“Do touch,” is the message around this year’s London Design Festival in which various installations dotted about this city-wide carnival of creations encourage you to engage with them physically.
They include a tapestry to caress at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and stress balls inside a colourful castle to calm things down in the financial district. London's designer shops and international creators are also using the week to launch new products, giving you a chance to be au fait with the zeitgeist. The festival runs from September 16th – 24th and is utterly vast. Here are 10 ways to make the most of your visit.
1 Start at the V&A Museum in South Kensington, the hub of the festival, where you can gather information about events and see installations and exhibitions commissioned for the festival from contemporary designers. These include a colourful lighting room by Flynn Talbot and a Lochness monster-like fluid 21.3m long tapestry by Ross Lovegrove that draws on medieval counterparts housed in the museum. There is also a tower by Palestinian architects Elias and Yousef Anastas, made from lacy stone, that you can wander within and feel the texture. Crafts, furniture and architecture exhibitions are among other events at the museum.
2 Have coffee and eats just up the road at 10 Thurloe Place where there's the pop-up Brompton Cafe with a menu, tableware and furniture created by contemporary designers.
3 While you're in the neighbourhood you could head to the Design Museum on Kensington High Street which, along with its standard exhibits, has commissioned eight designers, including Eduardo Souto de Moura and Jasper Morrison, to explore the potential of marble and limestone in furniture for public and private spaces.
4 Head up to Covent Garden where the ME London hotel on the Strand, designed by Foster + Partners, is holding an exhibition in the atrium that confronts the tide of plastic swimming about our seas and attacking the environment. Australian designer Brodie Neill's Drop in the Ocean installation is another immersive, walk-through experience. Also in the atrium is a display of the designer's Flotsam furniture range made from Ocean Terrazzo that he developed from all that otherwise wasted plastic.
5 Cross the road to Somerset House where the Design Frontiers group exhibition, from September 18th to 24th, involves work by 30 international designers covering areas from cars, fashion and product design to graphics, digital and performance. It explores the line between innovation and marketability, so there should be some future-heralding realistic pieces on show, including one by the head of design at Jaguar motors.
6 From Somerset House bus, walk or bike up to Clerkenwell, one of the Design Districts across London for the event – the others being Bankside, Brixton, Brompton (where the V&A is), Chelsea, Islington, Mayfair, Pimlico and Shoreditch. Each one has launches from designer shops in its area, exhibitions and other events, so you can base yourself in certain districts and move around the hood. On Clerkenwell's Rosebery Avenue, industrial designer Jack Trench is opening his first permanent showroom of handmade kitchens. At 30 Clerkenwell Road, Vitra is also getting interactive, this time with an exhibition of the Eames Plastic Chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1950. Visitors get a chance to customise their own seats, playing with colours and materials on screen. There is a competition to win one of the chairs and graphic print tote bags are being given away.
7 Next up is Islington where there is a collaboration between design shops and showrooms, including Aria, CTO Lighting, Present & Correct, SMUG, Timorous Beasties and twentytwentyone. Aria, on Barnsbury Street, is exhibiting a mash-up between Ligne Roset and 17 Patterns, while twentytwentyone on Upper Street will be showing classic and contemporary designs, with the former by stalwarts such as Robin Day and Friso Kramer/Wim, while new pieces by Michael Anastassiades and Richard Woods/Sebastian Wrong will be unveiled.
8 Seek out the canal towpath (on Murial Street) if you wish for a waterside walk down to Kings Cross where you arrive at the recently transformed Granary Square, home of St Martins fashion college and great restaurants (try the Lighterman overlooking the water). Campari will be serving cocktails from a customised barge and installations in the square include colourful tiled gates by Turkishceramics. In the Designjunction interiors show, from September 21st to 24th, at Kings Cross, more than 200 top lighting, accessory, material and technology brands will show what they can do across five destinations in the area. Look out for companies such as Another Country, Bethan Gray, Deadgood, Decode, Design House Stockholm, Fredericia, Friends & Founders, Humanscale, Kirkby Design x Eley Kishimoto, LSA International, Icons of Denmark, Isokon Plus, James Burleigh, Marset, Morgan Furniture, OMK 1965, Tala, TON, and Very Good & Proper. This is a ticketed event (£12 ahead and £15 on the door: thedesignjunction.co.uk).
9 The 100% Design exhibition at the Olympia, from September 20th to 23rd, gets behind the surfaces of products and buildings this year with its theme of Elements, looking at the fundamentals of design from concept, process, materials and details. Also on is the Decorex International exhibition at Syon Park from September 17th to 20th, highlighting what's happening at the luxury end of the interiors world.
10 Down in the city at Broadgate, the colourful Villa Walala installation, resembling a castle made from child's building blocks, aims to lighten things in the financial district. By artist Camille Walala, it is made from vinyl, PvC and high-strength nylon: the soft construction, partly held up by hot air, invites exploration and offers a counterbalance to the working world around it.