Katie Treggiden was invited into the Monocle24 recording studio to share her highlights of the 2018 London Design Festival. You can listen to the show here.
Emily Jo Gibbs invited Katie Treggiden to write the foreword to her book, The Value of Making, written to accompany an exhibition of the same name at Contemporary Applied Arts. ‘I’m really delighted – I feel you have made my book so much more intelligent,’ she said. All copy as provided to Emily.
This series of portraits is a response to what Emily Jo Gibbs describes as ‘the lack of value placed on making by our society’. Given that both the process of making and the handmade objects that result bring so much joy, why are craft skills undervalued at every level of society from education to employment and commerce?
The answer, as with so many things, lies with the ancient Greeks, who believed sight to be the noblest of our five senses. ‘The eyes are more exact witnesses than the ears,’ wrote Heraclitus, while Aristotle claimed that sight ‘approximates the intellect most closely’ making a link between vision and knowledge, understanding and truth. This reverence for sight was reflected in an emerging hierarchy between vocations:
‘We consider that the architects in every profession are more estimable and know more and are wiser than the artisans, because they know the reasons for the things which are done.’
As well as demoting those who make below those who design, Aristotle uses the word cheirotechnon to describe them, which, directly translated, simply means ‘handworker’, in contrast to the earlier demioergos – a combination of the words ‘public’ and ‘productive’ that implies a greater value to society.
By the Renaissance, sight (associated with fire and light) sat at the top of a strict hierarchy of senses, with touch (associated with earth) relegated to the bottom. It follows then that thinking and drawing (associated with the eyes) became prized above making (associated with the hands).
Sir Joshua Reynolds became the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 and argued that an artist might start his training with manual skills but would only graduate once he had mastered ‘the grandeur of his ideas.’ Thomas Chippendale’s ‘pattern books’ took design out of the hands of makers and into the heads of draughtsmen and by the end of the century craftspeople were simply ‘called upon to fill the gap between sketch and product.’4
The 19th century brought with it the Industrial Revolution and further division of labour between head and hand. Inspired by a romanticised vision of the artisan’s role in 12th-century cathedral construction, and profoundly influenced by the writings of the art critic John Ruskin, William Morris led the Arts and Crafts movement in proposing a return to hand-craftsmanship, which would return artisans to the status of artists. Although the movement failed to fulfil many of its aims, craft theorist Glenn Adamson argues that it was in this era that craft was truly invented – in opposition to industry.
Today we face a different set of challenges and a revolution of our own. The myth of the hierarchy of the senses is being exacerbated by technology – while haptic feedback is now programmed into our smartphones to reassure us that our commands are being received, their ubiquitous screens serve up predominantly sight and sound while taunting us with images that exude tactility, taste and scent. Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa describes the resulting status of those ‘other three senses’ as ‘archaic sensory remnants with merely a private function.’ No wonder skills of the hard aren’t prioritised in schools.
And yet change is in the air. Adamson argues that the digital revolution is just as traumatic as its industrial predecessor, describing craft as ‘an understandable response to the crises of modernity.’ When ceramic artist and author Edmund de Waal talks about ‘returning to earth’ he is, of course, referring to clay, and yet he might also be referring to a return to the sense of touch. From trend forecaster Li Edelkort predicting that ‘super technology is going to ask for super tactility’ in 2012 and Design Academy Eindhoven creative director Thomas Widdershoven describing tactility as ‘a political statement, a social statement, a human statement’ in 2015 to the current surge in demand for all things handmade, it seems the value of making is finally being recognised. Looking at Emily Jo Gibbs’ exquisite works in this book, you start to understand why. The connection Emily has formed with her fellow makers is more than evident in the portraits she has made of them, and yet there are things Emily is able to articulate through the physically invested work of stitching, and through her instinct to focus not on the makers but their tools, that might elude both writers and photographers. In the texture and tactility of these portraits, in every hand-stitched detail, every silken shadow, Emily captures and celebrates the value of making – both that of her subjects and her own.
