Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Final Reveal: Interior Design students "Design a Hotel" Project reaches its conclusion

Regular readers of the MoDA blog may remember my previous two posts about the Middlesex University Interior Design student's 'design a hotel' project. Just to recap, the students were asked to design a hotel based in 84 Brook Green, once home to the Silver Studio. They were asked to use the fact that the building had once housed a commercial design studio as the driving force behind their design concept. You can find out more about the brief they were set, and the visits we organised to introduce them to the collections in my previous two blog posts.

In order to complete the project their final task was to stand up and present their ideas; to their tutors, their peers, and to me!

So what ideas did they come up with? I'd imagined that many would focus on one or two of the designs they had found at MoDA, and simply set about reproducing them as wallcoverings or soft furnishings. They were Interior Design students after all, and most of us probably presume that this is what interior design is all about. But no, my misconceptions were rapidly blown out of the water as most of the students went well beyond this type of 'surface decoration' approach, and had clearly thought much more deeply about the history of the building, and the archive material they had encountered.

Rather than try and summarise everyone's ideas, for the purposes of this blog post I thought I'd focus on one of the more intriguing and eye-catching ideas we were presented with by student Mel Wise. As part of the project the students were required to use their ideas as the basis for an Arthur Silver Award entry. This required them to produce three A3 boards detailing their design concept, and focusing specifically on how the collections at MoDA had inspired their ideas.

Mel's first board. The photographs at the bottom left and right show two rooms at 84 Brook Green c.1900 when it was the Silver family home (BADDA 4602). The image in the centre shows the Silver Studio itself in the early 1960s, when the business had relocated round the corner from Brook Green to Haarlem Road, Hammersmith.
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

This was the first year that the Award was open to second year Art & Design and Media students at Middlesex, as well as those in their final year. I've included images of Mel's entry, which the judges felt was particularly strong. Although not selected as this year's winner, he did make it to the final four entrants, the only second year to do so. Who knows how far he could go next year if he chooses to enter, which I hope he does!

Like many of the students Mel was drawn to the katagami - Japanese stencils made of mulberry paper and cut by hand in order to print incredibly intricate patterns on to mainly kimono fabric. He explains how his encounter with the stencils inspired one of the key concepts behind his design:

katagami stencil K1.1, featuring a small scale, geometric wheat sheaf pattern.
 It was this stencil that Mel was particularly drawn to
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

"Whilst viewing the vast and intriguing collection at MoDA it was the katagami stencil prints which appealed to me most...It immediately sparked my imagination as I began to think of the creative possibilities...Further exploration of ideas led me to look at lighting, shadows and the outcome of a stencil print... I (then) looked at architectural stencilling to create perforations through walls. This would allow light to filter in to the space and as time passes during the course of the day the mottled light would shift and play across the interior, creating a peaceful ever-changing environment."

Mel's second board for the Arthur Silver Award, based on the presentation he gave in front me,
his tutors and fellow students.
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

But as he goes on to explain, the history of the Silver Studio itself was also a key element in his proposal:

"I feel that the history of the family home/studio is equally as important as their designs...I wanted to pay homage to the buildings' history  and show people at least a glimpse of what this building once was, through what's left behind."

Part of Mel's concept involved creating a ceramic structure which would form part of the hotel's interior scheme, consisting of many small component parts. Each part would look like a piece of paper, with the structure as a whole  resembling many pieces of paper blown up into the air, as if by a gust of wind. Mel explains the relevance of this structure to the Silver Studio and his hotel concept design:

"The idea was to project light on to the ceramic structure and create shadows on the opposite wall. The structure is symbolic to the overflowing and bursting of (the) Silver Studio's many designs, collated over the years."

