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modernist masters and recycled materials in the spotlight at biggest ever festival

Kirkby Design will show new fabrics at The Order of St John (Kirkby Design)

Kirkby Design will show new fabrics at The Order of St John (Kirkby Design)

For design-minded Londoners, no postcode offers better bang for your buck than EC1.

Once the heart of the city’s clock making tradition, village-like Clerkenwell is home to more than 130 furniture showrooms and 200 architectural practices – said to be the highest concentration in Europe.

Perhaps it’s little wonder that London’s creatives congregate at this ancient network of greens and grand churches, converted warehouses and atmospheric crypts.

And from May 23 – 25 the area will flex its design muscle with the 12th edition of Clerkenwell Design Week, offering exhibitions, talks and events in a smidge over two square miles.

For designers and brands it’s a chance to open new showrooms and launch the latest products, while visitors will get a walkable hit of cutting-edge creativity and access to some historic historic buildings hidden in plain sight.

This is no haute trade fair, so expect a relaxed mood (and crowds spilling out of showrooms on late night Wednesdays). Stick to the hot pink signage and you can’t go far wrong.

In the spotlight

Case Furniture will show Robin Day’s ‘Forum’  collection (Case Furniture)

Case Furniture will show Robin Day’s ‘Forum’ collection (Case Furniture)

If your first instinct is to sit down, head for Conversations at Clerkenwell – a packed program of talks under a covered pavilion in Spa Fields. Morag Myerscough, Yuri Suzuki and Philippe Malouin are the big hitters, but a color forecast with Pantone and a dissection of the Soho House aesthetic is sure to be popular. Tickets are £7.50 and should be booked ahead.

Fans of mid-century masters should make a beeline for architecture firm Groupwork’s base on Clerkenwell Close, where Case Furniture are showing a selection of pieces by British hero Robin Day.

Amin Taha’s tour of the controversial building sold out swiftly, but exhibition visitors should still get an eyeful of the Stirling Prize-nominated structure.

Then there’s Danish brand Mater, who will present Børge Mogensen’s 1958 ‘Conscious Chair 3162’ in Matek, their patented waste material. It’s the first time that a piece by the modernist has been relaunched in a different material – which design buffs will know is a big deal.

Domus will be launching a new tile collection with Brit designer Yinka Ilori (Domus)

Domus will be launching a new tile collection with Brit designer Yinka Ilori (Domus)

Further in-store highlights include the unveiling of ‘Skagerak’, Fritz Hansen’s first outdoor furniture collection, three new designs by Palomba Serafini Associati at Ideal Standard and a mood-boosting collaboration between Italian tile brands Domus and Yinka Ilori. Given he’s doing the window display, it’ll be hard to miss.

While you’re strolling between showrooms, don’t miss a scattering of street installations. A mushroomy must-see is PLP Architecture’s mycelium creation in St John’s Square, which is set to challenge public perception of this once-fringe material.

Just around the corner at the Yotel on Clerkenwell Road, a 23-strong alley of BA Product Design students from the London Metropolitan School of Art will present a group exhibition ‘Colors of London’, a collection of sculptural totems inspired by the city.

Think carefully before voting on your favorite – the winning student will have their color palette mixed as tester pots by Mylands.

Need a breather? Grade II-listed Old Sessions House acts as a kind of hub for the festival, and registered visitors can wander at will between stylish lounges and bars.

Architecture magazine ICON is hosting talks here as part of its 20th birthday celebrations – tickets for Tom Dixon or rising star Mimi Shodeinde are £25.

Registered visitors can make themselves at home at the Old Sessions House (Felix Speller)

Registered visitors can make themselves at home at the Old Sessions House (Felix Speller)

Five shows you shouldn’t miss

platforms, Cowcross Street

This base for bright young things has swapped the House of Detention for a new venue on Cowcross Street. You won’t know the names, but that’s the whole point – many of these designers will be on their Clerkenwell debut. Don’t miss Make Relief’s solid cork and recycled plastic side tables, or a starkly simple foldable chair by Kostas Synodis.

British Collection, Crypt on the Green, Clerkenwell Close

Descend into the crypt below St James’s Church for this showcase of established British talent. Wood is well-represented between heritage names like Ercol and industry favorites Benchmark and Another Country. Sebastian Cox will launch his first ever lounge chair, while Curiousa will lend drama with its Derbyshire-made lighting.

Curiousa’s new ‘Wave’  chandelier will be part of the British Collection (Curiousa)

Curiousa’s new ‘Wave’ chandelier will be part of the British Collection (Curiousa)

Design Fields, Spa Fields, Skinner Street

A home for international brands that don’t have their own base in Clerkenwell, highlights here include covetable freestanding kitchens from Italy’s Very Simple Kitchen and chairs made from recycled fishing nets and Carlsberg kegs by Danish brand Wehlers.

light, House of Detention, Sans Walk

A subterranean Victorian prison is the suitably murky setting for this riot of illumination, which brings together experimenters like Lladró, showcasing a colorful new collection by Luca Nichetto, with affordable lighting from the likes of Spark & ​​Bell and Houseof. Spanish brand Bioo will be ready to demonstrate the Luxx, a first-of-its-kind design operated via human contact with a living plant.

elements, St John’s Square

Home to all things hardware, this pavilion on St John’s Square is one for the renovators. Rub elbows with architects on their lunch breaks as you browse the latest handles, taps and toggles, like Dowsing & Reynolds’ new range of combination switches. Teams are on hand to advise on the technical bits.

See the full program and register for free at