The best furniture designs? They’re launched at Clerkenwell in London

Furniture showroom at Clerkenwell Design Week

Clerkenwell Design Week for furniture designers, buyers and manufacturers is like the Monaco Grand Prix for the F1 community. The whole European furniture industry converges on this fashionable corner of London every May, meets in person, tilts the latest ergonomic chairs, feels a plethora of fabrics, and shakes hands on a successful deal or two. Corks pop, and there is a real buzz in the air amongst interior architects, interior, product and lighting designers, acoustics specialists, furniture makers, and their associated movers and shakers.

People in the furniture industry meeting at Clerkenwell Design Week

I was at CDW 2024 to meet key furniture industry figures, and in this blog I quiz them on their innovations and also look at inclusive office design which enhances the wellbeing of our neurodiverse colleagues.

Why is Clerkenwell a global hub of furniture design?

Clerkenwell furniture design hub in London

Creative businesses started moving into Clerkenwell in the 1980s, attracted by the interesting historic buildings and relatively cheap rents. “Few other London neighbourhoods so nonchalantly balance artistic sensibilities alongside commercial prowess” points out Natalie Thomson from innovative architects Buckley Gray Yeoman. Clerkenwell is now home to more architects and other creative businesses per square mile than anywhere else in the world, and with 37,000 visitors, numerous exhibitions, events and 160 showrooms, Clerkenwell Design Week is the UK’s leading design festival.

“The design culture of this area is unique” says Jonathan Parr from furniture manufacturers Vitra.

How can we bring fun elements to office furniture design?

Pontoon modular sofa for offices by Pledge

I had the chance to interview the successful furniture designer Jo Day from Rivr at Clerkenwell, and sit myself on Pontoon, her new very stylish modular sofa for workspaces. One of her early career experiences was to design for theme parks and this love of entertainment and fun comes across in her furniture designs still now.

“I took inspiration from my former rowing club for the Pontoon seating (pictured above), which constructed colourful floating pontoons from square plastic blocks in a huge variety of configurations. There’s limitless flexibility with this sofa, Pontoon can be arranged to create comfortable meeting areas for collaboration and quiet spots for solitary work.” It consists of a two or three seater chassis base onto which any combination of stool, chair, pod seat, table or planter can be arranged. You simply clip each component onto the base.

Jo Day furniture designer meets Kate Wright

MARK Products’ Otto Laptop Table in the Posturite shop, developed and designed by Hart Miller in collaboration with ergonomist Kirsty Angerer, is another fun idea.

Otto Laptop Table from MARK Products in Clerkenwell

You simply raise the section at the back of the table when you’d like your laptop at eye level – to make a video call for example.

What’s happening in office furniture and workplace design in 2024?

Office furniture by Flokk at Posturite

Sustainability is the leading theme at Clerkenwell Design Week this year. “I don’t want to put another stick of furniture onto the planet without good reason” says furniture designer Jo Day. If you ever need to repair her Pontoon modular seating design, you can repair or reupholster just one unit. Recycled and recyclable materials have been used, locally sourced where possible and is fully manufactured within the UK. She’s currently exploring the benefits of natural materials in her next furniture designs.

Hugo Youngman, Head of Marketing at Posturite, wants solutions from partners and suppliers in the furniture industry to the problem that currently only 1% of all textiles are recycled. “The move toward circularity is governed by investment” he says. “Mechanical recycling of natural fibres is easier, eventually the fibres will shorten and this ultimately limits reuse and means some virgin fabric is necessary to strengthen the yarn. However, when you move to thermo mechanical and chemical, more energy is required to break down or separate the materials, and to date recycling in this area is more limited. The trick is to design products that use a singular source material.”

He also loves furniture which uses waste as a resource. There are exciting uses of waste materials at Flokk in furniture, and I loved the way that Wehlers communicated their use of recycled fishing nets so clearly in the 18th century Old Sessions House at Clerkenwell Design Week: ‘This chair contains 400m2 of waste fishing nets’.

Sustainable furniture at Clerkenwell Design Week

(By the way, the Workclub from Knotel at historic Old Sessions House for coworking and London meeting room hire is SERIOUSLY lovely. I would quite happily float about these glamorous rooms with London’s beautiful people and blog from the bar…)

Booths were promoted all over the place at Clerkenwell. See the booth in the photo below from Clerkenwell whose shape and colour is reminiscent of a London Underground carriage – fun perhaps for non-commuters but a bit ironic for those that already suffer that fate in the morning? What do you think of this booth whose interior is encased in gold velour too?

