18 November 2016

The Design Museum moves across London to Kensington

"Moving the Design Museum to Kensington is the most important moment in my design career - so far"! was Terence Conran's inspiring remark at the preview opening of the new site on Kensington High Street, London. He's put a lot of his own money into the development and move of this museum so he has every right to feel proud of this impressive new building. 

Rising from the relic of old Commonwealth Institute building, which has been derelict for over a decade. a new stunning home to showcase UK design in a world class space has emerged.

As you enter, your eye is drawn up to the roof through an enormous atrium and the revolving words 'designer', 'user', 'maker' are a splash of colour against the gorgeous pale wood and pale marble of the stairs, walkways and walls. 

The shapes and angles in every direction remind you that this is a museum for architecture as well as design and I spent much of my visit just standing and enjoying this stunning space. 

Good design is everywhere, including the museum map which takes the form of a tear off sheet, reminiscent of a toilet roll!  The sleek lines and use of natural materials are so attractive and reminiscent of the new Tate Modern.

There are 3 exhibitions to visit, however it should be noted that only one of those is free and my favourite, the Beazley Designs of the Year will cost you £9 for an adult ticket.  The Beazley gallery has great displays of designs in a wide range of applications from bikes to clothes to ceramic 3-D printing, however it was the section of design used to save the environment that caught my eye.   I love to see designers looking at the possibilities of improving the lives of poor people and caring for our world. Here are a few:

A smog collector which turns it into a dense, carbon rich powder that has been used in jewellery making: 

A book whose pages can be torn out and used as a filter which purifies water that is not safe to drink and makes it clean drinking water. The pages of the book have the instructions for use printed on them and each page can purify 100 litres of water so a book could last a family a year!

Trainers made from recycled plastic found in the oceans:

As someone who has a very small London kitchen, the simple clever appliances designed in Japan for MUJI looked spot on. I was told that the objects you use most often have been designed with curves to make them easier for us to adapt to and feel comfortable with.  The item with the spoon is a mini rice maker - clever!

The free to visit areas in the Designer, Maker, User section has a great time-line of design which was well worth a read and a wall of oh so familiar products celebrates the style of objects that shape our everyday lives.

The other ticketed exhibition is Fear and Love, where you can explore the work of 11 innovative and thought provoking designers.  Immediately, you are drawn to the robot, Mimus, as 'she' is moving around in her perspex box with that robot noise they make. I chatted with the designer and she showed me how Mimus is programmed to follow visitors around and look closely if she interested in them.  It's rather spooky and not quite as endearing as the designer thinks......

She hasn't spotted me yet....

Eeek, she's found me!

There's more 3 D printing, wearable technology, a beautiful display of wool to demonstrate a machine that is able to separate fibres by fabric and colour, giving us hope that landfill for clothes may be a thing of the past:

The exterior and the roof remain of the original Commonwealth Institute building remain as well as this splendid 1960s map which left us wondering what the difference was between the cream and the brown countries?  The original stained glass windows have also been retained and can be found by the shop. 

As Sir Terence Conran said, this museum will "educate, inspire and delight future generations and truly make a difference to the world around us."  Sir T and the Director Deyan Sudjic placed a great deal of emphasis on the importance of the creative industries to the UK economy and the UK's place as a world leader in this area.  Sir T feels strongly that government needs to "appreciate the importance of design to the quality of life of citizens and to the economy".  On a lighter note, he loves the building so much that Sir T said "I feel I'd like to live here"! 

Of course there is a top quality, good looking shop awaiting you and to spoil visitors even more they have 2 shops, one inside the museum and the other in one of the new residential buildings as you come across just off Kensington High Street. 

More information about the new Design Museum here, including opening times and ticket prices. 

Bye for now. 


15 November 2016

Welcome back to two of London's great houses: part 1, the Queen's House.

2016 has undoubtedly had some bad moments, upsets and losses so I've been seeking solace in my home town. London cheers me up every day with sights that lift the mood and as Samuel Johnson said ' when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life'.  Samuel was clearly from a different age and surely meant women as well!  So exploring London is how I lift myself up and although new experiences are good fun, I really enjoy welcoming back old friends. 

This year we saw the return of 2 of London's great houses, both wonderfully refurbished. The Queen's House in Greenwich and the impressive Banqueting House on Whitehall. 

Part 1 brings you the Queen's House which was designed by prominent architect Inigo Jones and completed in 1635. However, it had taken 20 years to build during which time the original Queen it was built for, Anne of Denmark, had died! She was the wife of James 1 and it was their son, Charles 1 (more of him later in part 2!) who gave this beautiful building to his wife Henrietta Maria. This elegant building was the first in the classical style in England and would have caused quite a stir at the time. King George lll bequeathed it to a charity in 1805, as he preferred to be in Kew Palace, and it become a school until 1934 when it was taken over by the National Maritime Museum. 

Reopened in time to celebrate its 400th anniversary, the house has undergone a wonderful restoration which incorporates new work and showcases its famous art collection.  There is so much to enjoy here but top tips to look out for are: the Great Hall; the geometrical floor; the gold leaf in the ceiling by Richard Wright; the tulip staircase; the painting of Queen Elizabeth 1; and, the collection of fabulous paintings.

As you arrive, the elegant proportions of the house greet you:

The Great Hall is Inigo Jones's perfect cube and retains most of his original features.

The marble floor uses black Belgian and white Italian marble in a magnificent geometric pattern.

