Grand Design Live review & ‘Best in Show’

As a general rule the Scarlet Opus team don’t normally attend or present seminars at consumer shows.  We focus much more on sharing our trend knowledge at trade shows and exhibitions…but we were more than happy to break this rule when we were offered 2 seminar slots at Grand Designs Live at Excel in London last week.

This is the UK’s number 1 show for consumers to find inspiration for their homes, get expert advice, see hundreds of exhibitors and interact with TV chefs, celebrities and well known Designers:

Based on the hugely popular Channel 4  TV show presented by Kevin McCloud, the live show at Excel brought together 7 inspiring areas:

  1. Grand Kitchens – including cookery demonstrations from TV chefs.
  2. Grand Bathrooms
  3. Grand Gardens – including stunning show gardens
  4. Grand Interiors – including cutting-edge products not available on the hight street
  5. Grand Build – including expert advisors
  6. Grand Technology – including Philips ‘House of the Future’
  7. Grand Village – showcasing the latest eco structures

There was a strong eco-friendly/sustainable slant to much of the show including 3 fantastic examples of eco buildings:

My favourite was this fab little pod (below) which would be great in multiples nestled closely together and used as individual studios and offices spaces for Scarlet Opus  ….Hmmmm…..My mini creative community dream……

Another very popular area of the show was Philips ‘House of the Future':

Quite why Philips vision of the future is so lacking in colour is a mystery, but it was an otherwise fascinating view of how we might live and the products that will make our lives easier, greener and more hygienic…like the toilet seat that opened automatically when you stood near it (no hands, no germs!).

In complete contrast to the all-white world of Philips were the ‘Gallery Rooms’ celebrating the best of British design in all it’s colourful and quirky glory!

It was wonderful to see the unapologetic use of so many different patterns and colours in the Squint installation:

Clearly it takes real confidence to pull this look together successfully but it was a very stimulating space to experience and I couldnt help but feel cheerful as I walked through it.  Squint was founded in 2005 by Lisa Whatmough who trained as a Sculptor at Winchester School of Art.  The company has become known and loved for unexpected one-off pieces that combine classic furniture shapes with eclectic mixes of contemporary woven fabrics:

Next door the room by Interiors Stylist Kate Baxter explored how catwalk trends reflect on interiors.  The room displayed a wonderfully cluttered assortment of fabulous products sourced in the UK (including vintage Vivienne Westwood bridal dresses) all styled together to create an English women’s work room with a boudoir twist (you can visit Kate’s excellent interiors & inspiration blog here: )

We were thrilled to see 2 chairs in Kate’s room by Aiveen Daly:

We have featured Aiveen’s work in several posts including our coverage of  Decorex last year and our roundup of 2009 

Aiveen’s chairs looked so elegant in the room and worked perfectly with the Vivienne Westwood elements.

You can see Aiveen’s full collection of furniture, headboards, lampshades and mirrors here:

I was really impressed by how stunning the Vivienne Westwood ‘Drape’ wallcovering from Cole & Son looked and how well it worked in the relatively small space.

The large scale print added a very effective dense layer of pattern which gave the room a focal design feature, helping to pull the many different elements together.  The trompe l’oeil nature of the print also created a sense of depth and texture to the flat wall space.

I wrote a post on Vivienne Westwood’s wallpaper collection for Cole & Son last December which is still available to read here

Whilst I’m on the subject of wallpaper…I was really interested to see the stand.  Their directory has over 4000 wallpapers available to buy online from well known Designers and exciting new Designers.  You can search by colour or design and order free samples but best of all they have a simulation tool that allows you to see what the wallpaper you have selected will look like in different rooms.  This is brilliant for giving a true impression of the scale of the print/pattern in a room, how the repeat of the pattern works and the effect of the colourway.  Their directory includes the Vivienne Westwood collection for Cole & Son…but these were my favourite wallpapers on their Grand Designs Live stand:

In truth I’ve saved the best ’til last!  There was an aisle in the Grand Interiors hall that was home to an array of fantastic Designer-Makers & Artists that really got me swooning.  I’ve selected 5 exhibitors that deserve special mention and get the Scarlet Opus seal of approval as ‘Best in Show’…starting with Helen Brown Ceramics:

Working from her studio space in Derby, Helen specialises in creating ceramic figurative sculpture using a variety of techniques including hand building, modelling and moulded work.

Helen’s influences are multi-layered ranging from ancient cycladic sculpture through to the work of more recent 20th Century Sculptors as well as the environment, landscape and organic forms which seep into her work to evoke a sense of place.

Helen uses the figure as a vehicle to represent ideas of form as well as a metaphor to express different aspects of the human condition.

She also explores the effects of proportion and how this alters the overall perception of the piece.

There is something wonderfully poignant and peaceful about Helen’s figures.  Though they are often featured in groups they retain a seperateness and stillness that is engaging and thought provoking.  I found myself wondering what her figures were thinking and feeling…and their tiny scale suggests they might need help or protection which forces an emotional connection.

The row of figures Helen had displayed along the full length of her exhibition stand were very powerful even though they were predominantly white.  They would make a subtle but nonetheless stunning interior design feature in a hallway, over a bed or above a mantel piece.

