabs hang from the walls, while the Caesar Ceramiche showroom features collaged walls of backlit floral-effect tiles, displaying various ranges at once.
Special mention should go to the Spanish group, Iris Ceramica, whose “completely renewed” showroom was officially inaugurated at this year’s CDW. The carefully designed three-floor location includes several AR (augmented reality) displays that visitors can use to learn more about the company’s “Eco-Active surfaces”. Iris also showcased its intriguing magnetic laying system which allows tiles to be secured without the use of adhesive.
This year saw a real resurgence for CDW after the challenges and restrictions of Covid. Marlon Cera-Marle, director of design at event organisers Media 10, said, “We’re absolutely delighted with what we achieved this year – not only because we reached our highest visitor numbers yet, but also because we were met with so much excitement and enthusiasm from our visitors and the wider A&D community.” Even if it’s slightly outside the day-to-day interests of most fixers, we still highly recommend visiting CDW if you can when it returns in May 2024.