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Best of Show: The London Design Festival

For design, fall is the season of ideas.

The Milan Furniture Fair, held every April, is essentially an organ of the Italian furniture industry. Walking the fairgrounds on the city outskirts, one gets the sense that a thousand suits are dealmaking over espresso. At its core, the Milan fair is about business.

September, by contrast, brings a scattering of design fairs around the globe—Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Gwangju, Paris, and Lisbon. Because these cities largely lack Italy’s established manufacturing base, they tend to downplay business in favor of ideas and fashion. Of the September shows, the stand-out is 100% Design in London, a trade show held in Earl’s Court, which is accompanied by a week-long festival of gallery events, installations, and student debuts sprinkled across the city. London is a hub of ideas and creativity, and along with Milan it helps to set the design agenda for the year ahead. Here are seven high points from this year’s show:

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Nineteenth century residents of Britain’s industrial towns constructed ceremonial arches from their local product whenever royalty or other important figures visited. Wallpaper* magazine commissioned Martino Gamper, an Italian designer living in London, to create a two overlapping arches made of Ercol stacking chairs in the courtyard of the Victoria & Albert Museum.


It Hûske is a trio of workplace hideaways—a rocking horse, a phone booth, and a mobile house—created by Jurjen van Hulzen as a winking reference to the work hours wasted on smoking, gossiping on cell phones, or spacing out at keyboards. They're like the anti-cubicles.


The design world’s taste for over-the-top spectacle has apparently not dissipated. Jamie Hayón, the Spanish master of oversized installations, made a giant chess board from a mosaic of glass tiles in Trafalgar Square. The 32 ceramic chess pieces were hand-painted by Hayón, borrowing details from London architecture. Players direct their moves while seated above the board in a pair of Hayón’s Showtime chairs.


One of the pleasures of design shows is the unexpected appearance of designers from countries not normally represented at these kinds of gatherings. This year it’s Poland’s turn. A group called Young Creative Poland is drawing attention for a collection shown in the Brompton Design District with what the Wallpaper* blog called an "interesting mix of German industrial techniques with a lightness more commonly associated with Scandinavian design. The "chair transformers" shown above are by Studio Beton, a Warsaw firm run by Marta Rowinska and Lech Rowinski.


Remember the nomadic gallery that Shigeru Ban created out of shipping containers for the touring photo exhibit "Ashes and Snow" four years ago? Ban has a history of creating memorable structures from ordinary materials. For 100% Design he was commissioned to build a 72-foot tower out of cardboard tubes with steel connections.


Along with Tom DixonIlse Crawford, the founding editor of Elle Decoration—who now works as a designer—is one of London’s foremost tastemakers. This week she debuted Seating For Eating, a collection of handcrafted walnut benches and stools for De La Spada based on traditional English furniture. The collection can be seen until early November at Leila’s Shop, an organic food store in the Shoreditch neighborhood, where Crawford will give a series of talks about the link between community and growing food.


The New York design shop Kiosk has a earned a following for selling small-scale design items the owners collect on biannual trips around the world—Finnish hair clips, Japanese paintbrushes, Mexican wastebaskets. This week Kiosk is operating from a pop-up store created by the British designer Michael Marriott, made out of plastic storage crates and sheets of plywood.