Helen’s ‘boxed’ figures appear contained in their own private environment and their elongated forms project an otherworldly edge to her work. 

To see more of Helen Brown’s work and for contact details visit her website:

Another ceramic stand that caught my eye was Studio at 37, crammed with fabulously cheerful pieces:

This quirky and oh-so-desirable work is created by ceramicist duo Laura Masson & Angela Pointon and sold in their studio/shop in Glasgow’s West End.

Both Designer/Makers are BA Hons. Design graduates with a passion for form, colour and pattern:

Their range of products includes bowls, bunting, buttons, cups, jars, mugs and spoons with a charming retro styling that appears to reference 50’s art & design coupled with a ‘Grandma’s kitchen’ aesthetic….and a clever modern twist.

I love it!

You can see the full range of Studio at 37 products on their website:

And now for something completely different…and completely spectacular!

I know!!!

Allan Forsyth is an award winning contemporary Artist whose work incorporates technological media and conceptual design…..basically he creates his work from photos, enhances them digitally and then prints and bonds them onto a variety of materials.

Forsyth’s work is stylish and simply stunning!  The richness of colour is enhanced by the use of black in his work which also creates a dramtic backdrop for his studies of Nature.  The relationship between his abstract work and figurative studies is surprisingly effective.  There is a sense of intimacy in the closeness of the images he captures and a kinetic energy in the way he communicates Light.  He allows us to see a very special view that we could not otherwise appreciate:

Forsyth’s art can be seen in collections at prestigious venues such as the Grosvenor House Hotel, Gordon Ramsay’s Maze Restaurant and Kelly Hoppen Interiors.  To see more of Allan Forsyth’s work visit:

Another hugely talented man exhibiting at Grand Design Live was Jay Watson.  I was immediately struck by the ethereal beauty of his work…it’s apparent lightness, aesthetic delicacy and intelligent structure:

Jay explained that his Anemoi luminaires are made from Corian (invented and produced by DuPont).  Corian® has excellent performance values and can be carved, routed or worked in a similar that you can with wood.  It can also be moulded, thermoformed or inlayed.

Jay’s Anemoi luminaires are available in 5 translucent shades: Blueberry Ice, Glacier Ice, Lime Ice, Mint Ice and Strawberry Ice. 

You can choose from 2 sizes and he also offers a dimmable version.

His full range of product designs can be viewed on his website and includes bowls, chairs, stools, tables and cabinets.

Jay was kind enough to email me some additional photos of his Anemoi design yesterday. 

They beautifully capture the stunning shadow patterns that are cast by the complex cut-out shape of the design:

And finally…I’d like to show you Verna Ventham’s work:

Verna has created innovative casual seating using car tyres for the structure, leather and felt.  The interlinked tyres offer a variety of configurations that encourage play, relaxation & interaction:

This seating solution is a truly up-cycled furniture piece, making great use of worn tyres and therefore addressing issues associated with waste, recycling, product legacy and sustainability. 

Verna manages to achieve a luxurious, aspirational aesthetic via her highly skilled craft processes.  The attention to detail and finish is exact and appears to be almost tailored

Because of the neat stitching and stud work there are clear references to traditional gentleman’s club chairs and a dapper styling that is playful and whimsical.


Through her work Verna is very cleverly exploring the concept of cars increasingly being considered as an extension of our living space. 

Her seats bring part of a car into our domestic space and into our lives in a very intimate way.

Taking this highly engineered waste product into homes or contemporary lounge areas creatively extends the life of tyres and extends our relationship with cars.

You can contact Verna Ventham with comments and commissions via her website:

That’s all for today…if you have a minute then leave a comment to let us know what your favourite products were in this post.

Check back on Monday when Shelley will be bringing us another of her Monthly Montages….this time on Clocks & Time Pieces!

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11 thoughts on “Grand Design Live review & ‘Best in Show’

  1. Brilliant post – inspiring and fun, as usual!
    I’ve a whole new list of ‘must-have’s’ now. The tyre chairs are amazing.

  2. Blogs RSS feed doesn’t work in my browser (google chrome) how can I fix it?

  3. Hi Carroll…unfortunately we have a few problems with Chrome users being able to hook-up to the RSS feed. We are looking into the problem and hope to resolve it soon. Thanks for letting us know.

  4. Just came across this article and was really blown away by the tyre seats and the wall art sculptures. These look great, very cool!

    You didn’t name check the wallpapers featured but i found them…Yehhh! Just ordered the Barbara Hulanicki wallpaper. Can’t wait to see it up.

  5. This is a great show and I really enjoy it every year, especially seeing Kevin. It’s full of great ideas and I always come away feeling really inspired!

  6. Loved everything except for the “Vivienne Westwood” ‘Drape’ wallcovering. Bit too crowded for my liking. But seriously – WHAT AN AMAZING POST. Really really nice :)

    I am just trying to start a small blog myself –

  7. Hi Dan thank you for joining our mailing list and for your kind words about our blog. Good luck with your own work online and we hope you visit us regularly :-)

  8. Really love the Barbara Hulanicki Shoes flock wallpaper. It’s definitely one of my all time favourite flock effects!

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