 Pallasmaa, J. (2012) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Chicester: John Wiley & Sons  Sennett, R. (2008). The Craftsman. London: Penguin Books  Sennett, R. (2008). The Craftsman. London: Penguin Books  Adamson, G. (2007) Thinking through craft. London / New York: Berg  Adamson, G. (2013) The invention of craft. London / New York: Bloomsbury Academic  Pallasmaa, J. (2012) The eyes of the skin: Architecture and the senses. London: Wiley & Sons.  Adamson, G. (2013) The invention of craft. London / New York: Bloomsbury Academic  Etherington, R. (2012) “Super technology is going to ask for super tactility” – Li Edelkoort at Dezeen Live. London: Dezeen. Available online: https://www.dezeen.com/2012/12/28/super-technology-is-going-to-ask-for-super-tactility-li-edelkoort-at-dezeen-live/  Widdershoven, T. (2015) Press conference, Design Academy Eindhoven graduate show, Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
Book photography by Yeshen Venema. Exhibition photography by Katie Treggiden.
All copy as supplied to publication.
Geotechnical engineer Katy Green and her arborist husband David bought an old school that had been converted into offices, at auction, without planning permission, having sold their previous house without anything to move into. They spotted their current home in the local newspaper, went to have a look, and headed to the auction. ‘David was wearing a bobble hat and nodding as he bid so the bobble was just nodding away!’ laughs Katy. ‘It was “going once, going twice” at £112,000, and we thought we had it. Then a new bidder chipped in, so it ended up going for £150,000 “to the man in the bobble hat!”’ An immediate deposit was required, and a few frantic calls to the bank secured a loan and the house.
But what they bought was a far cry from either the original school or the home they now live in. Outside, there were three prefabricated huts spanning 100 feet, 12 telephone lines and a 22-space car park. Inside, the space had been carved up with stud walls and false ceilings, hiding the original architecture. Despite all that, Katy immediately saw its potential. ‘It had an institutional feel, which I actually really liked, and I liked its weird scale too – from the front it’s this cute little house, but once you get inside it reveals its full size.’ They secured planning permission, but because it was a ‘change of use’ they couldn’t get building regulations sign-off – or a mortgage – until the end of the project. A bridging loan from family saved the day.
Once funds were in place, they ripped everything out – right back to the original stone walls. ‘Anything we could do ourselves we did,’ says Katy, whose hands-on approach extended to living in those prefabricated huts on-site throughout the 18-month build – without a shower and only camping stoves to cook on. They commissioned a timber-frame inside the external walls, insulating between the two. Today, the whole house can be kept warm just with the Aga, even in winter. They had all the windows replaced and the joists at the back of the building cut, raising the floor level to add height to two new bedrooms in the basement. Downstairs, a damp-course membrane and concrete floor were added, while masons punched windows into the stone walls of the basement, adding granite lintels to match those used elsewhere. ‘It was a big scary job,’ admits Katy. At the same time, they were re-roofing – replacing the modern cement tile with traditional slate, and reclaimed ridged tiles Katy sourced for the top. ‘I enjoy hunting things down, but finding a 12-metre run of reclaimed ridged tiles is really hard,’ she laughs. They sandblasted and repointed all the stonework, replaced the fascias and removed a contemporary door from the front of the storm porch.
