The Chronicle

Under the Influence: Darkroom London

Visitors to the London Design Festival this week might notice a curious jet-black barge floating on Regent's Canal. Inside, set against equally dark walls, is a riot of bold, graphic jewelry and housewares, their industrial and nautical materials echoing the mise-en-scene. This, in a nutshell, is the world of Darkroom, the London design studio founded by Rhonda Drakeford (left) and Lulu Roper-Caldbeck: For the longtime friends, even the most familiar concepts, like the pop-up shop, come loaded with a playful sense of drama.

It's an approach they've been refining since 2009, when Darkroom launched as a cult retail store; they recently shuttered the space to focus on the growing Darkroom line of home accessories, which will debut through a series of installations and other happenings and which includes the Cork Containers and Charcoal Candles that launched today on Tetra. "The brand," Drakeford says, "has always been about boldness."

The Cork Containers and Charcoal Candle are above all functional — lightweight, airtight, perfect for color-coding — but something about the interplay of texture and proportion makes them a focal point for a shelf or tablescape. "We played around with many materials, but loved the tactile quality of the cork and the sculptural possibilities," Drakeford explains. 

Darkroom's unique aesthetic reflects a mishmash of influences from twentieth-century African art to conceptual British fashion. Here, Drakeford shares the inspirations that excite her most this fall. 

Malick Sidibé

"There’s going to be a Darkroom pop-up at Somerset House in October to coincide with an exhibition of Malian photographer Malick Sidibé I’m designing. It’s going to be a celebration of Malian and African culture with a hint of European crossover and influence, much like his portraits from the 1960s portray. He is inspiring me to no end."

Esther Mahlangu

"I’m constantly inspired by the paintings of this artist, and the women of the Ndebele in South Africa. The graphic and symbolic paintings that adorn their houses were originally used as a form of subversive communication during years of oppression, yet have an utterly joyous quality."

"Making & Unmaking," curated by designer Duro Olowu

"This was a wonderful exhibition at Camden Arts Centre this summer. Duro Olowu weaved together the most wonderful groupings of work by many of my design and creative heroes, including Sheila Hicks (pictured), Lygia Clark, and Caroline Achaintre."

Faye and Erica Toogood

"Their tactile and off-the-wall work always blows my mind."

James Plumb Studio 

"I'm really looking forward to seeing the installation by James Plumb studio at the New Craftsmen’s Makers House this design week — their work has so much sensibility and integrity at its core, and always feels like an education in process."