Modern Design In Britain9 November, 2015
“LEARNING TO LOOK CAN BE AS CREATIVE AS MAKING.” HIS OWN EXPERTISE DEVELOPED FROM A NATURAL CURIOSITY IN HIS SURROUNDINGS, AND AN UNDERSTANDING OF HOW IMPORTANT GOOD DESIGN CAN BE TO EVERYDAY LIFE.
Ken Stradling, the nonagenarian collector and a patron of modern design, has long believed that “learning to look can be as creative as making”. His own expertise developed from a natural curiosity in his surroundings, and an understanding of how important good design can be to everyday life.
Stradling has spent most of his life working for the Bristol Guild of Applied Art. As its buyer and director, he filled it with innovative stock sourced from Europe and Scandinavia as well as Britain. Over the decades it expanded to sell furniture and textiles, and to include an exhibition space and restaurant. It was there that Stradling learned to look, training his eye as he discovered new makers, bought, sold and exhibited their work.
Gradually, Stradling began to build up his own personal collection of 20th and 21st century design, encompassing furniture, ceramics, glassware, pottery and wooden objects. In 2007 he created a charitable trust for the collection with a permanent home in Bristol. It is intended as a study centre; everything can be handled, and nothing is in cabinets. “You can,” he says with pride, “sit on every bloody chair”.
For this exhibition, titled “Modern Design in Britain”, Margaret Howell has selected fifty objects from the Ken Stradling Collection for display at her flagship shop on Wigmore Street in London. It reflects the range of Stadling’s collection as well as Howell’s own taste. Fitting comfortably between the rails of her autumn collection and alongside British design favourites such as Ercol and Anglepoise, there are rows of studio pottery, shelves of brightly coloured Scandinavian glass, and clusters of Marcel Breuer furniture.
Stradling’s taste is not easy to predict, and there is no dominant aesthetic or obvious theme; Bauhaus side-tables and Somerset ceramics are viewed with equal respect. The two design connoisseurs share an appreciation for quality materials, longevity and utility, as well as the charms of handmade imperfections and original design.