The final board Mel entered, explaining his idea for a ceramic structure
representing all the Silver Studio's design work exploding in to the air.
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

I was really impressed with how positively and creatively Mel and the other students responded to this project, and the extent to which they engaged with our collections.  For most this was their first experience of visiting an archive, and accessing archive material. They had to get their heads around what this stuff was, where it came from, and form connections with it in a very small space of time. Engaging with real objects is not something most of our undergraduates are used to doing, especially museum objects.When it comes to looking for ideas and inspiration for their work, the internet has taken over as the first, and sometimes only port of call. And why not? It's quick, it's easy, and as we all know the amount of information and images available online is vast.   But being able to access a museum collection means they can not only see the objects in which they're interested, but they also get to explore them through touch and smell (and believe me, it is often the smell of an object which is the first thing to hit you when you open a box!). This is a multi-sensory experience that cannot be replicated on screen, and one which we think is really important to offer art and design students as part of their course.

For MoDA this project was a fantastic opportunity to show the students that museum collections have the possibility to inspire fresh and contemporary ideas. But what did the Interior Design tutors see as special about this project? Jon Mortimer explains:

"The staff wanted this Hotel Design project to be the culmination of the students' study year. The challenges were multi-layered and very ‘real’ - the site, formerly three independent residential properties, required combining to form a single building, yet the students were eager to preserve the dignity or these fine old buildings. [NB, in real life these houses are still residential properties; this project was simply a hypothetical exercise]. The students had to find techniques by which modern spaces could ‘live within’ existing interiors of traditional form and proportion – a fantastic learning experience. But above all the students needed to bring  the work of the Silver Studio to life in a modern context, in a world where decorative wall treatments and soft furnishings are considered something from an earlier time. The project generated excitement in the students, and they took seriously the responsibility of bringing the work of the Silver Studio back into a modern context, making it vital and alive once again."

We will have to wait and see whether or not it will be possible to run this project or something similar next year. But I very much hope that the students we have worked with will feel confident to come back to MoDA in their final year, and explore even more of the fantastic collections at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Developing The Ideas: Interior Design Students "Design A Hotel" Project

Students from Middlesex University's Interior Design course were recently set a brief to design a hotel, with the hypothetical setting of 84 Brook Green, Hammersmith, former home of the Silver Studio.

My part in this project was to select objects from the collections that would inspire students and get them thinking in the right direction.  I selected a number of different objects from the collections for the students to see and handle: designs from throughout the Studio's eighty year history showing the range of styles in which the designers had worked; wallpaper and textile samples the Studio collected for reference purposes; business cards and printed ephemera relating to the operation of the Studio; and an architectural drawing from 1887 showing plans for an extension to the attic rooms at 84 Brook Green in order to provide more studio space.

katagami stencil, c.1870
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture  (K1.16)
katagami stencil, c.1870
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (K2.15)

Of all the many objects available for them to see, it was undoubtedly the katagami stencils which seemed to catch the imaginations of many of the students. These beautiful, delicate stencils originate from Japan where they were traditionally used to print patterns on to kimono fabric. They are made from layers of mulberry paper, and in some cases include a grid structure of fine silk thread. The threads add additional support to the stencil, and allow for patterns to be created which might otherwise be impossible without the threads to link sections of the pattern together. The Silver Studio had acquired a large number of these stencils in the 1880s and 90s; trade links between Japan and the West had only been established relatively recently, and Japanese art and design had subsequently became incredibly popular with Western artists and designers, as well as consumers.

Interior design students at the MoDA Collections Centre during one of their handling sessions.

This student is looking through a box of katagami stencils.

When I'm selecting objects for this type of session, I have to try and put myself in the shoes of the people attending. However well I might think I have considered which objects to show them (and much consideration goes in to this, let me tell you!), it is impossible to predict which objects will inspire the most interest. What will people be drawn to? It seemed my decision to include the stencils had been a good one. The students also responded very positively to the box of late nineteenth century Silver Studio designs I had brought out for them to see and handle, chosen in part because some of the designs were clearly influenced by Japanese design.

