The Marks & Spencer depot behind Westfield, in the wastelands of White City, is not where you'd expect to find Britain’s greatest furniture designers. But once a year, this is where they convene, to take part in and judge the Design Guild Mark awards.
Now in its ninth year, the award, granted by the charitable Furniture Makers' Company, recognises the best in contemporary design from British designers working in the UK and abroad. This year, the initiative saw 39 entrants – spanning sectors from residential to contract, to retail and hospitality – with 19 granted the award. The winning designs go on show during London Design Festival this September.
With judges on the hunt for excellent design, materials, manufacture and function, each entrant had to present their work and undergo a Dragons’ Den-style interrogation. Among them was Max Lamb, with his 'Planks Collection' table for Benchmark; David Irwin with his 'Hardy Chair' for Another Country; and Jo Wilton and Mirka Grohn of &New with their consoles, coat hooks and side tables.
All nine judges agreed that the quality this year was higher than ever, thanks to a new emphasis on volume production. Handmade pieces in wood, such as the kitchen by Sebastian Cox for deVOL, dominated, reflecting the continuing trend for craftsmanship. British furniture designer John Makepeace, who was present to select a winner for his forthcoming design innovation prize, spotted some gaps: ‘I would like to see more technology and design in there with the bespoke pieces, as furniture incorporates both things. And there’s a lack of pieces aimed at 25–35-year-olds who too often have to rely on IKEA.’
Sebastian Conran, director of Conran + Partners, was among the judges. ‘It’s good to see some of the finest British designers explain the thought, detail and craftsmanship that goes into their designs,' he says. 'Often it is the intangible things that are the most important and yet difficult to discuss, as it is often a question of that ghastly word, “taste”.’
Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn chair of design at the Royal College of Art adds, 'Furniture has its own relationship with space, with people and with objects. The judges saw excellent designs in all three categories, which is encouraging for the sector.'