Inside they lowered the ceilings in the lounge and master bedroom, but kept the full 14-foot height in the main living space. ‘I love a big living-dining space, so I really wanted to keep it,’ says Katy. A bedroom and bathroom up a few stairs, and the two bedrooms tucked into the basement, complete the space. They sanded the original floors in the bedrooms and lounge, pulling out staples one by one. ‘It was a labour of love,’ says Katy, who opted for herringbone parquet in the main space. They had just finished plastering when disaster struck. ‘The ceiling suddenly cracked,’ says Katy. ‘We had to take the whole lot down. I did have a little cry at that moment.’ The light at the end of the tunnel soon appeared though. ‘The kitchen was one of the last things to go in, and the day they fitted the Aga just felt really lovely,’ she says. Having scoured the country’s reclamation yards, online auction sites and car boot sales throughout the build to find furniture and accessories to suit her industrial midcentury style, elements of the internal architecture were built around her finds. ‘I bought a school bench shoe rack for the entrance hall and that dictated the width of the book case on the other side,’ she says. ‘And the door frames were made to fit the second-hand doors I found. I love those little details.’ Most of the interior came together instinctively as she collected things she liked, taking care to keep the overall look simple. ‘We limited the colour palate to white and wood, with the odd accent of grey or red,’ she explains.
Once the interior was complete, the couple’s thoughts turned to the garden. ‘We had spent 18 months renovating the house, surrounded by a sea of tarmac, so we couldn’t wait to get rid of it,’ says Katy. ‘A JCB-driver friend dug up the car park, but that just meant we were surrounded by a sea of mud, which was slightly soul-destroying.’ The slow evolution of the garden, which now includes a sun terrace, raised vegetable beds and a family of chickens, is what finally makes the project feel complete: ‘Each year things are growing and that makes it feel like home,’ says Katy. Now that it’s done, was it worth all the risk and hard work? ‘Had I known then what I know now, I might have been a bit less gung-ho,’ she laughs. ‘But I’m glad we did it. It is a really warm space where we can get a whole bunch of friends together. We’re really happy here.’
Photography by Bruce Hemming
. ‘I just wanted to drop you an email to thank you for your excellent work on the NY piece – I really enjoyed it,’ said Vicky Lane, editor of b.inspired by Brussels Airlines. ‘I look forward to working together again soon.’ The story was chosen for the cover feature.
If you spend time with New Yorkers – or want to live like a local when you visit – you can’t avoid the city’s parks. From T’ai Chi classes at sun-up to free concerts in the evenings, in New York, park life is a way of life. Katie Treggiden reports on the innovative green spaces shaping the city.
Fireflies fill the air as picnickers throw open their blankets and unpack their food to the sound of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra tuning up in Central Park. Cyclists and joggers circumnavigate the gathering crowds as the sun sets and the temperature drops. ‘I’m so happy to live in New York, just for this experience,’ says Koray Duman, principal of local architecture firm Büro Koray Duman, pushing his own bicycle as he speaks. Parks are the antidote to the chaos of the city that makes living here worthwhile. ‘You can step into Central Park and forget that you’re in one of the biggest cities in the world,’ says New York-based designer Brad Ascalon. ‘It is an 843-acre masterpiece.’ But although Central Park is the city’s most well-known green space, pioneering new developments like the High Line and Domino Park are jostling for top spot in the city’s park scene.
The High Line (opened in 2009 after local residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond met at a neighbourhood community meeting to discuss the future of the elevated railway) begins with a dramatic balcony overlooking Manhattan’s Meatpacking District and the recently relocated Whitney Museum. It meanders through the dappled shade of young trees and the 14th Street Passage to the sundeck, where adults relax on sliding sun loungers while children run barefoot, squealing with delight, through a stream just a few millimetres deep. A short stroll further is Chelsea Market Passage, which offers the rare opportunity to combine ice-cream sandwiches with the perusal of some serious works of art – the Friends of the High Line commission new installations every six months. Only the 10th Avenue Square and Overlook – an amphitheatre-like space with views up 10th Avenue to the north and over the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty to the south – remind you that you are in one of the biggest cities in the world.
It’s an amazing feat when you realise that David and Hammond’s only aim in establishing the Friends of the High Line was to prevent it from being demolished. After a competition that received entries as disparate as a lane-swimming pool and a rollercoaster, landscape architect James Corner, architecture firm Diller Scofiluo + Renfeld and planting designer Piet Oudolf came up with plans for the linear park that now measures 1.45 miles and attracts over five million visitors a year. It took $187 million and three years to build, but thanks to property taxes from the accompanying surge in local development, the High Line is predicted to generate $1billion for the city over the next 20 years.
