Creating the green room

An art installation combining flowers, leaves and romantic lighting has been created at a leading Lake District hotel.

The biophilic circular frame, almost two metres across, was installed in the dining room at Windermere’s Cedar Manor Hotel in time for Valentine’s Day.

Inspired by old fashioned large blooms, it features high quality silk roses, peonies, magnolia and hydrangeas mixed in with trailing ivy and eucalyptus leaves, and is fitted with remote control LED lights which have scene setting controls.

It’s the work of Alison Tordoff of Fidget Design who worked with Alex Wickens on the installation.

Biophilic design is about humans’ innate connection to nature and natural processes to improve health and well being of spaces we live and work in.

Alison was inspired by the work of design guru, Oliver Heath: “It’s about bringing the outside in and relevant health benefits, making a mindful and relaxing environment.”

Heath says there is evidence to suggest that by incorporating biophilic design into our built environments, we can increase our health and wellbeing. “Biophilic design acknowledges that we are instinctively connected to nature and that through exploring this connection within the spaces that we live, relax and work in, we can positively influence our physical and psychological health.”

Caroline Kaye, co-owner of the Cedar Manor, agrees, but was equally impressed by the visual impact of the art installation.

“It looks so beautiful, and it’s appropriate not just for Valentines but also for Mothers’ Day. We love the way it’s transformed our dining room.”

She added: “The theme is perfect here. Botanists went travelling and brought back exotic species of plants, and that’s why we have our  Cedar tree.”

Cedar Manor look up

Watch the installation being created here





Creating a vibrant business economy in the Lakes

Car parks full, park and ride schemes mooted. Local housing too expensive for young people to stay in the area. We have too many visitors? We need more visitors?

Have you noticed how certain themes keep recurring on a cyclical basis in the Lake District? And not very much happens.

The Lakes: visitor destination, but a high tech business hub, too?

We are excited to be part of the Great Place: Lakes and Dales project which aims to create a “sustainable, resilient, creative community and economy, which will retain and attract younger people and business to the area to influence, support and create our future economy.”

It’s led by SLDC and Craven District Council, in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Park Authorities. And it’s backed by big money: Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund have awarded £1.34million for this innovative project which, it’s hoped, will boost the local economy through celebrating local culture, arts and heritage.

But we were warned at the time: “With an ageing population we need to take action to attract and retain more young people. Only young people and families will ensure the survival of our village schools, provide a skilled workforce for local businesses, and keep our districts vibrant and attractive for visitors.”

So what’s been happening since? Where are the ideas that will take us forward and ensure that our creative young people, who might need to move away to study and launch their careers, will be able to return to the area and play their part?

Now a business leader is recommending that the Lakes should be a magnet for high tech firms who would benefit from a move out of London. Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, argued that the national park should become the ‘destination of choice’ for tech and service businesses looking to relocate from the capital. Sensible idea, indeed.

I’ve been down that route: a degree in Brighton, jobs with leading design agencies in London, exciting projects to work on world-wide. But I knew what – and where – inspired me as an artist and designer, and it had to be back “home” in Windermere when I set up my own agency. I was lucky because my family were still here, and I’d been earning enough to come back and settle in the national park.

Yet though I love being here, and can’t imagine a better place to raise my family, I’m struck by the lack of creative imagination and vision on the part of our planners. Do tourism resources have to be concentrated on the A591 corridor, for example? What about the neglected communities on the fringes of the national park where local housing is not prohibitively expensive, where there’s a willing workforce… and where there’s former semi-industrial land which could be developed for tourism attractions. Such as …zip wires, perhaps?

We need some doing as well as talking. Rather than endless discussions about our ageing community and our fossilised views, can we summon the creative energy to DO something? For a start, how about building communities of affordable eco houses for families?

We have to encourage young people, if not to stay here, at least to return with knowledge and experience. To draw in younger people we need the types of businesses that will attract them, and pay good wages. How about HQ for a large IT business like FaceBook?

Doing something is vital to strengthen the economy of our rural communities and help make them sustainable for the future, to prevent Bowness becoming one big car park, to bring visitors here on clean, modern, regular train services which arrive at a gateway worthy of a world heritage site.

We need to look elsewhere, beyond our comfort zone, to see the impact that great design is having on other parts of the world. We need the courage to recognise that “contemporary” and “conservation” are words that belong comfortably in the same sentence. And we need to engage the enthusiasm of a younger generation, rather than pretending we know it all.





