As the creative bonanza that is the annual London Design Festival (LDF) grows with each edition, choosing which exhibitions, stores, workshops and events to visit in the British capital becomes increasingly difficult. That’s when you turn to experts like Max Fraser, who was the festival’s Deputy Director for three years until leaving in 2014. Fraser is the author of the bi-annual London Design Guide, which selects the best places in London for design enthusiasts to visit, and which has just returned for its fourth edition—just in time for LDF’s kickoff this weekend, 19 September 2015. The new guide commissioned photography for the first time, and it focuses more on the people behind the businesses, including designers and gallery directors, than previous editions have.
“We thought, how to make it feel new and fresh?” Fraser says. “It’s still got a thread from the previous guides, with practical advice, maps, and so on, but now it’s peppered with features. We champion independent stores, and behind each one of those is an individual with a vision that needs to be shared.” Fraser also remains the editor of the official festival guide for LDF, making him a very reliable authority on the state of design in London today. We asked him to share some tips and must-sees for the upcoming London Design Festival.
“My best general tip is to discover the festival area by area, and do a whole district at a time, rather than traveling back and forth on the tube,” Fraser says. The festival has seven design districts in total: Bankside Design District, Brompton Design District, Chelsea Design Quarter, Clerkenwell Design Quarter, Islington Design District, Queens Park Design District and Shoreditch Design Triangle.
For Fraser, the Shoreditch area in east London is still one of his favorites. “It’s totally walkable, and even though everyone knows about Shoreditch now, it still has a lot of creative energy. I also like Brompton—it’s one of the most established design districts and located in a well-off area, but still has an interesting edge. Mint Shop in Brompton is one of my favorites; it’s very well-put together.” While you’re in Brompton, Fraser also recommends checking out Max Lamb’s engineered marble, Marmoreal, which launched at Salone del Mobile last year. It will be on display at 4 Thurloe Mews Place, close to the Victoria & Albert Museum that is the festival’s central hub. At the V&A itself, Fraser curated a selection of small items by London designers, including a special London Design Festival chocolate by Mast Brothers, which will be sold inside the Festival’s first-ever pop-up shop in the museum.
New for this year is the Somerset House hub on the Strand. The arts and culture centre, which was previously home to London Fashion Week, will now house LDF exhibitions, events and installations. “At Somerset House, look up the Ten Designers in the West Wing. Here’s also another Max Lamb piece, ‘My Grandfather’s Tree,’ Fraser says. ”It’s a huge elm tree that had to be felled, and then Lamb dissected it and re-created it.” The resulting 130 logs have been laid out in order of diameter, creating an organic sculpture, and will be on display throughout the festival. A bit further away from central London, Fraser recommends Alex Chinneck’s “A Bullet From a Shooting Star,” which can be seen at the Greenwich Peninsula. The gigantic sculpture looks like an electricity pylon, but has been positioned leaning precariously upside down in the ground. “The big LDF shows, like designjunction, are also well worth checking out,” Fraser adds.
Traipsing around the city will inevitably make you hungry; luckily, there are plenty of good restaurant options to be found in most of of the design districts. “By the designjunction location in central London, there’s the Rosewood Hotel, which I’m a big fan of; it’s quite opulent and does good cocktails. Hoxton Hotel is good for coffee in the area, and restaurant Barrafina has opened in nearby Covent Garden,” Fraser says.
At Somerset House, there’s the new Spring restaurant, and if you’re in the Clerkenwell Design District, he recommends St. John for your taste of British cooking. All day brasserie Hoi Polloi at the Ace Hotel and the new Modern Pantry on Finsbury Square get Fraser’s vote in Shoreditch. Style-wise, Fraser’s restaurant choices should help make sure the design experience doesn’t end when the workday does, but continues over dinner, giving LDF visitors time to contemplate the things they’ve seen—and decide what to see next.
Images courtesy of London Design Festival and London Design Guide