It just kept cropping up when I asked where to see great contemporary designcraft in London: the terribly august-sounding Contemporary Applied Arts (CAA). It was on the list of the uber-smart Mike Holmes of Velvet da Vinci. It was on the list of the very tasteful Lisa Bayne of Artful Home and of the ultra-knowledgeable Jill Read of the Crafts Council (UK.) I had to go.
It self-describes (on its website) as a “registered charity set up to promote and champion British craft…the premiere exhibition and retail venue for learning about, appreciating and purchasing contemporary craft.”
Briefly, I had an image of those shops you see in resort towns, brimming with dusty, earnest work from local “makers” sold (or more appropriately, chaperoned) by dusty, earnest ladies of a certain age. But I shook off the image. Mike, Lisa and Jill wouldn’t lead me astray, would they?
“Just a few minutes, I swear,” I told the long-suffering Pete, as we opened the door to the shop. We emerged an hour later. “That was cool,” said Pete, with unfeigned enthusiasm. Agreed. Very much so.
CAA, based in London’s Fitzrovia, promotes and sells the best of British contemporary craft, and let me say, it’s a pretty glorious place, both for what it is, and what it does.
Let’s start with what it is: a gallery of rotating themed exhibits upstairs, and stunning, gorgeous work in all the usual materials (ceramics, wood, metal, glass) downstairs. (The ability to show or sell through CAA, by the way, is not open to all makers: you have to be a Member, with an approved body of work.) Add to this physical mix is a remarkably well-informed and helpful staff that actually understands the processes and techniques of the makers. Here were some our favorites from the selection on offer that day:
Silversmithing by Anna Lorenz (sexy, delicate, tough).
Ceramics by Ikuko Iwamoto (refinement with an edge).
Cecil Jordan’s beyond-perfect wooden bowls–the uniformity in size belies the extraordinary differences in the weight–purely a function of the specific type of wood used. Extraordinary.
Sarah Kay’s masterful, sculptural furniture.
Major plus: a juicy jewelry selection, with a wide range of lovely work at all kinds of price points.
It’s all great, beautiful work: modern, warm, unusual, refined, ownable. And it’s a place where people actually shop: we counted at least three couples scouting wedding/commitment rings the day we were there.
But what we love is how they do all this. Not only is the work exciting and inspiring, but there’s a set of wrap-around services that help the larger cause by helping make handcrafted work a more integral part of consumers’ lives. In particular, we loved that there’s a wedding/gift registry service (we’re big fans of that); and a commissioning service that helps you both find a maker whose talents meet your needs, and helps you work with them. Very smart.
We love the idea of making it easier to own contemporary craft, and there need to be more of these venues, everywhere. But Londoners already have CAA: lucky, lucky them.
2 Percy Street, London W1T 1DD