Alison leads Cumbria’s top businesswomen to Westminster

Fidget Design went south to Westminster when our guiding light Alison joined 8 other Cumbrian businesswomen for a day out with a difference.

All are Enterprise Vision Awards finalists  representing the best in business, and they were taken on a tour of the Houses of Parliament by MP Tim Farron. The trip was organised by Alison who had written to Mr Farron.

ally at westminster

Alison, fourth from left, with the EVAs finalists at Westminster

The women have been shortlisted in a wide variety of categories: retail business, hospitality, small business, solo business, financial services, internet industry and creative industry. Their businesses range from local crafts, tasty treats and stunning accommodation to professional services. “Being a part of the EVA’s will help to raise the profile of these high quality female led businesses,” said founder organiser Coral Horn.

Said Mr Farron: “It was a real pleasure to meet these incredibly successful local businesswomen. We know that we have a fantastic pool of talent in Cumbria.  As a county, it’s buzzing with creative individuals and entrepreneurs.  I applaud the achievements of these businesswomen and will be supporting them all as they continue to shine a light on our very special corner of the UK. I have my fingers crossed for all of them for the final.”

Alison said: “The energy and enthusiasm from this group of ladies is fantastic. An amazing day surrounded by positive and inspiring people. And the Houses of Parliament tour was quite good too!”

The winners will be announced at a gala event in Blackpool on September 28.


Aiming for zero waste in restaurants

Do you still tell your children: Eat up or there’ll be no pudding? The right attitude to food waste starts at home, of course, but there’s a worldwide movement now that’s determined to tackle what they see as the obscenity of throwing away good food.

The average restaurant produces 70,000 kg of waste a year, so the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York invited chefs from the Helsinki’s Restaurant Nolla to bring their zero waste food philosophy to Manhattan with a pop-up restaurant.

Restaurant Nolla’s ethos is “Refuse, reduce, reuse, and only as a last resource, recycle” and the pop-up event was to coincide with the NYCxDesign festival,  New York City’s annual celebration of design which attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees and designers from across the globe.

Say Nolla: “The idea of a zero-waste restaurant was born out of our frustration in the wastefulness of the restaurant industry. We strongly believe that the contemporary waste management practices of the industry are outdated, and we want to do something about it.

“This is why we started Restaurant Nolla (‘zero’ in Finnish) – the first zero-waste restaurant in the Nordic countries. We offer experiences based on the best, local and organic produce, without waste.”

They work directly with local and international producers of organic ingredients to reinvent, reject and control packaging. Collaborating with designers, engineers, architects has allowed them to rethink waste management, as well as water and energy efficiency. They aim to show that tasty, inventive and creative food can work hand in hand with sustainability.

nolla pop up

And they went one step further; the materials used in the pup-up restaurant were from recycled materials. Even the walls are recycled plastic. So simple, so effective: a grand banqueting space made from eco materials.

But it’s happening in the UK as well, in Brighton, where Silo restaurant and bakery was conceived from a desire to innovate the food industry while demonstrating respect: “Respect for the environment, respect for the way our food is generated and respect for the nourishment given to our bodies. This means that we create everything from its whole form cutting out food miles and over-processing whilst preserving nutrients and the integrity of the ingredients in the process.”

Their brewery creates fermented drinks using foraged and intercepted plants, herbs, vegetables and fruit. They have their own flour mill which turns ancient varieties of wheat into flour the original way. They churn their own butter, make their own almond milk, roll their own oats.

And as a designer, the feature that fascinates me most is that their furniture and fittings are created from a desire to re-use. They choose up-cycling before recycling. Furniture is made from materials that would otherwise have been wasted and crafted with innovation to serve function.

“We have plates formed from plastic bags, tables made from industrial floor tiles, work benches crafted from filing cabinet frames and yes, we use jam jars for glasses, but for us this is no gimmick, they are plentiful, multi functional, hard-wearing and the not insubstantial energy that would have been used to re-cycle them is saved.”

So, two examples of innovative ideas which are leading the way to show us how we can do our bit to save the planet. But it needs a concerted effort on the part of many more people. And sure, it starts at home, so eat up, or there’ll be no pudding!


