I haven’t had a sudden conversion to fashionable designer brands nor a make-over. What I want to explore here is my journey through design and my love of ‘good’ design. By which I suppose I just mean design that not only matches its function, but also gives pleasure in its execution.
I can remember an exact moment when I realised that every single thing we encounter in our lives each day has been designed, for good bad or indifferent, by someone. It’s not a deep or novel thought, but it changed forever how I looked at the world.
I can’t recall where or when it was, but I went to an exhibition and there in the museum was a Kenwood Chef Major, the same as my mum had at home (and I now have and use). Somehow until then I had just accepted that things were as they were without thinking about how and why they were that way.
Since then, books and conversations and exhibitions and simple observations have enriched my understanding and appreciation of design of all sorts, and it has become a real passion.
Some of the things that have particularly influenced me are:
- A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander. I borrowed this book from our public library for months on end, until eventually I realised it was a book I wanted to own, and I used some birthday money to buy a copy. It’s still a book I love to dip into, full of interesting ideas and beautiful photos (black and white).
- Ways of Seeing, by John Berger. This book really did change the way we see, capture and create images.
- Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) – this is a fascinating (and very accessible) read – an examination of what makes cities work and what works against that. “The eyes on the street” is just one memorable idea (and phrase) from her book.
- Permaculture – a fascinating design process that I can’t begin to do justice here, but I will revisit some time. Many years ago I did a weekend introduction to permaculture design course, and I have often applied it since, in all sorts of contexts (garden, home, allotment, processes….)
- Inclusive design – the social model of disability proposes that disability is the result of the way society is organised (or buildings built), rather than simply the impairment of the individual. It is possible to design our built environment to ensure that all can access it, rather than excluding some, and I see no reason why we should not do this as a matter of course rather than as the afterthought if often tends to be
- Upcycling – I am drawn to ways of (re)using materials to convert ‘waste’ (a problem) to ‘usefulness’ (a solution). Hence my love of wandering around allotment sites everywhere I go; visiting community gardens; enjoying innovative building methods. In our house, garden and allotment you will find many things enjoying a second, third, or even fourth useful life. Malcolm and I began our lives together by scavenging things from the street and skips, of necessity (our first fridge; the door we carried home through Brixton on our heads that became our ‘sofa’), and have continued doing so by choice. Youngest son has proved to be a whizz at making real the vision I have in my head, using the materials I’ve accumulated for the purpose
- Simplicity – I love the clean lines of Scandinavian and German design. A long time ago my friend from Denmark gave me a book of pictures by Carl Larsson (Ett Hus – A House). Years later I went to an exhibition of work by him and his wife Karin Larsson at the V and A. I recently found the V and A book that accompanied the exhibition in a second hand book shop. It is very beautiful. Much of what you will find today on blogs and websites talking about hygge (Danish) can be found in the Larssons’ work (Swedish), dating back to the late C19 – early C20
- Nature – there is so much inspiration to be found in the forms and patterns of nature. The beauty of repeating mathematical patterns seen in plants, seashells, snowflakes. This is something oldest son has explored and been inspired by in his architectural and design studies and practice
- Travel – both far and near. So many visits to Denmark and to Germany. Visits to (and a longer stay in) Freiburg. Stays in the Dolomites. A trip to the Stockholm archipelago. German ‘Shreber’ gardens in large blocks in towns and cities, or strung alongside railway lines. Trips to the seaside, walks in the woods, and on the hills
- Detail – brickwork; ironwork; stained glass; carved wood. I love the unnecessary detail added for the simple pleasure of adding beauty provided by craftspeople and designers. Walking one day across a high alp in the Dolomites, there was a fence and a gate. For no reason but beauty, the gate had a heart shape cut out of the centre. And surely no other reason was needed
I like to think it is no accident that both sons are designers and makers, each in their own way. (Despite my much-resented and oft-repeated instant reply to oldest son’s 6th form art teacher that “he couldn’t have got his talent from either of us because we’re both totally talentless” – clearly this is rubbish).
And now I’m continuing to unleash what talent I have in that direction on my allotment. My shed plans have taken off in a big way. I’ve waited until there was something I really wanted as my 60th birthday present from Malcolm, and it came to me yesterday that this is it.
I’ve (almost; maybe??) decided to buy a new shed and make it just how I’ve been dreaming. It will be small, it will be black, there will be yellow trim, and there will be flowers and stones. There will be a place to sit and be. It will be beautiful.
(Though since I wrote this I’ve been researching new sheds, and I’ve realised that the old one I’ve inherited is/was/could be much better quality than I could buy new. So now I’ve started to revise my plans, and want to revive the original plan of repairing rather than buying new. Let’s see if I can persuade those whose help I’d need to be able to make it happen….)