Pink for the boys?

Are women being ignored by the world of design? We’ve been musing on this after reading Grayson Perry’s challenging and provocative The Descent of Man. It’s a look at how masculinity operates, with a suggestion that an urgent upgrade could make the world a better place, for men AND women.

And it’s the chapter on design that set us thinking. Perry points out that the most fundamental error made by male designers is one which we have all come across: at social venues there are hardly ever queues for the men’s loos, but not enough toilets for women. Why? Because nearly all architects are male.

He has some very sharp observations. “Whenever I wander into a corporate lobby, generally full of black leather and beige marble, and often punctuated by the odd phallic sculpture, I feel as though I’m in an oversized bachelor pad”.

It reminds me of a project I worked on which was arguably masculine in nature. I was involved in the refurb for the relocation of the Jaguar Showroom in Mayfair, and it was identified and instructed from the people higher up that they were trying to shed some of their masculine image and appeal more to the female market.

Addressing the brief, I specified a padded leather feature wall near to the front of the showroom as a backdrop for displaying their latest car, and I moved away from their corporate brand manual and specified cream leather. I had a battle with the head of the design company, who happened to be male, and insisted that it should be Jaguar signature tan leather. I stood my ground and explained my reasons and eventually won the argument, having had final approval from the Jaguar team. One small step for womankind.

Another relevant example was my design for the Serenity Spa. This was a place with more women users than men, but as the spa industry was growing exponentially we were mindful not to alienate men with our design direction and to allow for future growth in the male market. In fact by using the Thai influence with its naturally minimal lines, textures and structures this was a very natural fit for being non gender specific, and the longevity of the design.

serenity_spa_pool

As a personal observation, in the design world where there are a lot of male designers, the ones who tend to be better connected with detail and more feminine influences of design tend to be gay. A sweeping generalisation, I know.

But along with many other women designers, I squirm at the notion of “shrink it and pink it” when brands want to “girlify” a neutral product. In fact, as Perry points out, until the 19th century pink was considered a suitable colour for BOYS. “Boys were small men, and men wore red uniforms, hence pink for boys.”

The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry is published by Penguin, £8.99 and available from Fred Holdsworth, Ambleside, and other good bookshops

 

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A design icon back on our rails

There’s been rejoicing this week as trains left the main line station at Oxenholme bound for end of the branch line Windermere.

It’s not just that we have trains again after the Northern Rail fiasco left us without any service at all for several weeks.

It’s because we’ve seen the return of a design icon, a 40 year old diesel engine which links us to the glorious days of rail travel.

Our heritage train leaving Windermere: photo by Dayve Ward

Our heritage train leaving Windermere: photo by Dayve Ward

West Coast Railways, which specialises in steam-hauled charter excursions, stepped in to restore services after Northern, the regular passenger operator, replaced services with buses.

Passengers are now travelling free on the 10-mile route from Oxenholme to Windermere six times a day. The Department for Transport is reported to be meeting the £5,500 daily running costs.

The engines have no nameplates. One is a Class 37, dating from the 1960s, the other is a Class 57 (re-engineered in early-2000s from a 1960s-built loco). They are, ironically, only slightly older than many of the 1980s Pacers which normally operate on the line. But they look like “proper” trains, ones that reminds us of the romance and glamour of the days when the railways projected the mystique and allure of train travel in ways that weren’t simply about speed.

The Flying Scotsman, the Silver Jubilee, the Coronation Scot and the Cheltenham Flyer: in their heyday these classic British expresses were not only the fastest trains of their kind in the world, but a synonym for character and luxury, too.

Many of the things that made rail travel pleasurable have disappeared. Certainly  in Britain we seem to have lost the knack, deployed by the old railway companies, of harnessing the innate love of trains that seems to run through our DNA. Gone are railway stations built like cathedrals rather than concrete boxes, haute cuisine in the dining car, cosy compartments, seats that line up with the windows, cheerful porters on platforms.

By contrast think of modern railway stations designed elsewhere by Santiago Calatrava which epitomise style and artistry in architecture.

Calatrava train station

Calatrava train station

So a huge thank you to West Coast Railways , the independent heritage train operating company which usually specialises in operating charter trains along some of the UKs most famous and scenic routes and to many beautiful destinations.

It’s not quite the Flying Scotsman or the Orient Express, or the Night Mail of Auden’s poem, or our favourite fantasy railway, the Hogwarts Express, but it’s brought a reminder that design needs to play a part in the most functional areas of our daily lives.

And here’s the timetable:

train timetable

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Creating the WOW factor in design

Understanding the psychology of interior design is to see what creates the wow factor.

It’s visual, of course, so you will already have looked at the projects on this website and said, “Ooh” and “Ahhh” and “Wow, I want to go there”.

The image that makes you catch your breath will have a certain amount of order, semblance and detail, but not too much clutter. Lighting is key, as creating dynamic pockets of light and shadow can transform an interior.

Pockets of light and shadow……

The statement that  ‘Your interior should reflect you personality’  is rather odd, as your interior style may also be influenced by the period of the property, your budget (or lack of), your likes and dislikes, and family heirlooms that you simply can’t part with.

As a penniless student I was so captivated by a beautiful hand carved Art Nouveau headboard on a market stall for £80, I just had to have it. Twenty-something years later I’m still the proud owner and admire it every night. It’s a very versatile period piece and despite my home having a more minimalist style, it can be mixed with anything to make a more contemporary setting, ironically making it timeless.

I’ve never met anyone who is a completely blank canvas and has no idea what they like. They usually do have an opinion and when I start to extract a brief, saying what they don’t like comes quite naturally.

A client came to me with a brief for their five bedroom new build home : ‘Like Malmaison…but not as dark…’ Even though the Malmasion Hotel signature style is dark, quirky and gritty, I understood where my client was coming from. We also threw in a bit of country farmhouse and some local Hadrian’s Wall influence, to produce some lovely earthy and gritty results, with drama.

But what a challenge it would be designing an interior for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg . He says he doesn’t want to expend any energy deciding on what coloured T shirt to wear each day, so he has a wardrobe full of the same grey T shirt. But even in Mark’s virtual world I’m sure he will have an opinion of what he doesn’t like.

It is pointless, of course, having a space that looks stunning if it simply won’t function. It will look a mess in no time and the labour involved in its upkeep takes away precious hours that should be spent on more important things in life.

 

 

 

 

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