Design response to the plastic crisis

Guilt is a powerful emotion. Until we watched Blue Planet in horror we would happily sip cocktails through a plastic straw, buy coffee in disposable cups – and wrap our babies’ bottoms in disposable nappies.*

Now the guilt factor has kicked in – and the design response has been impressive. It’s not just guilt-free functionality that draws us to products that won’t damage the planet, but their style and good looks too.


The new style reusable nappies..a design world away from terry towels

And we’re getting militant. When I buy a baked potato from a takeaway, why do they present me with a plastic fork when eco forks in bamboo or wood are readily available? A few months ago, would I have even noticed?

So let’s first hail the heroes. Our local chain of deli supermarkets, Booths, have stopped giving away their ‘loyalty perk’ coffee in take-away cups. Now you need to take your own re-usable travel mug or you can buy an ‘eco-mug’ and fill it up.


On a bigger scale, Dave Hacking from Precious Plastics  is renowned for his DIY inspiration and creation of New Marble Plastic which can be cut and milled just like wood. The groundbreaking Better Future Factory,  a group of dynamic imaginative engineers, known as ‘imagineers’, have helped many start-ups to create products like the fully recycled plastic 3D printing filament.

Interface, the world’s largest commercial carpet tile manufacturer, have a ‘climate take back’ scheme where as part of their ‘full cycle’ ordering process they will collect your old office carpets and take it away for recycling into new carpets.

And Genomatica, a leader in bioengineering, have upscaled their mass production of biodegradable takeaway containers and packaging which are made using a natural chemical process which can be composted with the food waste, so time and money is saved by less sorting.

But what can we do ourselves to help save our blue planet? I’ve tried my best to reduce, reuse and recycle, but then we learn that our recycling attempts are passed over to China in huge shipments for them to ‘sort out’.

Following my recent trip to Clerkenwell Design Week I went to a lecture given by five of the top UK movers and shakers dealing with environmental issues and hosted by TV presenter Paul Rose. Among them were a couple of people I made a beeline for, a lecturer from Brighton University (my old stomping ground) on environmental product design and a VERY brave packaging director for Tesco, who looked understandably uncomfortable during question time. I believe it is not the consumers’ responsibility to change our habits but the responsibility of the supermarkets to change their offering. The buck surely stops with them?

He did concur and fully understood where I was coming from. I was delighted to hear that they are looking at ways of using alternative ‘eco packaging’, but what I hadn’t appreciated was the care for livelihoods at the heart of their decision making, as the strength of their buying power could seriously affect whole communities. Responsibly supporting sustainability for long term job creation and ‘re-training’ the plastic manufacturers into new ‘eco’ methods and packaging products, is top of their priorities.

Bamboo straws

Bamboo straws

The irony of it is that everything on this planet is derived from this planet. Plastics are made from oil, a natural fossil fuel which is running out, but “intelligent” humans changed its molecular structure so it can’t return back to its natural form. And for all our efforts less than 10% of plastic in the world is actually recycled.

My daughter came home from a school lesson insisting we need to use a local milkman and stop buying plastic bottles.  That’s a no-brainer, though a subsequent home-experiment to go one step further and try recycling by melting some old plastic milk bottles in the oven was an unmitigated disaster.

But we must move away from the old linear way of doing business to a ‘circular economy’ which requires courage and a new way of thinking, where waste becomes a resource.

We need to use our local butchers and fruit and veg markets. This presents another dilemma. There’s no market in Windermere so should I make a 20 mile fuel-burning round trip to Kendal instead. I tried the HelloFresh home delivery food box, which is British-sourced and delivered in eco packaging, but I’d rather support my local growers and suppliers.

We should be growing our own, or joining a community fruit and veg growing scheme, but that takes time, which we don’t have (too busy earning money, to pay for the food….)

And what are we prepared to sacrifice?  Synthetic fabrics like fleece release microfibres into the water when washed, which then transit into the rivers and lakes, are eaten by fish and go into our food chain, so now we’re eating plastic.

But come the winter, will we sacrifice fleece jackets and blankets for hemp, cotton and sacking? Come on designers, help us out with this one.


*Disposable nappies are 25% plastic. Three billion a year end up in landfill.


How to experience The Lakes

As a major new documentary series is about to launch on TV, it’s time to think about the Lake District experience.

Let’s get down to some biological basics. ‘Experience’ is driven by the five senses: sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch.  And when we have happy experiences, we release those endorphins and feel good.

