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!

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