Acoustic pods and booths at Clerkenwell Design Week

The ‘Hushoffice’ acoustic pod by Haworth is a good choice. I took a seat inside one of these classy beasts at the Posturite Roadshow and they have a real feel of quality and do tick the ergonomic boxes.

“Meeting pods are in high demand now” Martin Evetts, the UK and Ireland MD from Haworth pictured below, tells me. “Pods which seat two to four people are on offer, and have the tech that’s perfect for hybrid meetings when you have a mix of in-person and remote attendees taking part.” The HushAccess.L freestanding acoustic pod for groups is also available from Haworth, with a lower threshold and wider wheelchair-accessible entryway.

Martin Evetts from Haworth at Clerkenwell Design Week

Martin identifies acoustics, lighting, sustainability and inclusive design with a focus on neurodiversity as being their key workplace design focus areas this year.

‘Help! I’m overwhelmed by choice in workplace furniture!’

The Posturite scouts from the Project Furniture Team were out in force at Clerkenwell Design Week and strengthened alliances with industry leaders including Haworth, MDK Office Seating, Flokk, Elite and Viasit and spotted new furniture brands to investigate.

Flokk office furniture from Posturite

There are 28 chair brands available on the Posturite website – but the team have independent access to the entire furniture market too, so they make the best recommendations to clients based on each individual brief for a workplace redesign or upgrade. Seating Specialist at Posturite Scott Bottomer explains that “Leaning on us with all the market knowledge can really cut the time and cost of deciding on the right office furniture for your business.”

What can you do to make your office design more appealing?

One of the best panel discussions at Clerkenwell Design Week was on ‘How to create exceptional spaces for stimulating thought’ with ideas on colour, light and design in the working environment.

Clerkenwell Design Week panel discussion about inspiring workplace design

Kerstin Zumstein from Design Anthology UK quizzed art curator Zoe Allen from Artistic Statements, French artist Pauline Loctin and flexible workspace expert for Uncommon, Gosia Jacygrad. The panel discussed the continuing need to bring people together to create a community in a workspace, the connection between productivity and wellbeing, and how art has the power to form a human connection. A striking art installation in a corporate foyer can be a talking point for team members and be a refreshing and positive sight as you begin your working day. It beats the bland and it inspires.

Pauline Loctin recommends Chartreuse Yellow and Hot Pink as the best colours to “shift the mood of the room and bring joy” and incorporate into your office design.

There were quirky interiors ideas at the Clerkenwell festival including dazzling glass leaf displays for corporate headquarter atriums from Multiforme, and a walnut table from Italian makers Unopervolta with a beautiful nature motif which would make a stunning boardroom table perhaps.

Ideas and inspiration at Clerkenwell Design Week

What’s new to appeal to neurodiverse people in the workplace?

The ‘Breaking Barriers: Championing Neurodiversity in Office Design’ exhibition in the Haworth furniture showroom was impressive and I enjoyed meeting the students from Chelsea College of Arts, UAL, who talked me through their exploration of #DesigningForAllMinds.

Product and Furniture Design student Alicia Hackett designed a ‘Communication Enabler’; a table-top sculpture for an office, made from recycled Haworth furniture offcuts which would help neurodiverse people to start conversations with colleagues. Having this focal point “reduces the anxiety of thinking up small talk” she explains.

Championing neurodiversity in office design

Another UAL student designed a ‘Terra Scape’ biophilic design for the office, encouraging office workers to take microbreaks from their screens to care for the plants by using the integrated watering can.

Flokk are also exploring neurodiversity in design:

“Common practices such as ‘hot-desking’ can be very stressful for ND people. Pile on music playing on the office Sonos and glaring lights from neon lights spelling out corporate slogans and you’ve got the perfect storm of distractions that can curtail neurodivergent people from reaching their potential. But by specifying the right products, designers can help provide suitable spaces for everyone.” One place to start in your office design is with acoustic ceiling baffles and sound-absorbing panels to control reverberant noise.

A furniture designer’s workspace

It’s nice to think of Jo Day brainstorming furniture design ideas in her workshop – in pen and paper to start with – surrounding herself with off-the-wall vintage artefacts such as a Tootaloop radio, to make her creative workspace her own.

Furniture has a real role to play in company culture” she tells me. “People enjoy going to the office if it’s not just a sea of desks.” 

Enjoying going to the office

 

Additional photos by Sam Frost Photography for CDW.

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