Back in the early 1990s I was involved in a number of projects that Cumbria Tourism supported through a scheme called ‘Better than the Best’ using EU match funding. The hospitality offering back in those days was often on a par with Fawlty Towers and the Lakes Hospitality Association even had a Basil Fawlty look-a-like at one of their annual shows.

The new approach was to highlight the importance of investment in design, image and brand. The Lakes took off, more money was invested, and the scheme was a huge success. The understanding of investing in good design and the return on investment is now deeply engrained.

At the same time there was a growing awareness that  the Lakes has a landscape – in some areas – ideal for growing and harvesting local produce. This became a natural area of growth and the idea of foraging from the land became eco-fashionable.

Foraging a natural harvest

Foraging a natural harvest

The ‘Taste District’ was born and has flourished, with visitors senses tantalised by wonderfully creative chefs using local produce and winning national acclaim with supremely artistic presentations on a plate, slate slab, or chunk of wood.

But then there’s the Lakes’ experience that’s completely free…and easily accessible. Walking, swimming, watching birds and badgers, just breathing the finest quality air: all appeal to our senses. And that’s where the new TV series scores.


Derwentwater, differently. From The Lakes with Paul Rose

The Lakes (BBC1, starting Friday July 20) is presented by Paul Rose, our neighbour in Windermere, but a man who has explored the whole world – and comes back to the very best, on home territory. It was a pleasure to be invited to the preview in Kendal at the Brewery Arts Centre.

This is a series with immense integrity, as well as appeals to all of our senses, and will motivate every viewer to get out there and experience our wonderful landscape. Paul Rose doesn’t trivialise the Lake District, as some recent shows have done, but he still manages to be both highly entertaining as well as knowledgeable.

paul rose

Presenter Paul Rose

He’ll take you up into the high fells, and out onto the water, and he’ll introduce you to some of the characters whose lives, history, tradition and artistry enhance the Lakes’ experience.

More than that, we’re not saying. You’ll have to watch and see for yourselves. Then get out there and let the Lakes hit all your senses.



Fidget’s Alison makes the news

We’re thrilled to see this news story and make no apologies for reprinting it here.

Top designer Alison Tordoff has reached the finals of a major business award scheme.

Alison, who runs Windermere-based Fidget Design, is in the line-up for the Enterprise Vision Awards which recognise women in business from across the North West.


Recognised as dynamic and inspiring interior architect, Alison set up Fidget Design in 1997, and has earned a reputation as one of the most creative and innovative designers in the UK. She has worked on a wide variety of prestigious projects with top brands including Jaguar, Aston Martin, The Samling, Langdale Leisure Club and award winning Serenity Spa at Seaham.

Her designs for the Cedar Manor Hotel won Best International Hotel interior at the Bloomberg Hotel Awards. She has since created a distinctive Welcome Lounge at the hotel which helped them win a string of regional, national and international awards.

She pioneered a new range, The Love District, home furnishings based on the landscape, history and traditions of the Lake District, including cushions embroidered with the outlines of the fells, and a Lakeland bookends wallpaper.

Alison has recently been working with universities and design organisations and publishes a regular and highly regarded blog about design issues. And she is involved in a major Cumbria-based interactive project involving artificial intelligence, robotics and human machine learning.

Alison said: “This is a great honour. The North West is packed with amazing women running businesses in many different fields, and it is wonderful to be listed among them.”



The theatre of hospitality

Ever since food became a TV spectacle as well as a sensory experience, ornamentation has come to be as important as taste.

And decoration isn’t confined only to cakes. Take a look at the artistry in this version of meat and two veg at the Cedar Manor Hotel and Restaurant.

meat and two veg cedar manor

We are now taking our seats in the theatre of hospitality and when the curtain goes up, nothing is quite what it seems.

This theme dominated the recent Clerkenwell Design Week where thought leaders gathered, and I was inspired by Seymour Powell in a lecture about Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant at Bray. Theatre doesn’t have to mean “arena”; look at the intimate small space at the Fat Duck which is nevertheless a shrine to theatricality as well as Britain’s holy temple of ‘culinary alchemy’.

Nothing is what it appears, at the Fat Duck, as this video shows.

Seymour Powell is a multidisciplinary group of design researchers, strategists, brand experts, designers and makers. Their track record of imagining and then creating award winning designs and world-first innovations stretches back over 30 years, and includes, among much else, industrial design and transport design, as well as restaurants.