Design for a wallpaper made up of various Japanese motifs,
 probably by Arthur Silver, 1887
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD 1198)

Interior Design tutor Jon Mortimer had this to say about the student's experience of visiting MoDA and handling objects from the archive:

"For a designer nothing surpasses the reality of feeling a material with your own hands; images and words are always secondary to real materials and stories told by people who are passionate about their subject. MoDA gave the students an excellent introduction to the work of the Silver Studio, and many of the students felt a bond with the story of the Studio, connecting to the creatives who generated such vibrant designs and equally to the actual process of designing and producing wallcoverings and fabrics."

I was really pleased with how well the sessions had gone, but still the main question in my mind was 'how on earth are they going to use all this stuff to design a hotel?!' I like to think I'm a reasonably creative person, but if I'd have been asked to undertake this project I would have been struggling. 'What will the students do?' had become a hot topic for discussion over a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive in the MoDA staff kitchenette.

All would be revealed at the student presentations scheduled for the end of the project. I'll be blogging about the final ideas the students presented over the next week or so, so watch this space!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Student Final collections inspired by MoDA

Today is the day when we announce the winner of this year's Arthur Silver Award, and here at MoDA excitement is building! The competition runs annually, and is open to all Middlesex University Art & Design and Media undergraduates. To enter the students must demonstrate how they have used MoDA's collections as part of their research and inspiration in developing a piece of studio work.

Whilst we count down the hours I thought I would 'whet your appetite' by sharing with you some examples of student entries submitted for this year's award. The following three entries are all by Final Year Fashion students, who presented their MoDA-inspired garments as part of their Final collections at an internal catwalk show, held in the Ricketts Quadrangle at Middlesex University last month:

Samantha Cracknell (BA Fashion Textiles) took inspiration from a series of postcards of moths and butterflies which form part of MoDA's ephemera collections. These led her to explore our small collection of natural history books, and in particular Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics pictured below. On opening the pages she discovered a real, pressed butterfly, which was a wonderfully unexpected discovery!

Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics: How to Collect Them
by Arthur Twidle, 1920,
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 2208)
Illustration from Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics 
by the author Arthur Twidle
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

A real, pressed butterfly found within the pages of
Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics, and studied by
Samantha Cracknell whilst visiting MoDA's Study Room
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

The Silver Studio's designers would use natural history books as reference to produce designs like this.
Design for a dress Winifred Mold, 1923, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD2764.1)

Samantha was particularly drawn to the delicate patterns on the wings of the insects, and was able to recreate the feel of these patterns in her own fabric designs. Her final garment was this beautiful hand-printed silk dress which you can see below.

Hand printed silk dress by Samantha Cracknell

Natalina Pisapia (BA Fashion) began her research for her final collection by looking at the work of photographer Robert Van der Hilst.  Excited by the clashing colours in Hilst's photos of Cuban interiors, Natalina was also taking inspiration from the 'decaying' interiors found in the work of another photographer, Thomas Jorion.  It was this interest in dated interiors and particularly wallcoverings that led Natalina to explore MoDA's wallpaper collections. Whilst visiting MoDA's Study Room she was also able to see a number of brightly coloured floral designs for fabric and wallpapers, which reminded her of aspects of Van der Hilst's work. Determined to bring these ideas together, she set about creating her own fabric designs incorporating bright clashing colours, floral motifs and images associated with Cuban culture. You can see one of Natalina's MoDA collection-inspired outfits in the photograph below.

Design in watercolour for a printed textile,
Lewis Jones, 1936, Museum of Domestic Design  &
Architecture (SD10675)
A Final collection piece, inspired by MoDA,
created by Natalina Pisapia

Naomi Hilton (BA Fashion Textiles) found her inspiration from adverts she encountered whilst flicking through the pages of some of MoDA's magazines, including Picture Post.  She was particularly drawn towards the textural nature of some of the images, which due to the way they were printed appeared to be made up of a series of tiny dots.