However, despite its popularity, its sizeable return on investment and the copycats appearing worldwide (the Seoullo 7017 in Seoul; Tokyo’s Log Road Daikanyama; and the Goods Line in Sydney, to name but a few), the High Line has come in for criticism. ‘The local community just didn’t come here,’ explains Duman. ‘When asked why, they said that they didn’t see other people who looked like them.’ Almost a third of local residents are people of colour, yet a City University of New York study found that visitors were ‘overwhelmingly white’ and tourists rather than locals. ‘We were from the community. We wanted to do it for the neighbourhood,’ said Robert Hammond in a 2017 interview with City Lab. ‘Ultimately, we failed.’ In their defence, Hammond and David totally underestimated the appeal of their venture, expecting no more than 300,000 visitors a year – and they are addressing the feedback with a much more diverse programme of more than 450 public activities a year. It’s working. The Tuesday morning T’ai Chi classes are popular with tourists and locals from all walks of life – all moving in slow, concentrated unison as the morning sun warms their faces. Landscape architect James Corner of Field Operations is applying the lessons learned to subsequent undertakings – such as Domino Park.
‘The treacle is coming,’ warns a wild-eyed child as he hurtles past at meteoric speed before crawling up a nearby tube slide. Artist Mark Reigelman’s playground at Domino Park casts children in the role of sugar, enabling them to propel themselves through series of constructions taken from the factory’s original layout and even painted in the same sugary colour palette. The riverside park is arranged along a similarly linear plot to the High Line, and as well as the playground, offers visitors a dog run, volley-ball and bocce ball courts, a lawn, a taco-bar and – judging from the wet clothes – a pretty unpredictable fountain courtyard.
‘We hired Field Operations because they did the High Line,’ says Dave Lombino, managing director of Two Trees – the development firm behind the regeneration of the six-acre Domino Sugar Refinery site. ‘From the outset, we wanted to do something that was representative of the community, where everyone would feel welcome, so we met with Rob Hammond, we listened, and we took note.’ Having acquired a site that spans a quarter of a mile of the East River bank in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg from another developer, they tore up the approved plans and asked what community really wanted. The result combines residential and commercial development in such a way as to preserve the original factory façade. ‘That mix brings a whole new energy,’ explains Lombino.
New plans also made the park more accessible by removing a steep slope and adding a public road alongside it, but Reigelman thinks the most important factor in its success is the sense of play. ‘My work has always been about improving public spaces,’ he explains. ‘But having seen the impact of this project, I might have to become a professional playground designer.’ He’s only half joking. On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, the results speak for themselves – the playground is teeming with children and, looking on from the side-lines, their parents and carers sit side by side. ‘Tourists, Dominican and Puerto Rican groups, the Hasidic Jewish community and white Americans all hang out together here,’ says Reigelman. ‘There are very few places in New York where that happens. And the grown-ups are just as willing to be playful here as the kids.’
The same fun-focused approach is being applied elsewhere as formerly industrial piers are turned into water-front leisure spaces for city-dwellers right around the edge of Manhattan – and then linked up with green spaces in between. Listed in Time Out New York Kids’ ‘25 Best Playgrounds in New York City,’ Pier 51 at Hudson River Park takes inspiration from its history too – the jungle gym references the White Fort once located nearby – but more importantly, children can soak themselves and each other with giant water gushers and buckets. ‘Don’t forget the towels,’ warns Time Out. Ironically, this development is part of a wider programme to turn the whole perimeter of Manhattan into one contiguous park as part of an improved flood defence scheme conceived in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. $335 million of public money has already been allocated to the ‘Big U’ – a flood barrier ‘disguised as a park’ extending 10 miles around the tip of Manhattan island. Soon, you really won’t be able to avoid New York’s green spaces, but with parks this good, why would you want to?