We were taken – in the lecture, that is – to The Mandarin Oriental Hotel where Blumenthal is also hosting ‘Dinner’.  Here the floors are uncarpeted hardwood (dramatically raised a few feet to improve the view of the park) and there’s a very un-hotel-like absence of curtains. Jelly moulds adorn the walls – specially designed Bernardaud Limoges jelly moulds, of course – and in the symmetrical, open kitchen, a collection of blue-glass apothecary jars pay homage to the alchemy.

The food? There’s a Mandarin signature dish, obviously, a small and perfectly formed mandarin orange, with a few fresh green leaves still attached to the twig. So simple, so classy.

But what’s important about the theatre of hospitality is that the substance must be as good as the style. It’s vital to have top quality ingredients, a top quality chef, and top quality levels of service, otherwise all the ornamentation in the world will fall flat as a deflated balloon.

Take a look here inside the Fat Duck and you’ll see the master raising the curtain on his latest performance.

Hospitality now is all about customer experience and expectation. As a reaction to the high tech world we seek to immerse ourselves in wonderful experiences, creating fabulous memories, enriching our lives, giving us positive thoughts and things to enthuse about. And recording and sharing on social media, of course. (Though at Grasmere’s Michelin-starred Forest Side restaurant they will frown very severely if you try to Instagram your plate.)

Top class theatre need not be prohibitively expensive, and you won’t need a seat up in the gods to experience the latest show in town, in the Lakes, where Ryan Blackburn has opened a second food palace in Ambleside. Now, alongside the award-winning Old Stamp House, comes Kysty, a daytime café and take-away with a very strong emphasis on both style and sustainability. And look at their  chocolate fudge for true theatricality.

chocolate fudge at Ryan Blackburn's new daytime cafe Kysty in Ambs


Art is all around us in the Lakes

Artists have been recording their reactions to the landscape of the Lake District for centuries. The early tourists were so over-awed by what they saw as a terrifying vista of hills and peaks that they wouldn’t look at them directly, and used mirrors, looking over their shoulders at the reflection as it was slightly less fearsome.

The pictures they painted subsequently were over-dramatised, the fells looking Alpine in height and shape. Later artists, such as the Heaton Coopers, faced the landscape head-on and produced work which more accurately reflected the shapes of the hills. (William Heaton Cooper really did face it head on, perching on ledges on rock faces to make drawings for the climbing guides to the area.)

Paintings, and later photographs, of the Lakes found their way onto picture postcards sent to family and friends. There will be many armchair mountaineers who have never climbed a hill but would recognise Striding Edge from a holiday postcard. (Will they survive the new world of communication? Is the Facebook generation still going to buy and send postcards, I wonder?)

striding edge by marilyn tordoff

Striding Edge from the summit of Helvellyn, by Marilyn Tordoff

Poets, from Wordsworth onwards, found their own voices to say what the landscape of the Lake District did for them. And now, in Keswick, an exhibition called ‘A Love Letter to the Lakeland Fells’ focuses on Alfred Wainwright, his drawing and mapping methods, and his passion for the unique atmosphere and scenery of the Lakes.

Raised in the Lake District and introduced at an early age to walking on the fells, I’ve always shared that passion. Even when I was studying and working in London, and later travelling around the world, I could still envisage the outlines of the fells. I saw them as Wainwright sketched them in his guidebooks, showing what could be seen on the horizon from the top of each hill.

I’ve put some outlines of those fells into my own designs, notably on cushions in the Love District range. Others are doing likewise, bringing together art and the landscape of the Lakes. Windermere-based painter, Marilyn Tordoff, is a good example. She’s an artist whose landscapes decorate the walls of many hotels around the region, as well as homes throughout the country, bought by people on holiday here.

It’s important to place and frame a picture in the correct manor. A single painting can be just as powerful as a collection of paintings, if it’s allowed to breathe, with the correct space and proportion of wall around it. The mount should never be mean, giving the painting proportion and plenty of focus on the art itself.

The wall colour that it sits on could be linked with the painting and turn the whole wall into a dramatic piece of art. The frame needs to reflect the required interior styling, i.e. minimal slim aluminium which virtually recedes into the background, or wide -even ‘over-wide’ –  and possibly carved, to add grandeur and texture. This doesn’t have to be old and stuffy. With a lick of coloured paints that suit the interior scheme, this can make for refreshing new take on an old favourite.

And here’s my own latest work, in creation and completion:

alis big painting




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.


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