Richard Wright, a Turner prize-winner, used the theme of gold leaf, found throughout the house, to add a feeling of lightness to the Great Hall. The original paintings were removed and taken to Marlborough House and Wright's work responded to the house and its tradition of the highest level of craftsmanship. 

The tulip stairs are so graceful with these wonderful curves which are captivating  They were the first staircase in England to have no central support, as each step locks into the next so supports itself.  The original blue has been restored on the ironwork in a striking contrast the the pale walls. 

The painting of Queen Elizabeth 1 is the newest acquisition in the collection was saved for the nation this year by public donations where it can be enjoyed in person although the light in that room makes it a little hard to photograph! Elizabeth was born here, as was her father Henry Vlll, so it is particularly important that this painting has returned to her first home. This was painted just after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, a campaign planned by the Queen and her advisers, here at the Queen's House. 

There are numerous fine and famous paintings in this collection along with some more modern pieces, as well as some fascinating artifacts. Here are just a few to whet your appetite:

Van de Velde The Younger 

Painting of a kangaroo by Stubbs who had never seen one! 

A room called Face of War with 'ordinary' navy men 

LS Lowry

Richard Eurich 

 This bust of Galileo has a hidden nook which is said to contain a piece of crimson velvet, a relic of his academic chair!

As you leave, one of Greenwich's great views faces you so take a moment to relish the symmetry and grandeur of the Old Royal Naval College. 

There is a great deal to enjoy at the Queen's House and amazingly it's free to visit! 

For more info about visiting the Queen's House,  click here.

Keep an eye out for part 2, the Banqueting House  - coming soon!

Bye for now,

8 November 2016

A luxury dessert tour of London

I was looking forward to a massive sugar rush when I was booked on a Luxe Dessert Tour of London. We met in London's most famous meeting spot, by the statute of Eros in Piccadilly Circus, although it's not Eros but his brother Anteros, but that is another story.... 

It was raining so umbrellas were up and raincoats pulled tight but our guide Lynton was full of energy and enthusiasm and was determined to make us forget the weather.  Our two and a half hour tour around London's posh shops was a great way to explore the area, learn about its rich history and taste some wonderful treats. Our tour was a new one from Intrepid Travel's Urban Adventures and we were delighted to be trying it out!

Our guide in full flow
Our first stop was Fortnum and Masons, but not before we'd heard about Hatchard's, London's oldest bookshop which has been serving readers since 1797, including the Royals who get their books here. Opposite, if you look carefully you can see  Albany House, which has been home to London's posh bachelors since 1802 including Lord Byron who'd pop over the road to Hatchards to sign his books. No need be a bachelor these days and rumours are that Terence Stamp is a current resident.  On to Fortnums, famous for being the Queen's grocer, to lust after all their beautiful goods and their luxury hampers in particular. I wonder which ones the royal family enjoy with a cup of Fortnums famous tea. 

Extra-ordinary biscuits 

Glace fruits

I'd love this hamper for Christmas

Tea, Fortnums style 

We popped into the Royal Academy for some interesting history nuggets and a photo opportunity with an original red phone box, K2s as they are known to the experts. 
K2 phone box 

On to Burlington Arcade for our first tasting treat from the famous Parisian macaron shop, Laduree, which sells the most beautiful creations in a vibrant range of colours and flavour. They are just the right side of chewy with good amounts of filling and wonderfully moist. Burlington Arcade was the first glass covered shopping street in the world and is the epitome of elegant retailing with its own guards, called Beadales, who look a bit stern but are happy to pose for a photo. Dating back to 1819, the arcade's shops have offered top class discrete shopping to the stars of the past and present and to the Royals. 

Macarons from Laduree
Guarding Burlington Arcade 
Elegant Burlington Arcade

On to Godiva Chocolate shop on Regents Street to taste these top end Belgian chocolates and enjoy their displays. We wove our way into the heart of Mayfair, passing by Saville Row to hear about the Beatles last concert which took place on the roof of their office building until a neighbour complained about the noise and had them shut down!

Pretty in pink 

Chocolate snowmen 

Our guide made sure that we had plenty of stories to entertain us as we walked around this fascinating part of London, he also pointed out signs and buildings and even found things that this London resident hadn't seen before, including these signs on the Bag O Nails club: 

Popping into Kingly Court,  walking through Liberty's and strolling down Carnaby Street, we got a real feel of Soho, its history and place in pop culture while taking in the luxurious feel of every inch of Liberty's.  Then it was on to our final stop where the chocolate went into overdrive! The eccentrically named Choccywoccydoodah is full of extraordinary chocolate creations and is a feast for the eyes. We snuck up the back stairs to their secret room on the top floor where the highlight of our tour was their chocolate feast.   Plates of chocolate cake, dark, light or triple chocolate as well as a variety of brownies greeted us and we dived in without much restraint.  The room itself is a delightful fantasy garden and the staff were extremely friendly, passionate about their chocolate and very cool people.

That's some wedding cake!
Fantasy chocolate pieces: 
Massive chocolate pony

Art deco style cake 

The fantasy garden room:

And now the chocolate feast - there were several plates of each of these!

This was an enjoyable tour and we certainly had our fill of chocolates, while learning a good deal of London history from our entertaining guide. 

Find out more about this tour and how to book here and more about Choccywoccydoodah here.

Bye for now,

*** Full disclosure: as is customary in the tourism industry, I was offered to try out this tour at no cost to myself.  This did not influence my review.