Katie Treggiden worked with Bethan Gray Design as their in-house copywriter for an intense period of six months. She joined the team in March 2018 after strategic work initiated by CEO Massimo Grey. Together Katie and Massimo refined the brand definition and Katie then developed its articulation, creating two distinct tones of voice – one for the studio and one for Bethan. This unusual approach enabled the brand’s high-end aspirational values to sit comfortably with Bethan’s down-to-earth, approachable and empathetic personality. Over the following six months, Katie edited or originated all the copy across every brand touchpoint from the website and brochures to press releases, film scripts and speeches.
‘Everything I design starts with a story – through collaborating with skilled craftsman I bring those stories to life for contemporary audiences.’
London-based Bethan Gray is one of the UK’s most celebrated furniture and homeware designers, having been awarded three Elle Decoration British Design Awards including the coveted Best British Designer. Established in 2008, Bethan Gray Design creates luxury handcrafted collections of furniture and home accessories that are sold through global retailers such as Harrods, Liberty, Lane Crawford and EJ Victor, and also available directly.
Bethan Gray has an extraordinary background: born to a Scottish father and Welsh mother, her maternal family descends from a nomadic Rajasthani clan that migrated across Arabia and Persia over centuries. Inspired by her heritage and fuelled by a deep-seated curiosity about global art and culture, Bethan has travelled to India, Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and South America.
‘My Grandmother was a Romani Gypsy. I was brought up to be proud of my roots and open to other cultures – I think that might be why I love travelling so much.’
Working within equal partnerships built on mutual trust and respect is at the heart of Bethan Gray’s creative practice. By collaborating with master craftspeople and bringing contemporary relevance to their work, she is able to connect them to new commercial markets all over the world, celebrating and preserving their skills in her furniture and home accessories. Within her own practice in London, she nurtures, connects and encourages new design talent and mentors upcoming female designers. She has recently launched a Prize for Women in Craft with Cardiff Metropolitan University where she is an honorary fellow.
Bethan’s design process always begins with a story. Whether it is the sails of Oman’s distinctive Dhow boats, the rounded castellations of the Nizwa Fort, a 12th-century Italian cathedral or the three-legged Welsh cricket tables of her childhood. These stories are distinctive parts of the cultures to which they belong – and often in danger of being forgotten. By capturing their essence in collaboration with local artisans using traditional craft skills, Bethan is able to tell stories through craft, deftly preserving and translating cultural narratives, materials and aesthetics in a way that resonates with both the people to whom they belong and audiences across the globe.
Bethan Gray’s work is characterised by bold, confident patterns inspired by the shapes she sees all around her from the growth spirals of shells to the sacred geometry seen in architecture all over the world. Her patterns are drawn by hand to capture their natural imperfections and then meticulously executed using ancient craft skills.
‘Even the most complex pattern becomes harmonious when you get it just right. I think my instinct for geometry comes from my family’s middle eastern heritage.’
Known for pushing the boundaries of craft techniques, Bethan Gray has the technical expertise to deftly combine materials as diverse as marble, birds-eye maple, leather and brass need some refining, resulting in products and spaces that are tactile and engaging.
‘I am often inspired by nature and I absolutely love natural materials’
Bethan’s colour palette is inspired by her love of travel, photography and culture and informed by the natural materials she works with. References such as the ombré effect caused by sunlight falling across the castellations of the Nizwa fort, paired with an innate talent for creating combinations that work, has resulted in a distinctive colour palette that represents a contemporary take on femininity that is warm and welcoming.
‘Photography is an important part of my creative process and I try to really pay attention to the colours I capture. Over the years, I’ve distilled those colours into a balanced palette.’