Front cover of the first edition of Picture Post from October 1938,
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MJ 112)

In her final collection Naomi explored this idea, creating a menswear collection including printed fabrics and knitwear based around  the idea of  layering.up different colours and sizes of dots to create an image.

Menswear collection by Naomi Hilton

I am sure you would agree that the students' have created some impressive work for their award entries.  Will one of these three students be this year's winner?  All will be revealed tonight when the award will be presented at Middlesex University's Final Year Art & Design show, which is taking place at the Truman Brewery in East London over the weekend.  If you are not able to make it to the show tonight then please look out for the announcement of the winner on MoDA's Twitter and Facebook pages.  We will also be showcasing the winning entry on this blog, so watch this space!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The highwayman in the front room

Most museums have acquisition policies to define what they consider suitable donations (the Natural History Museum are unlikely to accept a Vivian Westwood ballgown but they might suggest the prospective donor try their neighbour, the V&A). At MoDA we are interested in objects related to the history of domestic design and architecture, which are in good condition and come with contextual information (a background story) or connections to known designers or companies.

Earlier this year we received an offer that ticked every box for us (except for the one about a known designer): A late 1960s wallpaper in perfect condition with an interesting back story about a home, a family and a particular DIY incident. Today's blog post is about the newest addition to MoDA's collection: A Dick Turpin the highwayman themed wallpaper from the 1960s.

Sample of Dick Turpin themed wallpaper, ca.1955, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, BADDA4864
The paper was acquired in the late 1950s by the donor's father: Peter Joseph Brown. He picked it up in a sale at Olby's, a sanitaryware shop on the high street in Penge, London. He decided to use the paper in the front room of his home at 13, Raleigh Road, Penge, SE20 which was a terraced, two storey dwelling with two bedrooms and a little garden.

The donor recalls that as soon as the paper went up, the family (Peter's wife and daughter) realized it was a mistake. However he persevered and completed it. The room was photographed by Jack Warner - an employee of a camera shop where Peter's wife worked as a cleaner.

Photograph of the front room at 13, Raleigh Road, Penge by Jack Warner, around 1960, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (BADDA4865.1)
The reflection in the mirror above the mantle confirms that the room was papered wall-to-wall with the Dick Turpin wallpaper. No wonder the donor remembers how claustrophobic the whole thing felt. The front room was on the lower floor and was used only on high days and holidays and was freezing until the fire had been lit. The photograph also shows part of the green three-piece suite in the room, the fireplace, anti-maccassars and some ornaments on the mantle - including a photograph of the donor's uncle in army uniform.  She also gave us three other photographs including one showing a sideboard in the room.

Photograph of the door into the hall, from the front room at 13, Raleigh Road, Penge, around 1960, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA4865.2)

Photograph of Peter Joseph Brown on Raleigh Road, Penge, around 1960, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture ( BADDA4865.4)

Photograph of 13, Raleigh Road, Penge, around 1960, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA4865.3)
The bay window with the netting curtains is the one for the front room shown in the photographs above. 
No one ever spoke out about their dislike of the paper, however a year later Peter re-did the room again with a lighter, less busy wallpaper. Left over rolls of the Dick Turpin wallpaper were used for an inside loo in the house of an aunt who lived over the road, and some were kept by the family. Peter passed away in December 1960.

When MoDA relocated to Colindale, we cut back on acquiring new things for the collection because our new collection store was less spacious. New acquisitions are exciting, but they take up time, space and resources. We try and balance getting new things with spending time and resources on the wonderful collections we already have to make these more accessible to the public.

But even with restrictions on what we can acquire, we understood earlier this year, how significant this offer by Peter Joseph Brown's family was. We see it as one of the more special papers in our collection now. Along with the photographs and other documents supplied by the donor, we have been able to recount the story of how the wallpaper was used. We also appreciate how this story challenges the assumptions we have made about the way consumers use wallpaper and what designs belong in what parts of a home.