Design stories from WOW!house 2023
WOW!house 2023 was absolutely packed with stories, whether to do with the overall concept of a room, the craftsmanship within it or the minute details that together create a powerful sense of cohesion. It was certainly too much to take in on one visit, so here are some of the stories that deserve to be told again….
Keeping craft skills relevant
Interior design would have no soul, or surprise, without the work of small makers who specialise in a very specific skill, and WOW!house’s designers went out of their way to showcase independent craftspeople, demonstrating the relevance of their work in today’s interiors. “It’s very important for me to work with people who use their hands – people who give their heart to making things,” said designer Joy Moyler during one of the WOW!house talks.
Moyler worked with master thatcher Joe Thornton to create a bespoke thatched ceiling, a collaboration that came together via the Design Centre’s partnership with QEST, the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, whose aims is to support talented craftspeople via courses, vocational training and apprenticeships. Other WOW!house designers also worked with QEST makers, including Studio Winch in the Summit Furniture Terrace, where Frances Priest’s panel of hand-glazed earthenware tiles created an artisanal backdrop to Summit’s teak outdoor furniture. In the Fromental Courtyard Room, Maddux Creative employed the skills of students from the Royal College of Needlework to create intricate, surreal stitching across the walls, while Barlow & Barlow used the work of Jess Wheeler in the Drummonds Principal Bathroom, specifying her plaster ‘Mushroom’ wall lights and delicate silver wall art.
Elsewhere, Martin Hulbert and Jay Grierson of Martin Hulbert Design created a Dining Room that was full of craft – both past and present, if you include the antique oak court cupboard and traditional Georgian dresser, both outstanding examples of the skill of cabinetmakers past. To this they added a bespoke sectional table, topped with hand-made tiles created in collaboration with London ceramics studio Boquita de Cielo; and accessorised with handmade paper flowers by Natalia Manczak, who draws on the craft traditions of her native Poland.
Space to entertain
There was a certain conviviality going on at WOW!house: many designers created spaces that had been specifically conceived for gathering together and entertaining. Fromental’s Courtyard Room by Maddux Creative was renamed by the designers as the ‘3am Room’ – that place to wind down with friends into the small hours – its two curving sofas making the perfect intimate conversation space. Tala Fustok played with the same configuration in her Home Bar, with two high-level bench seats snugly following the lines of an elliptical breakfast bar.
Drinks trollies were in abundance, from Tom Faulkner’s science-fiction-like ombré ‘Papillon’ trolley with its delicately branching steel frame in the Fromental Courtyard Room to Justin van Breda’s rattan and cane ‘Dolly’s Trolley’ in the de Le Cuona Bedroom by Christian Bense, a perfect fit for Bense’s “grand safari meets London town” design scheme.
Vanessa Macdonald of Melissa Wyndham’s Drawing Room was “just as practical for entertaining a room full of guests as it is for a quiet evening for two,” according to the designer, and Macdonald was full of tips for creating these versatile spaces when she spoke at a WOW!talk, including her love of an ottoman that can serve as an extra perching place when the chairs run out. She also advocates not having too many legs on show if you have a lot of furniture in a room, to avoid a cluttered look, with plinths and skirted furniture as alternatives.
If unwinding on your own is more your idea of heaven, the bathroom is an ideal retreat from the stresses of the outside world. WOW!house designers did not scrimp on the barware in either bathroom, with cocktail glasses at the ready in both the Drummonds Principal Bathroom and the House of Rohl Bathroom by Studio Mica.
Delve into the details
Daily guided tours of WOW!house brought to life all of the tiny details that the designers had put into each of their schemes to build a compelling story.
Some things you may have missed: Tala Fustok’s breakfast bar – created by Donato Coppola – featured a constellation of stars, whose pattern was a snapshot of the night sky on the opening day of WOW!house (5 June). In Tim Gosling’s library, the bespoke backgammon set was inspired by Versailles, with an arched arcade around its inner edge taken from the famed French palace’s orangery, and the laser engravings of statues on each point taken from a 1680s book of the garden statuary. And in Fromental’s Courtyard Room, an embroidered quote from neuroscientist Dr Roland Griffiths – “may you remain aware of awareness” unlocked the psychedelic nature of the design, with its mushroom-gill ceiling, mysterious portal embedded in the wall and even a field guide to mushrooms on the coffee table.
The de Le Cuona bedroom contained may tributes to the shared South African roots of Bernie de Le Cuona and designer Christian Bense, from the basket of ostrich eggs treated as a decorative accessory to artist Tess Newall’s hand-painted African wildflowers on the cabinet in the dressing room area. If you helped yourself to one of the square, yellow-packaged pieces of chewing gum from the bowl, you might have noticed that it was a Chappie, a quintessential nostalgic sweet treat for South Africans.
These details are a tribute to the power of bespoke design to tell a story, and how hidden meanings can surprise and delight, long after a room has first been designed. Many designers could be found in residence in their rooms on the daily WOW!house tours, so they were able to tell these stories first hand to visitors.