ABOUT BETHAN GRAY DESIGN
Combining their talents, creative director Bethan Gray and husband and CEO Massimo established Bethan Gray Design in 2008. A decade as Habitat’s design director provided Bethan with extensive experience collaborating with craftspeople all over the world as well as a thorough grounding in the commercial workings of the industry. An honorary Fellowship of Cardiff Metropolitan University recently recognised her contribution to craft and design – one that is characterised by empathy, originality and instinctive talent. Massimo’s entrepreneurial upbringing, a previous career in finance and an MBA from the SDA Bocconi School of Management, combined with his training as a registered life planner under George Kinder, provides the long-term vision to realise the creative potential of the studio.
In the ten years since establishing the studio, Bethan and Massimo have built meaningful partnerships supporting over 400 craftspeople worldwide, always developing deep relationships based on mutual trust that help to achieve the ambitions of all parties – in fact, as well as sitting on the boards of some of the world’s leading design studios, Massimo works closely with each of the studio’s partners to help them to develop and realise their visions. In partnership with local artisans, Bethan tells cultural stories through craft and design, creating best-selling collections of luxury furniture and homeware that are at once decorative and highly original, while remaining comfortable and functional.
Bethan Gray Design also works with global design brands such as The Glenlivet, Anthropologie and Rado creating immersive experiences as well as physical products to help them tell their own stories. Bethan’s empathetic approach combined with Massimo’s strategic vision results in unique narratives communicated through craft. Bethan Gray Design’s collections are distributed by global retailers such as Lane Crawford, EJ Victor, Living Edge, The Odd Piece, Liberty and Harrods. The studio’s work features extensively in global media; has been recognised with three Elle Decoration British Design Awards; and is regularly exhibited in London, Milan, Paris, Dubai and throughout the United States.
See more at bethangray.com
‘We created a space that works for our family.’ Daisy and Jeremy Chubb’s open-plan kitchen opens out onto the garden and is perfect for family life.
A three-bedroom Edwardian terrace, near Guildford in Surrey, bought in October 2013.
Who lives here
Daisy Chubb, an interior designer, husband Jeremy and their daughter Florence, 7.
What they did
Removed a partial wall, faux beams and brickwork, altered the position of the window and added bi-fold doors, blocked up the fireplace, but retained the chimney breast, and replaced everything apart from the oven, which had been newly installed when they bought the house.
Country kitchen meets Victorian apothecary in a light-filled, open-plan space, packed with storage and designed to meet the needs of busy family life.
When Daisy Chubb and her husband first saw the house they now call home, its kitchen sported fake beams, exposed brickwork and 1980s wallpaper. ‘The previous owner was a bachelor, and I think it was inspired by old mens’ pubs,’ laughs Daisy. But, as an interior designer, she immediately spotted its potential. ‘It was such a great space,’ she says.
The whole house needed renovating, but having fitted a wood-burning stove in the room next door, the kitchen was first on the list. The irregular shape of the garden made an extension difficult, so they decided to optimise the space they had, removing the wall that divided the kitchen and dining area and ripping out the faux finishes.
Having moved from a house with exceptionally good storage and realising there wasn’t enough space for their beloved Welsh dresser, storage quickly became their top priority. ‘I liked the idea of a library or an apothecary with floor-to-ceiling storage and sliding ladders,’ says Daisy. ‘We combined that idea with something appropriate to the age and location of the cottage.’ A country-style kitchen provided the full height solution Daisy was looking for and glass-fronted cupboards added the apothecary aesthetic. Wallpaper featuring a tree motif connects the kitchen to its wooded surroundings.
Next, it was a matter of making the space work for their family. They had planned another wood-burning stove, but realised that space would be too tight for the dining table, so they bricked up the fireplace, keeping the chimney breast as a feature. Adding bi-fold doors opened the room to the garden, which now seamlessly connects with the inside to create the perfect family space.
What it cost
Kitchen units £3,250
Work tops £340
Sink and tap £409
Bi-fold doors £3,000
Photography by Bruce Hemming